As the WNBA Conference Finals began, the four teams that fell short of playoff contention were participating in a competition of their own. This, of course, was the WNBA Draft Lottery, in which the order of the first four picks of the 2016 draft was determined. The Seattle Storm, San Antonio Stars, Connecticut Sun and Atlanta Dream were the participating teams.
Remember that this was the first WNBA Draft Lottery to use the new rules imposed by the league earlier this summer. All four team’s lottery odds were determined by their cumulative record over the 2015 and 2014 seasons, and the team with the worst record (Seattle) couldn’t pick any lower than third.
There weren’t many surprises. In fact, the draft order played out exactly as the odds suggested it would: Seattle will pick first in the 2016 draft, followed by San Antonio and Connecticut, with Atlanta bringing up the rear at fourth. This was an immediate victory for the new system, which ensured that the teams in a position to compete next season wouldn’t luck out ahead of those in need of more help.
That help will most likely come in the form of UConn forward Breanna Stewart. Widely considered to be the best player in the class of 2016, Stewart boasts the physical characteristics of a power forward along with the skills of a guard; her game has been likened by many to that of Elena Delle Donne’s. She’s become the face of the latest UConn powerhouse, leading the Huskies to national championships in each of her first three collegiate seasons, and she was also named the NCAA Final Four’s Most Outstanding Performer during each of those runs.
As if that wasn’t enough, Stewart already has a whopping six gold medals, winning international titles with USA’s U16, U17, U18 and U19 teams, while also contributing to her country’s dominant run in the 2014 FIBA World Championship.
So to say Stewart is a decorated player would be an understatement…and she’s not even finished yet. But how will she fit in the WNBA?
Let’s be honest: there’s a 99.99 percent chance that Seattle keeps the pick. Players like this don’t come around very often, and the idea of Stewart starting alongside former collegiate rival Jewell Loyd should have more than a few Storm fans giddy with excitement. She’ll have to get stronger to adjust to the WNBA game first, of course, and coach Jenny Boucek will be faced with the task of figuring out where Stewart’s versatility will be best used to exploit the inevitable matchup problems it’ll present opponents.
Regardless, there’s little doubt that Stewart will jump-start any WNBA rebuilding project. The remaining three lottery teams will have some tougher decisions to make, though, as there isn’t yet a consensus #2 overall pick. Stewart’s teammate Moriah Jefferson is a solid candidate and would fit nicely in Atlanta (where a standout point guard is sorely needed), but it’s unlikely that she’ll fall to #4. Two-time SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell will also garner some discussion, but is her ceiling high enough to warrant a top selection? What about the health of Minnesota guard Rachel Banham (who’s returning from an ACL tear); how seriously will the lottery teams take a severe knee injury?
Questions like these will be asked frequently among Stars, Sun and Dream management during the 2015-16 NCAA basketball season, as each team scouts for the player they hope will help get them pointed in the right direction again. As for the Storm…all that’s left for them to do is to count down the days.