The Sun Starts To Feel A Chilly Draft
Will the Connecticut Sun soon be regretting their big off-season trade?
by Clay Kallam
So this column started off as a rant about being so sure that you’d make the playoffs you’d pass up a chance to get Maya Moore – but as I did the research, the focus changed. Yes, the Connecticut Sun probably made a mistake by giving up a shot at what appears to be the only sure thing in the 2011 draft for Kelsey Griffin, but because of the weakness of drafts in general, it may not have been that big a mistake.
To recap: The Sun traded their No. 1 pick in 2011 to Minnesota for Kelsey Griffin, the No. 3 pick in 2010. Clearly Connecticut’s brain trust was pretty sure the Sun would not be in the lottery, and thus all that was at stake was a No. 5 or lower choice next spring., which wouldn’t amount to much.
So far, so good, but right now Connecticut is out of the playoffs, and thus in the lottery, meaning the No. 1 overall pick could land in the Sun’s lap but actually belong to Minnesota.
Two things could happen, of course:
1) Connecticut could make the playoffs, which is actually a distinct possibility, especially if Lindsey Harding’s ankle injury is at all serious.
2) Connecticut could wind up out of the playoffs, and the lottery could deliver Maya Moore to, just to pull a name out of the air, Los Angeles. (If that were to happen, Minnesota would have lost out on Candace Parker and Maya Moore in lottery drawings to L.A.)
And what caught my attention was possibility 2), especially after looking at this year’s draft. After No. 1 overall pick Tina Charles (15.3 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg), there really hasn’t been much to get excited about, at least in terms of impact in 2010. And there’s no reason to think the 2011 draft is any better: It’s Moore, and then folks like Amber Harris (attitude is an issue), Jantel Lavender (the last Ohio State post didn’t exactly light up the league), Jessica Breland (coming off Hodgkin’s), and so on.
Obviously, you can’t predict that next year’s draft will be much the same as this year’s, but it sure looks similar – and it doesn’t look good.
The only two other 2010 rookies who start – Monica Wright and Kelsey Griffin –- are only doing so because of injuries (to Candice Wiggins and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota, respectively).
And though Wright, the No. 2 overall pick, has shown signs of life lately, she’s shooting 34.3 percent from the field and has 48 turnovers to 34 assists. (Her 10.4 ppg are more a testament to her ability/determination to get off shots than to any particular offensive efficiency.)
Griffin, who Minnesota coach Mike Thibault is trying to force into the small forward position, is getting just 5.0 ppg in 20 mpg, and though 4.6 rpg are a respectable total, she’s shooting just 37.6 percent and isn’t exactly a difference-maker. (And she’s sure not Maya Moore, should the ping-pong balls bounce that way.)
Perhaps the most effective rookie (again, after Charles) is Chicago’s Epiphanny Prince, who has carved out 18.5 mpg in relief of veterans Dominique Canty and Jia Perkins. Prince is getting 9.3 ppg on a respectable 42.2 percent, as well 66 assists to 47 turnovers and 1.6 spg – and there are Sky fans who think she should be getting more minutes than she is (18.5), and maybe even starting ahead of the ineffective Canty, but even so, she’s doing pretty well for herself.
Three other players are averaging more than 10 mpg, and are legitimate pieces in their teams’ rotations. Jayne Appel, more or less healthy now, is improving steadily: She’s up to 12.1 mpg, 4.0 rpg and is shooting 55.7 percent from the field. Of course, she was the fifth overall selection, and one would expect more than that from such a high pick – but that’s the reality of the WNBA draft.
So of the top five picks, there is one player who starts on her merits, two who start because of injuries, and two who come off the bench. Jacinta Monroe was drafted sixth, but she’s been hurt all season, and Connecticut took Danielle McCray seventh, even though the Sun knew she would miss the season.
Draft choices eight and nine both now play for Los Angeles, but neither Andrea Riley (7.6 mpg, 26.8 percent shooting) nor Chanel Mokango (4.1 mpg, 0.6 ppg, 0.7 rpg) are factors for the Sparks.
The next two picks, Allison Lacey of Seattle and Jene Morris of Indiana, play sporadically and haven’t been productive, though Morris, to be fair, has had some moments. The last pick of the first round, Bianca Thomas, never made it out of training camp.
Which brings us to the other two rotation players, both second-round choices. Kalana Greene (17.3 mpg, 5.3 ppg, 45.7 percent shooting) has been a contributor for the Liberty all season, while Allison Hightower (10.8 mpg, 2.7 ppg, 30.5 percent shooting), like Griffin, has really only gotten to play for Connecticut because of Jekabsone-Zogota’s injury.
After them, only two other draftees are on rosters, and neither Atlanta’s Brittainey Raven nor Indiana’s Joy Cheek are going to be on the court at crunch time.
What this means is that trading a draft pick for a player who’s shown she can contribute is almost always a pretty good deal. Using this year’s draft as a guide – and there’s no reason not to as there doesn’t look to be a great, deep draft in the near future – those general managers who can parlay a draft choice into a serviceable player should do so whenever possible.
The only risk, however, is finishing in the lottery and watching someone else draft Candace Parker with your choice. The odds are, all things being equal, one in 12 that a first-round pick is going to be an immediate star. So the calculation is this: Is that proven WNBA player worth an 8.3 percent chance of drafting Maya Moore?
Or, Connecticut’s case, is Kelsey Griffin?