Minnesota Feels The Draft

by April 15, 2011

by Clay Kallam

The Man in the Moon has been waiting patiently for the other shoe to drop, but it just hasn’t happened yet – and trust me, we’d all hear it if it did. After all, the other shoe is 6-3 Cheryl Ford, Karl Malone’s daughter and a force of nature in the paint, and the widely held assumption is that she will sign with the New York Liberty.

If she does, that puts John Whisenant’s first draft as the man in charge in perspective, as the post-starved Liberty wound up with only a couple wings on Monday. And no, late-round picks and free agents won’t make a difference – just like the NBA, only the top few overall draftees have much of a chance to make an impact, and even the bottom of the first round is a roll of the dice.

But that said, let’s take a look at each team’s haul, and, in the grand tradition of throwing darts at a wall of possible outcomes, we’ll make some wild guesses about how it will all play out.

First, though, I’d like to introduce the concept of the Spencer Line, similar to the Mendoza Line in baseball. The Mendoza Line refers to batting average, and is set at .200 – players who are below the Mendoza line just aren’t going to make it. The Spencer Line is more subjective, as it’s a defensive measurement, named after Sidney Spencer, a sweet-shooting 6-3 wing from Tennessee who would have trouble staying in front of the Statue of Liberty. Spencer might have had a nice career, but even in a league with a lot of shaky defenders, she was so bad that she was, and is, basically unplayable.

Now, on to the guesswork …

Atlanta: The Dream took Ta’shia Phillips with the eighth overall pick, and then quickly flipped her to the Mystics for the unhappy Lindsey Harding. (Word is Harding is one of those people who, if you gave them a $10 bill, would complain because you didn’t give them two fives.) Harding, regardless of her smile quotient, is an above-average point guard in a league that doesn’t have many in that category, and since Atlanta played for the championship last year without her, that’s a pretty good get. The other two new faces (Felicia Chester from DePaul by way of the Lynx, and Kelsey Bolte) are training camp fodder.

Chicago: Speaking of rolling the dice, the Sky are gambling that Courtney Vandersloot won’t fall below the Spencer Line on defense, and will be strong enough and quick enough to fend off the better opposing defenders long enough to make the occasional three and get Sylvia Fowles the ball. Amber Harris was there at No. 3, but Vandersloot, if successful, has more value because she’s a point guard, and there just aren’t very many of those. Two of the other picks were slow posts, and Angie Bjorklund is a slow wing, so don’t look for any other rookies to make an impact.

Connecticut: The Sun traded the No. 16 pick, Sydney Colson, for Kalana Greene, a UConn product who could help. Unfortunately, Mike Thibault traded this year’s first-round pick (which would have been Amber Harris) for Kelsey Griffin, who didn’t dazzle in her rookie season last summer. They did wind up with Tahnee Robinson from Phoenix, and the first full-blooded Native American in the league will have every chance to make the roster of a team owned by an Native American tribe. Whether she’ll be a good player is another story, but if Marion Jones can stick, so can Robinson.

Indiana: The Fever went with Jeanette Pohlen, a two-guard whose quickness deficit was exposed by Texas A&M in the NCAA semis. That said, she’s a nice complement to Briann January, who is plenty quick but isn’t as good a decision-maker. Pohlen also can back up Katie Douglas, but there are questions about Pohlen’s ability to stay above the Spencer Line.

Los Angeles: Penny Toler drafted a player who wasn’t eligible to be drafted – which is an act of stupidity one would expect from the Los Angeles Clippers. But that was a third-round pick, of a European, so it really didn’t mean that much. The pick that did matter to the Sparks, though, wasn’t even theirs – it was Chicago’s. L.A. needs a point guard to back up aging Ticha Penicheiro and get the ball to Candace Parker, Tina Thompson, et al., and Courtney Vandersloot was that point guard. When Chicago took her, Toler defaulted to the best available player, which was steady Ohio State post Jantel Lavender. Since Jessica Davenport arrived from that same school with roughly the same stats, and disappointed, hopes are not high for Lavender’s chances of becoming a WNBA starter.

Minnesota: The biggest problem the Lynx had after the Draft was, and is, clearing enough roster space for all their talent. That’s why they dumped Jessica Breland for a future draft choice and Felicia Chester for an Australian (Rachel Jarry) who won’t play in the W this summer. I’m guessing they also try to get rid of Charde Houston to make room for No. 1 pick Maya Moore and No. 4 Amber Harris, both of whom play the same position as Houston. Moore is as much of a sure thing as there is in the drafting biz, but Harris is a question mark. There’s no doubt that she is extremely skilled for a 6-5 wing, but how will she react to the physicality of the league? And will she bring it every night? The luxury the Lynx have is that they really don’t care that much if she’s a star right away – they already have Monica Wright coming off the bench, and she had a fine rookie season in 2010.

New York: If Cheryl Ford signs, it all makes sense. Ford, Janell McCarville and Kia Vaughn make up a competent, if not spectacular front line, and then Whisenant slots in 6-3 Jessica Breland (a rookie picked up from Minnesota for spare change) when he wants more quickness. Alex Montgomery was a surprise choice at No. 10, but the word is that Whisenant liked Breland more, but figured Seattle would take Montgomery at No. 12, so he went for her first. Also, watch out for third-round pick Mekia Valentine, who could develop into a Yolanda Griffith knockoff. If Ford doesn’t play for New York, though, it’s going to be a long summer for Whisenant.

Phoenix: I’ll spare you a lame attempt at a Brittany Spears joke, but yes, the Mercury did draft the Colorado wing who shares a name with some singer who did a Pepsi commercial a while back. Spears might make the roster to save some cap money (taking the place of a more expensive veteran), but there’s no other reason to think she’ll help the club.

San Antonio: The Silver Stars had the No. 6 pick in a draft with five good players. Danielle Robinson is a poor-shooting, very athletic guard who might be able to play the point. Then again, she might not. Her length helps her, and she’s a nice fit with the fading Becky Hammon, but she’s unlikely to lift San Antonio into the postseason. Of the other two picks, Porsha Phillips, the third-rounder, probably has a better chance to make the roster than Danielle Adams, the second-rounder, but even on a team this weak, neither is a sure thing.

Seattle: Despite picking 12th and 24th, the Storm might actually have picked up two keepers. Jasmine Thomas, the last pick in the first round, is an athletic if erratic combo guard from Duke, and Ify Ibekwe is a long, late-blooming forward from Arizona who might be able to become a defensive specialist. But as long as Seattle has Sue and LJ, the rookies won’t matter much.

Tulsa: In most WNBA circles, Nolan Richardson is considered just above an inanimate object in terms of his knowledge of women’s basketball, but he did the right thing in the Draft. Liz Cambage (cam-beige is how it’s pronounced) is a very strong young 6-8 center who looked very good in the World Championships last year, and was a clear No. 2 overall pick. Kayla Pedersen is a steady 6-4 power forward who can shoot, and should be a nice complement to Cambage. How the two will fit with Richardson’s preferred uptempo style is a question, as is how the rest of the shoot-first, run-and-gun roster will deal with frontcourt players who will be better if the pace is slower.

Washington: Trudi Lacey is held in only slightly better regard than Richardson, but she did OK, given the fact she had to trade Harding for a rookie center whose chances of being a difference-maker are not that good. Ta’shia Phillips is a tall, solid center who didn’t do as much as Courtney Paris did in college –- and Paris is no longer in the league. Still, getting her was better than nothing, and by dealing for disgruntled Nicky Anosike before the Draft, Lacey has a veteran post to pair with Crystal Langhorne. Alana Beard is back from injury, which is a big bonus, but don’t expect No. 11 pick Victoria Dunlap to do much. Tweeners with her college profile do not have a good track record in the W.