The WNBA will host its 2020 Draft as a virtual event today. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert will preside over the draft remotely, and the top picks will be broadcast from their homes as they are selected.
Let’s go through some of the questions facing the Los Angeles Sparks on one of the biggest days in the WNBA calendar.
How can I watch the draft?
The draft will be airing on ESPN at 4:00 p.m. PT. There are three rounds, and each has 12 picks. Expect the draft to last about two hours.
What picks do the Sparks have?
The Sparks traded away their 2020 first-round round pick last offseason to the Connecticut Sun to acquire Chiney Ogwumike. It is safe to say they do not regret that deal in the slightest. They still have three picks in this draft in the second and third rounds: no. 20, no. 22, and no. 34.
Does the Sparks roster have any holes they need to address?
Not exactly. The Sparks return eight players from last year’s team that advanced to the WNBA semifinals, including their top seven in minutes. They have an All-WNBA point guard in Chelsea Gray, former MVPs in the frontcourt in Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker, and a star shooting guard in Kristi Toliver who just won her second WNBA title last year before returning to Los Angeles in free agency. The team also addressed its biggest need on the wing by trading for Brittney Sykes. The Sparks have a quality starter at every position and a reasonable bench option.
The Sparks could probably still use an upgrade at backup point guard, though Toliver will likely slide to the one when Gray sits. But they already have 12 players under contract, the maximum allowed under the WNBA CBA. Even if they find a diamond in the rough in the second round or later, they’ll have to cut one of their existing players.
What are the Sparks looking for in the draft, given that they have 12 players with at least two or more years of experience?
The Sparks front office made it clear that have still been attacking this draft with the same level of preparation as any other despite lacking a top pick. Trades are always possible, and the team is doing its due diligence, something head coach Derek Fisher emphasized on the WInsidr podcast.
“We’re working really hard to make sure we still do the necessary work to prepare for the draft regardless of draft number, you look at great coaches and great organizations, you don’t take a draft off because you don’t have a particular number.
“The main thing for us is not really a need in terms of what type of player, in terms of her ability to shoot or pass or block shots, but really on a daily basis what is she going to bring to the table in terms of her competitive spirit, her mental and physical toughness.... Players that you bring in in the draft, those rookies, those training camp invites, they a lot of times are the ones that are the symbols of your culture in terms of literally working hard everyday, still diving on the floor, getting after it, making veterans uncomfortable. So we’re looking for those type of players.”
Assistant general manager Michael Fischer told reporters on a conference call last week that he sees the draft as an opportunity to fill out the team’s training camp roster, even if the players don’t make the cut for the regular season.
“Everybody is allowed to have 15 players in camp. Every year I’ve been in this league, there’s always been a few camp surprises, and I’m sure [Fisher] would probably say the same thing in the NBA. There’s always going to be players who step up or situational things that happen,” Fischer said. “We’re going to have a very competitive camp, and whoever we draft will have a chance to be a part of the team as well, so don’t get too focused on the 12 that we have. There’s a lot of good players in the draft, and I’m excited to get those 15 players in camp and we’ll go ahead with the best 12.”
How does COVID-19 factor into all of this?
First and foremost, the draft is being held virtually because the WNBA cannot gather people together at this time. The season has also been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic. For the Sparks, two of their players — centers Maria Vadeeva and Marie Gülich — have international citizenship and are currently sheltering in place in Europe. It is unclear if they will be allowed to return to the United States immediately if and when the season starts, or if they will have to be quarantined before being allowed to play. As a result, if the Sparks are targeting a position in this draft, it might be a big.
Who are the Sparks projected to pick?
As discussed earlier, the Sparks have a full roster of players who they expect to contribute towards a championship push this season. That means they’ll be likely be looking at international players who can be stashed overseas or injured players who will miss the season regardless. WNBA teams are allowed to retain the rights of international players and “suspended” players, which is how full-season injuries are designated by the league.
The Sparks still have to make the picks, so here is a collection of the projections of five mock drafts from Justin Carter of Nets Republic (NR), Ben Dull of The Basketball Index (BI), Eric Nemchock of Swish Appeal (SA), Lyndsey D’Arcangelo of The Athletic (TA), and Howard Megdal of High Post Hoops (HPH).
Pick No. 20
NR: G Kathleen Doyle, Iowa
BI: F Leaonna Odom, Duke
SA: G/F Kitija Laksa, TTT Riga
TA: C Luisa Geiselsoder, Germany
HPH: F Kiah Gillespie, Florida State
Pick No. 22
NR: G Mikayla Pivec, Oregon State
BI: G Gia Pack, New Mexico State
SA: F Chante Stonewall, DePaul
TA: G Tynice Martin, West Virginia
HPH: F Brittany Brewer, Texas Tech
Pick No. 34
NR: C Luisa Geiselsoder, Germany
BI: G Japreece Dean, UCLA
SA: G Erica Ogwumike, Rice
TA: G Erica Ogwumike, Rice
HPH: G Kathleen Doyle, Iowa
There is a lot of unpredictability in the later rounds of any draft, and the WNBA is no exception. There are two names that show up here twice who are worth keeping an eye on. One is Luisa Geiselsoder, a 20-year-old center. She has an outstanding international pedigree playing for the German national team, similar to Vadeeva in Russia before she was drafted in 2018, and she checks off two boxes for the Sparks: center and international.
Erica Ogwumike also earns a second look, partly because of her last name. Two of her older sisters play for the Sparks, so it would be quite the story. From a pure basketball perspective, she can play the point and she ranked in the 99th percentile of college players in free-throw rate last season, something L.A. struggled with mightily.
We still don’t know the status of the 2020 season, but today’s draft will at least give a clearer picture of the Sparks roster for whenever basketball resumes.