After three predictable picks to begin the 2021 WNBA Draft, things started to get funky in the fourth slot, when the Indiana Fever selected Kysre Gondrezick, a player ESPN had mocked as a third-round pick.
From there, one thing led to another, as unpredictable pick after unpredictable pick rolled in. The result was that the Los Angeles Sparks were bound to pick with some big names left on the board. Names that, prior to the draft, people would have been surprised to see fall to the back half of the round.
Names like Arella Guirantes, who was projected to be drafted third in ESPN’s mock draft, and fourth in SB Nation’s.
But there she was, still on the board when the Sparks were on the clock at No. 7.
Instead, they opted for Jasmine Walker.
And there she still was, on the board when the Sparks were on the clock at No. 10.
This time they opted for Stephanie Watts.
And yet somehow she was still there, on the board when the Sparks were on the clock at No. 22.
This time they pounced.
And so it is that they ended up with a consensus top-five pick in the draft, who averaged 21.3 points and 5.2 assists per game this year at Rutgers, with their third pick.
It was a gift for the Sparks, and one that Derek Fisher — drafting for the first time since being promoted to GM in addition to head coach — acknowledged. After the draft, a visibly excited Fisher said, “There’s no question that we got a steal. There’s usually at least one player in a sports draft that drops for different reasons and various reasons and you try not to allow yourself to be defined or have other people define whether or not it’s the right pick for your team.
“We felt like at that time, for our group, she’s by far, obviously still the best player on the board, but to have a lottery talent available at 22, an opportunity that we could not pass, and already having gotten the opportunity to start connecting with her a little bit, we’re gonna be ecstatic to see how this plays out on the court. We really didn’t expect it.”
It bears noting that, while there’s certainly a reason why Guirantes was projected so high on mock drafts, there has to be a reason that every team passed her over, some multiple times, before the Sparks drafted her. Still, when you look at the numbers and watch the film, it’s hard not to agree that L.A. was able to essentially get a third first-round pick — and a player who could very well end up being the team’s best player from the draft.
But it also puts the Sparks in a difficult position, albeit one that represents champagne problems.
Questions were already swirling as to how they were going to accommodate two first-round picks, and Guirantes does nothing to make those looming decisions any easier. Fisher admitted that “As a coach, it’s exciting. As a GM, not so much, honestly,” before adding, “You’re trying to make the right decisions based on the information you have looking and evaluating our team and our roster, trying to understand the players and the talents, strengths, and weaknesses that we have in place already, and what are those talents and skill sets and mindsets that we can add to continue to give us a chance to evolve.”
If Guirantes is as good as she looked during her final collegiate season, and as good those who wrote up the mock drafts believe she is, then it’s hard to envision a scenario where she’s left off the roster, even if that means other talented players get cut or traded.
No one will envy Fisher’s task, but as he conceded, “It’s a problem worth having, when you can access a player like Arella.”
The Sparks rounded out their draft by selecting Wake Forest forward Ivana Raca with the No. 28 pick, and Spanish guard Aina Ayuso with the No. 34 pick.
Both players face a steep uphill battle to make the roster, though Ayuso could presumably be a draft and stash candidate.