The New York Liberty, who are expected to select Oregon Ducks guard Sabrina Ionescu with the first pick of the WNBA draft on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App), shook things up Wednesday by trading former league MVP Tina Charles to the Washington Mystics.
The three-team deal included the Dallas Wings, who sent a 2020 first-round pick and a second-round selection to the Liberty. Now New York has five of the top 15 picks on Friday: Nos. 1, 9, 12, 13 and 15. Dallas still has three selections in the first round: Nos. 2, 5 and 7.
Washington no longer has a first-round selection; the defending champion Mystics still have their second- and third-round picks, and they go last in both rounds.
The Connecticut Sun drafted Charles No. 1 overall in 2010, and the 6-foot-4 center was the WNBA MVP in 2012. But when then-coach Mike Thibault was fired following the Sun’s 2012 season, Charles wasn’t happy. She played one more season in Connecticut, then requested a trade to her hometown of New York in 2014.
Charles has spent the past six seasons with the Liberty, and many anticipated her pairing with Ionescu.
That won’t happen — but maybe Ionescu will be united with Oregon teammate Ruthy Hebard in the Big Apple.
The Liberty are in transition mode with a new coach in Walt Hopkins, and now the departure of their star, Charles. Ionescu won every player of the year award this season while averaging 17.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 9.1 assists. Hopkins spoke during a teleconference on Monday about Ionescu’s leadership, and that will be needed in New York, even if she is a rookie. Ionescu has said she also wants to have a footprint bigger than basketball, and perhaps being in New York will help with that, as well.
If it happens, this would be the third time that college teammates go 1-2 in the WNBA draft. Both Ionescu and Sabally would step into situations where they’d be expected to play a lot and contribute to the building of a new culture. Dallas’ Brian Agler is a veteran coach, but in just his second season with the Wings, who will be a very young team. At 6-foot-4, Sabally averaged 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds and made 45 3-pointers this season. She has the skills to blossom into a franchise staple. She is from Germany, so we’ll have to see if that impacts how many seasons she commits to the WNBA.
Until the draft-eligible junior Sabally declared for the 2020 draft, it looked as if Cox would be staying close to her suburban Dallas home to play in the WNBA, as the Wings seemed likely to take her at No. 2. But this could all work out well for Cox, a defensive stalwart who also is an expert passer. She already has proved how well she can play with a 6-foot-7 center; she did that at Baylor with Kalani Brown, and Cox can do the same with Teaira McCowan in Indiana. The Fever also are in growth mode, and Cox has the competitiveness and reliability they’re looking for.
You might be catching a theme here: The lottery teams are all looking for players who’ll be part of redefining and invigorating their franchises. Carter, a draft-eligible junior who declared on March 29, is a scoring whiz — she averaged 21.3 PPG this season — who can create her shot out of nothing and can be one of the most exciting players to watch. She’ll need to play with some more discipline, but at the same time, her creativity and fearlessness as an offensive player are at a very high level. Carter had some rocky moments at Texas A&M, but she can put that behind her and focus on maturing into the pro player she has the skills to be.
It seems almost universally acknowledged that no player helped herself more with her senior season than Harris, who averaged 12.0 PPG and 5.7 APG. She was always a very good player, but her leadership skills –with three freshman starting for the Gamecocks — her defense and her poise in big moments really were on display this past season. Moriah Jefferson, who missed 2019, is expected back this season, which would be her first with the Wings; but Dallas needs another point guard. Harris fits that bill, and she can be a leader even as a rookie.
The UConn point guard has been in and out of our mock first round — but now she is back in, where she was in February. The Wings could use a point guard, and after Ionescu and Harris, Dangerfield is the best available. It would reunite Dangerfield with former teammate Napheesa Collier, who was the No. 6 pick for Minnesota in 2019 and went on to be WNBA Rookie of the Year. Dangerfield’s 5-foot-5 size is a concern, but she led UConn with 55 steals this season. Her ability to run an offense (14.9 PPG, 3.9 APG) and to shoot the 3-pointer (71-of-173, 41%) are strengths.
Alarie could go higher than this; she is very likely on Minnesota’s radar at No. 6. But if available, she could give the Wings a little different look as a skilled, versatile post player. Alarie averaged 17.5 points and 8.6 rebounds for the 26-1 Tigers, and her scoring and passing skills both could be assets for Dallas. She had 95 3-pointers at Princeton, and although 39 came her freshman year, she is respectable from long range.
Chicago seems likely to go with the best available player, and that could be Walker, if she’s still on the board. Like Alarie, she might go higher. Walker, a draft-eligible junior, had a strong season as American Athletic Conference player of the year, averaging 19.7 PPG and shooting 45.1% from 3-point range (78 of 173). But with the coronavirus pandemic cancelling the NCAA tournament, we didn’t get to see how Walker would fare as UConn’s go-to player in the highest-pressure games — which she didn’t have to be her first two seasons.
Hebard, like Dangerfield, has moved around a bit on our draft board. With the trade Wednesday that sent this pick to New York, maybe the Liberty become a good fit for the 6-4 Hebard if she doesn’t go higher. With the Liberty, she could be playing alongside Ducks teammate Sabrina Ionescu again. In her Oregon career, Hebard averaged 16.4 points and 9.0 rebounds, while shooting 65.1 percent from the field. As a senior, those numbers were 17.3, 9.6 and 68.5. Even if she doesn’t have a lot of shooting range — and the Liberty already have post players Kiah Stokes, Amanda Zahui B. and Han Xu — Hebard could be the right choice for New York.
Like Gamecocks teammate Harris, Herbert Harrigan — who averaged a team-best 13.1 PPG, along with 5.6 RPG — elevated her stock this season. That includes her SEC tournament MVP performance as South Carolina finished perfect in league play. The Gamecocks lost just once all year, in November. The 6-2 Herbert Harrigan has a feisty playing style that could be a good match with the Mercury, who could be looking for a mobile forward after the departure of DeWanna Bonner to Connecticut.
The Storm have a pretty solid roster, especially with 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart back from injury, and might see this pick as more for the future. Laksa was a standout in three years at South Florida before suffering a torn ACL three games into the 2018-19 season and having to sit out. She then decided to return home to Latvia to play professionally, rather than play another college season. The 6-foot sharpshooter averaged 17.8 points over her South Florida career, and her 2017-18 season was very strong: 21.1 PPG and 126 3-pointers. She finished with 308 treys despite playing just three full seasons.
Another post to the Liberty, along with Hebard? Since the Liberty also have the No. 13 pick, New York also could go with a small forward/wing here. Some of the uncertainty surrounding Mompremier stems from the foot injury that limited her final college season to just 17 games for the 15-15 Hurricanes. Her stock didn’t go up her senior year, but she’s still very athletic at 6-4 and averaged 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds during her time on court this season for Miami.
13. New York Liberty: Jocelyn Willoughby, Virginia, SF
14. Indiana Fever: Te’a Cooper, Baylor, PG
15. New York Liberty: Kaila Charles, Maryland, SG
16. Minnesota Lynx: Tynice Martin, West Virginia, SG
17. Atlanta Dream: Kiah Gillespie, Florida State, PF
18. Phoenix Mercury: Joyner Holmes, Texas, PF
19. Seattle Storm: Kylee Shook, Louisville, PF
20. Los Angeles Sparks: Leaonna Odom, Duke, PF
21. Dallas Wings: Brittany Brewer, Texas Tech, C
22. Los Angeles Sparks: Jazmine Jones, Louisville, SG
23. Connecticut Sun: Mikayla Pivec, Oregon State, SG
24. Washington Mystics: Kathleen Doyle, Iowa, PG
25. Atlanta Dream: Japreece Dean, UCLA, PG
26. New York Liberty: Luisa Geiselsoder, Germany, C
27. Atlanta Dream: Dee Givens, Western Kentucky, SF
28. Indiana Fever: Chante Stonewall, DePaul, SF
29. Phoenix Mercury: Nicki Ekhomu, Florida State, PG
30. Chicago Sky: Ciara Duffy, South Dakota, PG
31. Seattle Storm: Erica Ogwumike, Rice, SG
32. Chicago Sky: Chen Mingling, China, C
33. Las Vegas Aces: Ae’Rianna Harris, Purdue, PF
34. Los Angeles Sparks: Alexis Tolefree, Arkansas, PG
35. Connecticut Sun: Haley Gorecki, Duke, SG
36. Washington Mystics: Stella Johnson, Rider, SG