- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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BRISTOL, Conn. -- New York coach/general manager Bill Laimbeer snagged a slice of pizza as he was on his way out after chatting with the media here at the WNBA draft. He passed on the brownies, though. It already had been a sweet-enough night for the Liberty.
Asked if the draft could have gone any better, Laimbeer grinned and said, "No, actually. We came into this draft with certain names on certain spots, and they went exactly as we expected."
New York gets an A for its selections Monday. Soak that in for a second, New York fans. You guys know that more than once in past WNBA drafts, the Liberty unfortunately provided the clown show with some picks that ranged from dubious to ludicrous. Not this time.
In a draft that Laimbeer has been saying for a while was a little deeper than what people had initially thought, he got what he wanted. With his first selection, at No. 5, he took Texas A&M center Kelsey Bone. Then at No. 7, he selected Oklahoma State forward Toni Young.
In the second round, with the 15th pick overall, Laimbeer chose Tennessee guard Kamiko Williams. His final pick, No. 27 in the third round, was Olcay Cakir, a 19-year-old guard out of Turkey.
Laimbeer, the former architect of Detroit teams that won three WNBA titles, is in his first season back in the WNBA. He has been building a Liberty team that looks a fair amount like what he had in Detroit: tough, physical, athletic. He thinks the additions from the draft can fit in well.
"We've targeted Toni Young for three months now," Laimbeer said of the jumping jack who is a still-developing raw talent. "I am very intrigued by Kamiko Williams also. I think she has great patience, some will say poise. Smart basketball player. She's not afraid, and that's one of the trademarks of our basketball teams. I think we got bigger and more athletic. We got some good defenders, too."
Laimbeer liked Young -- especially because of her ability to avoid getting her shot blocked inside -- so much that he was prepared to take her at No. 5 if Bone had not opted to bypass her final year of eligibility to declare for the draft. Once Bone did that, though, Laimbeer knew he had to go with her on his first choice and hope Seattle didn't nab Young at No. 6.
Laimbeer thinks Bone is going to contribute right away, but she won't be asked to do too much.
"She's going to play with some other very talented post players," Laimbeer said of Bone. "We're going to keep everybody fresh and play hard. She'll fit right in. She realizes that she has to tone up her body a little more; she's working on it right now. She understands what's required of her. I think she's going to be a good presence in the middle for many years to come."
With the Liberty in their last summer away from Madison Square Garden, the fan base needed the excitement factor to push them to keep making that trip to Newark, N.J. Laimbeer appears to be putting together a team that will do that.
So how did the other 11 teams fare on Monday? For the most part, about as well as all of them could have done. Frankly, we can't give any team a "bad" grade. Whether the picks actually work remains to be seen. But it was clear that teams had done their homework and were making choices based on what they needed and whom they thought could help.
Two words: Brittney Griner. This was going to be a great draft as soon as the Mercury won the lottery. Their other selection was in the third round, where they took Penn State center Nikki Greene (No. 26). They might not find a spot for Greene, but she is a 6-foot-4 physical presence who is worth a look in training camp.
In most years, Elena Delle Donne would be the No. 1 pick. She's so good, and so perfect for the Sky's needs, that it's almost like she's a No. 1 anyway for Chicago this year. She very well could be the missing piece that completes the playoff picture for the Sky.
But don't dismiss the Sky's third-round pick, Brooklyn Pope of Baylor (No. 28). She's a terrific rebounder who could fill a role for the Sky if she can get a roster spot.
The Shock needed help at point guard. And that's what they spent both of their picks on with No. 3 Skylar Diggins of Notre Dame and third-rounder Angel Goodrich of Kansas (No. 29). Those two met in the NCAA Sweet 16, by the way, earlier this month.
Diggins is a whirlwind of photogenic energy, which shouldn't obscure the fact that she's a tough-minded winner on the court. Goodrich, a native of Oklahoma, is small (5-4) but mighty. She sees the court very well, and can score. If she makes the squad, she will bring in fans from her home state.
Mike Thibault, in his first season in D.C. after 10 years in Connecticut, bypassed the post-player talent available and went for a shooting guard in Ohio State's Tayler Hill. She's a terrific scorer and defender, and on paper she fills one of the Mystics' main needs. But will he regret not taking either Bone or Maryland's Tianna Hawkins?
Thibault also picked up St. John's teammates Nadirah McKenith (No. 17) and Shenneika Smith (No. 25), plus young Belgian center Emma Meesseman (No. 19).
Ultimately, the Mystics can't be worse than they were last year, even if none of these draft picks work out. And we think at least one of them will.
The Storm won't have Lauren Jackson or Sue Bird this season, as both are sitting out to recover from injuries. Thus, the odds are Seattle could end up with a lottery pick for 2014.
But that doesn't mean this is just a throw-away season for the Storm. Coach Brian Agler was high on Maryland's Hawkins, and that's who he got at No. 6. The versatile 6-3 post should be able to help right away with some of the scoring void.
Iowa State post player Chelsea Poppens (No. 18) also could lend a hand with that -- and rebounding -- if she is able to make the team. The Cyclones have had very little success putting players into the WNBA, but maybe Poppens will be the exception.
And in the third round, Seattle took Georgia's Jasmine James (No. 30). It made sense for the Storm at that stage in the draft to get a point guard who was at least worth a look.
San Antonio: C
Admittedly, this is a grade we might look back on and say was too low. It depends on whether Syracuse's Kayla Alexander -- a strong 6-4 center -- ends up developing into a dependable post presence. If she does, then taking her at No. 8 makes sense.
Although it's not as though the Silver Stars had a ton of other good choices by that point. San Antonio's other picks Monday -- Arizona guard Davellyn Whyte (No. 16), French forward Diandra Tchatchouang (No. 20), and Oklahoma guard Whitney Hand (No. 32) -- all have some question marks next to their names.
Whyte was out of the Pac-12 spotlight with the Wildcats, although she could prove to be the kind of pro who just flew under the radar in college. Tchatchouang played two seasons at Maryland, then went back home to France in 2011 after suffering a knee injury in the NCAA tournament. And Hand, the inspirational leader of the Sooners, is currently rehabbing a knee injury that cut short her college career in December.
The defending WNBA champions got the player they wanted at No. 9: Cal guard Layshia Clarendon. The Fever think she can score and defend well at the next level, and that she has the kind of fearless-but-fun personality to fit in with a team that doesn't really have many holes to fill.
Indiana also got Georgia post player Jasmine Hassell (No. 21) and Florida forward Jennifer George (No. 33). The Fever don't appear to need much help from rookies.
Los Angeles: B
The Sparks were another team that didn't need a lot from the draft because they are in pretty good shape with the players they already have. There was no glaring void at any position, so Los Angeles really could go with more of a "best athlete available" philosophy. Thus, the Sparks chose Kentucky guard A'dia Mathies at No. 10.
She has been a program-changer for the Wildcats, but the knock on her is the consistency of her perimeter shot. However, who better to learn from in that regard than Sparks veteran Alana Beard?
L.A. also took Kansas State's Brittany Chambers at No. 22. She's a gutsy guard who always found ways to score for the Wildcats, but is the type of player who would be more likely to stick in the league if the roster size was 12 instead of 11. With the 34th pick, the Sparks took Alina Iagupova, a guard-forward from the Ukraine.
This grade isn't a reflection on Kelly Faris, the UConn guard who will be an automatic fan favorite at the Mohegan Sun. Choosing her at No. 11 was a no-brainer, and she'll fit in for the Sun, for sure.
But with Iowa State center Anna Prins (No. 23) and South Florida guard Andrea Smith (No. 35), the Sun might not have gotten players who can make the roster.
We've mentioned that Cyclones players have had a hard time sticking in the WNBA, and Prins is a big body (6-7) who tends to drift outside rather than mix it up inside. Smith might have a difficult time distinguishing herself, which is an issue for a lot of guards who try to get into the WNBA.
When you pick last in the first round, you can't expect a lot. Yet the Lynx got what they wanted: A back-up point guard. In Nebraska's Lindsey Moore (No. 12), they have a capable and eager understudy to Lindsay Whalen.
With their two second-round picks, the Lynx took high-volume shooters: Georgetown's Sugar Rodgers (No. 14) and Colorado's Chucky Jeffery (No. 24). Whichever one appears to curb her tendency to jack it up and make her shots come better in the flow of the offense is the one likely to stick with the Lynx.
And in the third round, the Lynx took 6-6 North Carolina post player Waltiea Rolle. At No. 36 -- the last pick -- she does not fit the bill as "Ms. Irrelevant." Her size in a Western Conference that now has Griner could be an asset for Minnesota. Plus, she has missed time after having a child her junior season, so you get the sense that she's still developing as a basketball player.
It was a low-key night for the Dream; they were the only team that didn't have a first-round pick. But with the first selection of the second round, they took Penn State's Alex Bentley (No. 13). Atlanta can use some more depth at point guard, and Bentley is good enough to have been in the mix as a potential first-round pick.
Atlanta's only other selection was in the third round, and the Dream went "local" with Georgia forward/guard Anne Marie Armstrong (No. 31). She is 6-3 with some versatility, as she has rebounding and passing skills. It can't hurt for Georgia's WNBA team to give the native Georgian a chance to show her stuff in training camp.
16dBonnie D. Ford