Generally speaking, it takes years to properly evaluate a WNBA draft.
But the Chicago Sky are expediting that timetable, and not in a beneficial way.
The Sky entered the 2017 draft with a pair of first-round picks, the second and ninth overall selections. New general manager Amber Stocks took Alaina Coates, the post out of South Carolina, with the second pick, surprising many given Chicago’s bounty of bigs.
And with the ninth pick, she selected Tori Jankoska, the combo guard out of Michigan State. Given the absences of Courtney Vandersloot, both current and planned for later this season, along with the injury to Jamierra Faulkner, it looked like Jankoska would get a chance to prove herself right away.
Instead, the Sky waived Jankoska on Monday, raising eyebrows around the league and understandably infuriating Jankoska’s camp.
“We are very pleased with the value we have with our draft picks,” Stocks told The Summitt in an email when asked about any concern the team has over what value the team got out of the ninth pick. “We acquired four players out the of draft, and three of the four are on pace to impact our team. I expected every player to come in and compete for one of the 12 roster spots. It was a tough call to make as Tori is a fantastic player; yet no spot is guaranteed.”
Stocks has a point. Mikayla Epps, taken 33rd, is on the roster, while the Sky’s 16th pick, Chantel Osahor, was traded to Minnesota for Keisha Hampton, who started the Sky’s opening game.
For Jankoska, the move could not come at a worse time. The ability to impress another team in training camp has come and gone, so any other team signing Jankoska would have to cut a player who already made their roster. But this early in the season, few injuries have opened opportunities for available talent, either.
Then again, as one WNBA source put it, “Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.”
That’s because many around the league wonder exactly what the plan is in Chicago. If waiving the ninth overall pick after one game is problematic for the player, it is a clear waste of resources for a rebuilding Chicago team. Let’s compare the value out of the ninth pick in recent years to what Chicago got:
2016: Tiffany Mitchell—a solid rookie season, significant part of Indiana’s future plans.
2015: Brittany Boyd—key contributor to a pair of Liberty teams, current starting point guard.
2014: Natalie Achonwa—frequent starter at forward for Indiana team that reached the 2015 WNBA finals, still in Fever rotation.
2013: Layshia Clarendon—contributor in Indiana, now starting point guard in Atlanta.
Not since 2012, when Astan Dabo was picked ninth by Connecticut, but has never played in the league, did a team get so little out of this draft slot.
And the Sky face a potentially worse issue with Coates, who still has yet to sign. Remember, if Coates chooses not to sign, and doesn’t play internationally either, she can re-enter the 2018 draft. Still recovering from her ankle injury, that could be the right move. And then the Sky would get nothing for picking second overall in 2017, the pick a key component of their trade return for Elena Delle Donne.
When asked about whether Stocks is concerned Coates will not sign, she responded: “Alaina is scheduled to be in Chicago for our home opener on Friday. Her recovery is our top priority.”
Moreover, the 2018 draft will be loaded. Coates would be in the first round mix, but it is unlikely she’d be the second overall pick again.
Still, she’d be on a team that didn’t also feature Stef Dolson, Imani Boyette and Cheyenne Parker already, all best-suited for the 5. And a team that didn’t waste a first round pick.
It might, some around the league might say, be a blessing in disguise.