The 2019 WNBA Draft is many months away, but we now know who has the first pick: the Las Vegas Aces won the bounce of the ping pong balls, the league announced Tuesday night.
This is the third straight season the Aces franchise will make the top overall pick. New York will pick second, Indiana third and Chicago fourth.
The lottery was weighted to reflect the two-year records of the four non-playoff teams in 2018, a change intended to limit tanking. Indiana, with a 15-53 two-season mark, had a 44.2 percent chance of getting the top pick. Las Vegas, at 22-46, held a 27.6 percent chance. Chicago, which made two lottery picks in 2017, their own and one they acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Dream, had a 25-43 two-year record and a 17.8 percent chance at the top pick. And New York, at 29-39 over these past two years, held a 10.4 percent chance at the top pick.
“I think the past speaks volumes to the effect on a number one pick on franchise trajectory,” Fever coach and GM Pokey Chatman said just prior to the lottery reveal.
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For Las Vegas, a season that ended just shy of the playoffs after a loss to the Dallas Wings showed tremendous promise. The Aces can add a lottery pick to a core that includes 2018 Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson, 2017 top pick and the greatly improved Kelsey Plum, 2018 all star Kayla McBride and the ultra-talented Moriah Jefferson, among others. Aces GM Bill Laimbeer is committed to playing Wilson at the four, so both going with one of the elite true bigs in 2019, like Teaira McCowan of Mississippi State or Kalani Brown of Baylor, or a classic wing to elevate the team’s three-point shooting, like Katie Lou Samuelson of Connecticut, would seem to make sense.
New York, which leapfrogged a pair of teams and landed the second pick, now gets to “simplify things”, as head coach Katie Smith put it in a phone interview with High Post Hoops following the lottery reveal.
“”It’s one piece,” Smith said. “I think the other piece is that we could use a really solid point guard, two guard. We need a second scorer, another scorer who can go with Tina [Charles].”
Interestingly, Smith threw a Sue Bird comp on Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu, who is draft eligible after this season, while Bill Laimbeer referred not-so-obliquely to Las Vegas as an attractive destination for those who might be deciding whether or not to come out.
Indiana, like New York, could use more size, after finishing the 2018 season with the league’s lowest rebounding percentage at 47.2%. Both bigs would be an excellent fit, particularly McCowan, who runs in Mississippi the way Pokey Chatman likes to play, and rim-protect the way they need. A true point guard like Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham or Notre Dame’s Marina Mabrey would also allow Kelsey Mitchell to play more of a Jewell Loyd role for the Fever.
Chicago, meanwhile, faces a potential remaking of its backcourt. While Stefanie Dolson is signed through 2019 and both Gabby Williams and Diamond DeShields, 2018’s lottery picks, are on rookie deals, both three-point champion Allie Quigley and the league’s assist leader in Courtney Vandersloot are free agents. Should the Sky wish to improve on the defensive end, a move like letting the highly-sought after Quigley sign elsewhere and bringing in Louisville’s Asia Durr to play the two could be a way to make that fix.
Ultimately, the 2019 draft offers immediate help to a range of teams. As Smith put it: “You saw that this year with the top half of the draft, even with Kia Nurse at our spot. These players come in ready to roll.”
The remainder of the first round looks like this:
7. Los Angeles