2021 WNBA Draft Board: Preseason Top 25
Sizing up the 2021 class before the start of the 2020-21 college basketball season
|Ben Dull||Nov 16, 2020|| 2|
With the first games of the college basketball season less than two weeks away, it’s time to kick off Floor Game’s coverage of the 2021 WNBA Draft with a preseason board ranking the top 25 prospects.
We don’t have a draft order quite yet. The league still needs to conduct its draft lottery with New York, Atlanta, Dallas and Indiana hoping for a lucky bounce to secure the No. 1 overall pick. We’ll hold off on our first mock draft until we know the order at the very top. In case you missed it, here’s a handy 2021 draft lottery primer.
Time for some disclaimers. These are subjective rankings. The main goal for this board is to provide a snapshot of the class at this point in time. Players can play their way up or down. I’m not necessarily aiming to project forward too much beyond what a player has already shown on tape. But if that’s what you see in some cases, then you’ve found some players that I really, really believe in as prospects.
We’re in the early days of 2021 draft coverage here. I don’t have much at all to compare this to; I don’t have the best grip on what will be perceived as a surprising take, or how many of them I ended up having in total. So if you’re reading this and want to talk about the draft, I’m all ears.
This is a fun exercise. I don’t want to lose that. It’s also something that I don’t take lightly. If I’m making assertions about a player’s game, I do it because I have put the time in to watch them play. A lot. I hope that shines through.
You’ll see three potential early entrants in this edition marked with asterisks. As always, I’m never looking to advise those players or tell them what they should do. I just happen to think it’s clear that they’re pros. The ‘when’ is entirely up to them. These early entrant decisions have massive ripple effects that are worth covering.
Here we go: Floor Game’s Preseason Top 25 2021 WNBA Draft Board. Stats obtained via Her Hoop Stats.
1. Rhyne Howard, 6’2” Guard/Wing, Kentucky*
I’ve said it before. Howard is the next can’t-miss star. At 6’2”, she’s a dynamic on- and off-ball scorer. In her first two seasons, she shot north of 38 percent on a pretty daunting diet of 3-pointers: off the bounce, coming off screens and getting into her stepback in one-on-one situations. Howard sees the floor well in pick and roll and consistently gets deep into the paint thanks to her size, handle, long strides to the rim, and the constant threat of her tremendous shooting ability.
When the time comes, WNBA teams won’t need to worry about fit. You can play Howard with a ball-dominant point guard to help get her some easier scoring opportunities and still let her take over in crunch time as needed. She missed some time during conference play last season due to a broken finger on her non-shooting hand. Howard returned to basically play out the season with one hand and one club and was still very productive down the stretch for a tournament-bound team. This 2020-21 group is Kentucky’s most talented bunch since Howard arrived on campus. So if you’re more of a WNBA-only viewer looking for a team with a superstar player to watch closely this season, Kentucky would be a great choice.
Note (11/16, 8 PM ET): This board isn’t predictive or doing any speculating. It’s just a ranking of players. Howard would need to graduate early to enter the draft. So why put Howard on the list at all? Because she’s that good. So whatever the chances of that happening actually are, either way, it affects the teams at the top of this draft (and the next one) in a big, big way.
2. Awak Kuier, 6’4” Power Forward/Center, Finland
Kuier is ridiculously skilled and fluid at her size and age. She’s comfortable leading the break and facing up to attack from the perimeter. Now, how consistent and prolific of a 3-point shooter will she become? That might be a tougher question even for teams to try to answer in this draft cycle if they don’t get (many) chances to go watch her practice and play in person. The shooting sample in FIBA competitions alone is far too small.
That fluidity really grabs your attention seeing how well Kuier moves her feet defensively. She alters shots and recovers with ease at 6’4” with a massive wingspan. Add it all up, and you’re looking at a floor-spacing, attacking big that could make multiple All-Defense teams. There are questions worth asking regarding her availability. Will it mirror that of somebody like, say, Emma Meesseman? Potential uncertainty might outweigh the reward at the very top. I can’t even attempt to address those questions right now. On talent alone, Kuier sure looks like a lottery pick to me.
3. Arella Guirantes, 5’11” Wing, Rutgers
Guirantes opted to return to school for her senior year after breaking out to score nearly 21 points per game last season. I really like the physicality to her game. It yielded encouraging results in the form of seven free throw attempts per game. She defends her position well and flashed some really impressive passing vision even though it was a pretty easy decision for opponents to shrink the floor on Rutgers without much shooting around Guirantes.
Even though last season was a big step forward from anything Guirantes had previously done at the college level, I don’t see any red flags. Her 38 percent shooting on 3.2 3-point attempts per game does need to continue, however, to continue to open up the rest of her game at the pro level, where she’ll naturally need to spend at least a bit more time playing without the ball.
4. Rennia Davis, 6’2” Wing/Forward, Tennessee
Tall wings are pretty tough to come by. Davis is an intriguing prospect to swing between both forward spots. Plug her in at the 4 and she can pick and pop. Play her at the 3, and you can run her off some screens and let her attack closeouts looking to get all the way to the rim.
So much of this can be swayed by who you trust as a shooter. Davis shot 37 percent on 92 attempts as a sophomore and 30 percent on 115 attempts last season. But considering the run of point guards you’re about to see, I’m not ready to worry about a player with this size and skill set quite yet.
5. Charli Collier, 6’5” Center, Texas*
Can I interest you in a stretch 5? Not a very tough sell, is it? Collier shot 35 percent on 79 3-point attempts last season. It’s very important to understand the offensive situation at Texas last season. Collier was the best shooter on the roster by a country mile. So while it’s great that she opened up the floor for everybody else, the team was still pretty underwhelming on that end against some of their best conference opponents. That was also Collier’s first season as a starter after playing 14 minutes per game as a freshman.
The path to improvement isn’t too crowded. But let’s see it first. I think this slot is a happy medium. Look for Collier to continue shooting with confidence and to show a little more on one- and two-dribble drives to play off her shot. And while last year’s team wasn’t setting the world on fire offensively, Collier needs to improve defensively. She spent too much time in foul trouble in some key games, and you’d hope to see more indicating she can anchor a WNBA defense someday.
6. Aari McDonald, 5’6” Point Guard, Arizona
McDonald is my pick to start the season as the No. 1 point guard. She’s a terror in the open floor and has the burst to get by anybody from a dead stop. She’s going to live in the lane at the next level and is the best finisher among the point guards in this class. Teams will hope that McDonald made some strides with her jumper over the long offseason. She has been a low-30s catch and shoot 3-point shooter according to Synergy Sports. McDonald needs to cross that threshold for teams to respect her as an off-ball threat and punish opponents enough at the next level if they duck under every screen.
7. Michaela Onyenwere, 6’0” Wing, UCLA
Onyenwere will be facing a big transition to play on the wing full time. She has been a matchup nightmare at the 4 and even played some minutes at the 5 for the Bruins. Onyenwere gets great rise on her jumper and has been a very effective midrange and low-post scorer. And there will be some room for that at the next level. She also needs to get comfortable playing out on the perimeter more frequently. UCLA’s new five-out offense should put Onyenwere in more spots to do so.
8. Dana Evans, 5’6” Point Guard, Louisville
I lauded McDonald’s speed and quickness earlier. Evans can really fly, too. I do wonder how many teams have Evans (43 percent on seven 3-point attempts per game) over McDonald. Right now, I think McDonald puts more pressure on the rim and is a more disruptive on-ball defender. How do you weigh that with where these two players are at as shooters?
9. Evina Westbrook, 6’0” Point Guard, UConn*
Get your bingo cards ready! Westbrook is a big guard. UConn will be pretty fascinating to watch this season. They’ll be awesome in transition and should be really tough to prepare for in the halfcourt with so much talent in the backcourt. Westbrook does actually utilize that height to find players rolling to the rim and go right at smaller players. If the 38 percent mark she hit on 100 3-point attempts as a sophomore at Tennessee is reflective of where she’s at as a shooter, this ranking is probably too low.
10. Lindsey Pulliam, 5’10” Shooting Guard, Northwestern
Depending on how you want to classify Guirantes’ position, Pulliam is clearly the other (or primary) high-profile 2-guard in this class. She has been extremely reliant on pull-up two-pointers, hence the 2-point shooting percentages in the high 30s/low 40s. Seeing her 3-point attempts increase to four per game last season (on 35 percent shooting) was a necessary step. Like Courtney Williams, you don’t need a ridiculous number of attempts; you just want a capable shooter making teams pay for leaving her open to also unlock more of her own off-ball scoring.
11. Tiana Mangakahia, 5’6” Point Guard, Syracuse
One of the best passers in the country was cleared to return to practice back in February, less than a year after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Mangakahia is a really sharp pick and roll player. We’ve already seen her hit some of the toughest reads with cross-court passes to set up open 3-pointers. Mangakahia shot 35 percent on 65 pull-up 3-point attempts in 2018-19, up from 28 percent on similar volume the season prior. Mangakahia’s season could parallel Rhyne Howard’s in a sense, with big expectations for both programs after welcoming some really talented newcomers.
12. Kiana Williams, 5’8” Point Guard, Stanford
This might go down as the lowest I have Williams all season. There’s a solid argument for a Crystal Dangerfield comp here. Both ran the Princeton offense and might surprise you with their ability to shoot it off the dribble playing with more of a spread floor at the next level. Williams is a good pull-up shooter that can get you into your offense and mesh with other scorers. Be careful not to get caught stat watching this season. This loaded Stanford roster shouldn’t need to ask as much of Williams offensively this season against 90 percent of their competition.
13. Destiny Slocum, 5’7” Point Guard, Arkansas
Slocum was tough to place for this first go around. I’m ready to actually watch some new film of hers. She’s a great fit with Arkansas and their desire to push the pace and get up a bunch of 3-pointers. Oregon State was almost a polar opposite. Slocum had developed a bit of a bad habit of picking her dribble up before she really has a plan—hardly ideal for a lead guard. But again, you couldn’t script a better fit to showcase Slocum’s pick and roll scoring and sheer speed in transition.
14. Iliana Rupert, 6’4” Center, France
I like some of the flashes we’ve seen from Rupert moving her feet out on the perimeter. She’s one of two bigs I have in this range that could be seen as potential high-impact defenders. Rupert also has flashed some ball skills, occasionally bringing it up or facing up to attack with a quick dribble drive. It’s been tough to gauge her jumper. On one hand, she didn’t log as many minutes in junior FIBA competitions because she has been playing up with the senior team. Remember, Kuier and Rupert are a few years younger than most of their peers in this class because they are international prospects. Seeing more full games of Rupert against her age group would be helpful, but there’s also the added benefit of the experience she has been getting in EuroLeague playing for Bourges Basket with and against established WNBA players.
15. Natasha Mack, 6’4” Power Forward/Center, Oklahoma State
This might be one of the big surprises. Who knows. As I said, I’m basically dipping my toe in the water here. Pencil me in as a bit of a Mack skeptic for now. The JUCO transfer put up huge numbers in her first season at Oklahoma State. Lots of turnaround jumpers were involved. She dropped 26 on Oregon, but that game was over before the end of the first quarter. And four of those turnarounds got swallowed up by Lauren Cox and NaLyssa Smith—the kind of length and athleticism she’ll need to score against at the next level—in a loss at Baylor. I just don’t know how valuable this kind of scorer can be to a WNBA team, especially because I don’t think Mack’s shooting form projects very well out to the 3-point line.
16. Chelsea Dungee, 5’11” Wing, Arkansas
Dungee’s efficiency dropped after an excellent debut season with the Razorbacks. She shot 26 percent on 83 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers after canning 40 percent of 103 attempts the season prior. She should be a pretty exciting fit on the wing playing around established stars with her ability to attack hard and finish or get fouled. If teams believe in her 3-point shooting, do they think she could even be a starter one day? This would be far too low in that case. The addition of Slocum will help Dungee a ton. Needless to say, Arkansas is another team worth following this season.
17. DiDi Richards, 6’1” Guard/Wing, Baylor
Richards’ status for the 2020-21 season is still up in the air. She suffered a spinal cord injury after colliding with a teammate in practice. In this case in particular, it’s encouraging to know that Richards will have the option to return for the 2021-22 season. She has most certainly earned her reputation as one of the best defensive players in the country and is a really sharp passer and cutter. Her jumper is the big question. It looks like she has been retooling it over the summer. If that comes to fruition, expect her to move way up these rankings.
18. Selena Lott, 5’11” Wing, Marquette
Lott is coming off an incredibly impressive breakout season, essentially doubling her scoring and usage without seeing her efficiency really tail off at all. This is one of the main names to circle if you’re looking for a 3-and-D wing.
19. Natalie Kucowski, 6’3” Power Forward, Lafayette
Time for some fun. We have some sleepers here in the final third. Any big that’s already making 3-pointers and blocking a bunch of shots should at least raise an eyebrow and prompt some digging. Kucowski is a really interesting player. She cleans up on the glass on both ends. The 3-point stroke looks good. Then you see how comfortable she looked leading the break at times. Whoa! That was a separator for me. I’ve got Kucowski’s name down in Sharpie. She has the exact kind of skill set I’d want to monitor as a possible second round target.
20. Jasmine Walker, 6’3” Power Forward, Alabama
Walker can really shoot it. Her last two seasons, on top of the upcoming season, are a pretty good sample to size up all things considered. Walker looks comfortable shooting some of these on the move or over a light contest, and she can put it on the floor to get to a one-dribble pull-up or floater in the lane. She has a good case as a stretch 4 target.
21. Tiana England, 5’7” Point Guard, Florida State
I’m really high on England, who has a big opportunity to shine in the ACC after transferring from St. John’s. But as you’ve seen, this is a very crowded field this season. Like Mangakahia, some of the reads you’ll see England make as a pick and roll passer are really impressive. England’s scoring numbers won’t wow you. There isn’t much volume there. She isn’t incredibly flashy. But digging into the film, I like her pull-up jumper, and she’s very crafty with her angles and release points finishing in the lane. At No. 19 on this board, we’re already seven deep at the position. Teams with a need at backup point guard (or an older contributor at the position) should feel pretty good going into this draft.
22. Maya Dodson, 6’3” Center, Stanford
Dodson opted out of the 2020-21 season. So, what’s next? That’s obviously TBD. But she’s long and can really protect the rim. Unfortunately, she didn’t get a full junior campaign to potentially fulfill some of that promise in a bigger role. After being sidelined by a foot injury for most of the season, she made a surprising season debut on a road trip back in February. I fear that there’s a limited upside to her offensive game. She has really struggled at the foul line. I may even drop Dodson in future editions since there won’t be any new film on her this season. But she should absolutely be on the radar as a defensive option at the 5 to consider either in this cycle or the next one.
23. Aisha Sheppard, 5’9” Shooting Guard, Virginia Tech
Sheppard is a big-time shooter. She clocked in at 37 percent on 7.6 3-point attempts per game last season. You can run her off screens, or she’ll stick the pull-up triple in pick and roll if you go under. I’m not making a 1:1 comparison to Sami Whitcomb here, but I think Sheppard is a name to consider for a Sami Whitcomb kind of role as a 3-point threat off the bench.
24. Chelsey Perry, 6’2” Power Forward, UT Martin
Should there really even be much of a gap between Perry and Mack? Their games are pretty similar when it comes to their post-up scoring. Mack is (listed at) 6’4”. Perry naturally doesn’t get many chances to play against Power 5 competition. She also has been shooting 3-pointers her entire career, including 39 percent shooting on 122 attempts as a junior. Mack only has one season of Division I ball under her belt. So where does all that leave us? I’m not ready to answer that right now with much confidence. But the gap between them might need to shrink in future editions.
25. Janelle Bailey, 6’4” Center, North Carolina
Bailey has a really good feel for angles and how to score around the basket. She only took nine 3-pointers last season compared to 46 as a sophomore. I worry a little bit right now about who she guards along with how much of a path is there for her at the next level unless she emerges as a high-volume 3-point threat.
Just missed: a handful of (combo) guards, a handful of wings, and a handful of (stretch) bigs. It’s a list. It has to end somewhere. Things can change. There’s a lot of basketball yet to be played.
I like this draft. I wouldn’t exactly be looking to give away a second rounder. Let’s put it that way. I think there’s going to be some real talent in that range.
Of course, this draft will be unlike any other because even the seniors aren’t really seniors because they can opt into another year of eligibility. Teams will probably be even more anxious in the pre-draft process as they wait on much more than the early entrant deadline. Several of the top seniors choosing to return for another year would have a pretty big impact.
The point guards are one of the biggest stories of this draft. Get used to hearing about it from me. Do some of them get squeezed by a roster crunch? Which team(s) will see an opportunity to play two lead guards together next season? I really like the talent level of that group. An early prediction for April: a few teams in the late first/early second range will be happy campers because of it.
A related, very important disclaimer: Alternate versions of this first edition changed pretty radically as I moved the point guards around, so don’t be surprised if that happens in the future. Could six of them really end up going in the first round or the top 15? Seems like a high number, right? A draft board, at least for me, is much different than a mock draft. The point here is to evaluate the talent, and I happen to think all of those players have what it takes to make it as legitimate backups, if not as starters. But roster context matters. Some teams will already be two deep at the position. Sitting down to actually go through my first mock after the lottery will be really interesting for those reasons.
I have lots more on the way all season on the college game and on the draft. I’ll be writing about this point guard class and the state of the position heading into 2021 free agency. Breakout pieces on my top two prospects, Howard and Kuier, are in the works as well.
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