At the end of an unprecedented college basketball season, the 2021 WNBA Draft was filled with chaos and surprises. Here are the biggest.
And then, after that, chaos.
With the fourth pick, the Indiana Fever took West Virginia’s Kysre Gondrezick, and the unexpected moves just continued from there. Let’s talk about the biggest surprises of the 2021 WNBA Draft.
Kysre Gondrezick goes to Indiana Fever at No. 4 in the WNBA Draft
This had to be the surprise of the draft.
Nothing against Gondrezick, who was a very good college player at West Virginia, but most mock drafts had her going in the middle of the second round. And while WNBA draft mocks can be notoriously wrong because so much college data is hard for outsiders to get access to, this pick still seemed to come even more out of left field than we’re used to.
The Fever had a strange offseason. They signed Jessica Breland and Danielle Robinson to surprising deals. They traded for Lindsay Allen. On paper, they head into 2021 as the team most likely to finish last in the league.
That makes the Gondrezick pick even weirder. She was a good scorer at West Virginia, averaging 19.5 points per game as well as 4.5 assists per contest. But she also turned the ball over a lot and she wasn’t necessarily elite at any particular thing. She spent a lot of time in the pick-and-roll and was good at it, ranking in the 73rd percentile in points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. She has a chance to be really good, but Indiana is a team that needs someone who has star potential. I’m not sold Gondrezick can be a star. Maybe the Fever are just looking ahead to a strong 2022 draft and view Gondrezick as a nice complementary piece to whoever they take in next year’s lottery. She can also give them an additional ball-handler in the short term if we assume that Julie Allemand stays overseas this season.
The Dallas Wings draft Chelsea Dungee at No. 5
This pick is fine. Dungee’s a great scorer who filled a need for Dallas. And they eventually got a point guard in the second round, as Dana Evans had a huge drop.
But in the moment, Dallas not going with a point guard here was a big surprise.
The team currently has three point guards on the roster: Moriah Jefferson, Tyasha Harris, and Marina Mabrey. Jefferson’s injury concerns mean she probably isn’t part of their long-term plans. Harris isn’t a great 3-point shooter, and Mabrey isn’t really a natural point guard, so it really seemed like Greg Bibb and company would go with someone like Evans here.
They didn’t. They still got a point guard later, so it all worked out. And Dungee was, as I mentioned, a great scorer for Arkansas. Playing in Mike Neighbors’ fast-paced offense might have skewed some numbers, but her 0.985 points per possession ranked in the 92nd percentile. She’s an elite spot-up shooter who can score at every level, and per CBB Analytics she shot 67.1 percent at the rim, 8.7 percentage points above average. Dungee is going to be a great offensive place for this Dallas team, but at the moment, it was a surprise.
The Liberty’s first two picks in the WNBA Draft — Michaela Onyenwere in the first round and DiDi Richards in the second round — seem to imply the team is focusing heavily on the defensive end. Onyenwere is one of the most athletic players in this class. Richards is arguably the best perimeter defender in this class.
But Onyenwere’s 3-point attempt rate at UCLA was low, ranking in the 32nd percentile last season. She connected on 34.5 percent of those attempts, so there’s upside there, but the Liberty are a team that preached the 3-pointer over and over and over last season. Head coach Walt Hopkins’ system is all about shooting on offense.
Onyenwere, then, is a surprising pick when you think about what this team wants to do on that end. Richards, who didn’t take a 3 for the Baylor Lady Bears last season, is an even stranger choice.
It seems like New York has shifted a lot of their attention to defense. I’m not sure that should be considered a surprise after they traded for Natasha Howard this offseason, but it does seem to signal something.
Some top prospects had big draft-day falls
There were four players that I was really high on in this draft who I thought could go in the top half of the first: Rennia Davis, Dana Evans, Natasha Mack, and Arella Guirantes. They went — Davis (No. 9, Minnesota), Dana Evans (No. 13, Dallas), Natasha Mack (No. 16, Chicago), and Arella Guirantes (No. 22, Los Angeles)
I don’t think we have time to get into what happened here on an individual level. This was a weird draft in a weird season. Things like scouting probably weren’t as easy as usual, and there’d long been a narrative that this was a weak draft, so teams likely valued fit a little more than they valued talent. Evans, for example, is an undersized point guard. The talent is there, but I’m sure some teams were worried about putting another small guard in their backcourt. Mack doesn’t stretch the floor, so teams that want shooting at the 5 overlooked the fact that she’s an elite interior talent.
Actually, let’s talk more about Arella Guirantes
But okay, we have to go longer on the biggest surprise of the WNBA draft: Arella Guirantes falling out of the first round and then falling more in the second round, eventually going to the Sparks with the 22nd pick.
I have one word here: “what.”
I thought that Guirantes was the third-best player in this draft class. As she continues to fall, I actually half-jokingly asked one of my group chats if Guirantes had secretly retired, because it made no sense that team after team after team kept passing on her. Statistically, Guirantes just screams upside. Per CBB Analytics, so many things just stand out about her:
She was in the 99th percentile in both points and assists per game. And yes, she played in the Big 10, a conference that wasn’t great defensively last year, but still: 21.3 points and 5.2 assists per game! Yes, those are simple counting stats, but they’re impressive ones!
Want to get more advanced? An 87th percentile assist-to-turnover ratio, a 95th percentile assist percentage, and a 98th percentile usage rate. She had the ball a lot. She finished a ton of plays, but also made plenty of good passes AND avoided turning the ball over a ton.
Meanwhile, she was even more impressive on defense! Her 3.5 steal percentage ranked in the 89th percentile. Her block percentage ranked in the 94th percentile. Her 9.3 Hakeem percentage — a combination of steal and block rate — was in the 97th percentile. And her personal foul efficiency — the ratio of steals and blocks to fouls committed — was in the 99th percentile. She defends hard. She forces turnovers. And she doesn’t foul a ton while doing so.
She was also an efficient scorer relative to her usage. Her effective field goal percentage ranked in the 60th percentile, with her 0.906 points per possession ranking in the 83rd percentile. She was a strong pick-and-roll scorer and while there were better spot-up shooters in this class, a lot of her shooting concerns can be explained when you realize 33.4 percent of her attempts came in the mid-range, which was also the spot on the floor she shot the worst. A good WNBA coaching staff could help her alter that shot profile, allowing her to do the things she was best at == shooting from 3 and getting inside.
So, why did Guirantes freefall?
I don’t know. This is one of those times when all my women’s basketball knowledge just hits a wall. Teams weren’t seeing what a lot of us in the media were. We’ll have to see who ends up being right.