Tiana Mangakahia’s decision to return to Syracuse for her senior year means that Australian fans will have to wait until 2020 to see the point guard enter the league, but regardless there are two Aussies, both of whom are World Cup silver medallists, set to hear their names called on WNBA Draft Day this Thursday morning.
Stanford senior Alanna Smith and Melbourne Boomers forward Ezi Magbegor look set to be selected in the first 15-20 picks, with Smith all but guaranteed to be selected in the first round. The Pick and Roll takes a dive into their potential landing spots and what they have to offer whichever franchise does select them.
Alanna Smith is worthy of a top-10 pick, there is no doubting that. Whether the Opals forward is actually picked in the top 10 will depend on the moves made by WNBA team personnel on draft night. Yet in a draft that potentially features 15 players that would be selected in the top 10 in most other years, dropping out of the first round is hardly a commentary on a player’s talent or ability to compete at the top level.
However, Smith exhibits a number of traits that assist the Stanford star in standing out from her fellow draftees. The most versatile front court player in the nation, Smith has already joined three WNBA MVP's as the only players to tally 1,600 points, 200 blocks, and 150 threes in their Division 1 career, becoming the fourth member of a list featuring Maya Moore, Elena Delle Donne, and Breanna Stewart.
Smith’s elevation to such lofty company can be attributed to an outstanding senior year in which she has obliterated her season-high's in scoring, blocks, and shooting percentage, whilst her rebounding numbers have also improved to the point where she is now averaging 8.5 boards alongside almost 20 points per game, leading to 12 double-doubles.
More than half of those three-pointers have come this season as Smith’s outside shooting has improved markedly. Entering 2018/19, Smith was a likely high to mid-second round pick, with a solid inside game and streaky but unreliable outside shooting. However Stanford’s leader has upped her three-point percentage from 30.1% in her junior year to 40% this season, making her a scoring threat from anywhere inside 21 feet. That shooting allows Smith to play a number of positions, even shifting to the three in a pinch.
In a league where teams carry only 12 players on their rosters, such versatility can be like gold dust to WNBA coaches, particularly if the player can play a number of positions with no drop in their production, which Smith has proven time and again in her time at Stanford.
The confidence Smith gained from her time with the Opals, picking up a FIBA World Cup silver medal in the process, has been well-documented, but in terms of the draft it also showed that the forward can hang with the WNBA’s best after an admirable performance in Australia’s gold medal game loss to the USA. Smith top-scored for the Opals in that game, going toe-to-toe with the likes of Delle Donne and Nneka Ogwumike, and finishing with 10 points. While one game is a small sample size, any positive outcome is better than none, particularly when facing the same opponents that a player will be coming up against at the professional level.
There is barely a mock draft out that doesn’t have Smith going in the first round, with former WNBA and Team USA star, and current ESPN commentator Kara Lawson echoing those sentiments.
“Smith is a perfect fit for the pro style game. She's somebody that has good height. She's somebody that can really shoot it. A lot of times we talk about post players shooting it, and it's a small part of their game. She's made over 80 threes this year. That's incredible. Shooting it at a 40 percent clip.
“She can rebound at a high level. She can block shots. She can handle the ball. So I think she's very well-suited for the next level.
“I would be surprised if she didn't go in the first round because of what she brings. She brings great toughness. I think she's going to fit because she's comfortable in any spot on the floor.”
Interestingly enough, Smith has been pegged to be taken anywhere between 6 and 11 in most mock drafts, which is right in the range of Opals coach Sandy Brondello and Phoenix, who will pick 8th. There is certainly a spot there for Smith alongside Brittney Griner, with her ability to space the floor with her shooting preventing defences from paying too much attention to the towering American centre without risking a three-point hailstorm from the Australian. This is exactly the spot Howard Megdal and High Post Hoops have Smith falling to, and it looks like a perfect match.
Whilst Magbegor may be younger and perhaps less polished than the college players entering the draft, that youth could be the ace up the sleeve for the Opals forward in terms of securing a spot slightly higher in the draft than if she was 22 rather than 19 years of age.
Teams that need immediate impact from their draft picks may be reluctant to take on Magbegor if they feel she needs some time to further develop her game. However, there may be teams who see the 19-year-old making an impact or, alternatively, see the potential and are willing to be patient in the hopes that they end up with a player who makes a real difference to their roster.
Like Smith, Magbegor was one of Australia’s better performed players in the World Cup gold medal game against the United States, and has plenty of experience in the professional game following her time with the UC Capitals and Melbourne Boomers in the WNBL. There is certainly reason to believe that there are teams who will see Magbegor as an immediate contributor regardless of her youth, particularly as Los Angeles Sparks coach Derek Fisher mentioned during a pre-draft media call that he believes she has the attributes to make a solid transition into the league.
“[Ezi is] a little bit younger and still developing as a player, but at 6-3, 6-4, she plays big. She has long arms and plays the game with a high activity level that I think also will work well for her as she transitions.”
Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve saw Magbegor up close at last year’s World Cup as a member of the US team’s coaching staff, and has the young forward pegged to be selected in the middle of the draft. Ironically, the Lynx possess the 16th, 18th, and 20th picks of the 36-player draft.
“She’s a young player that certainly has some upside. If she was not injured over in the Australian league, it probably would have helped her a little bit more in terms of raising her stock.
“But I think that people have a handle for her, and I think she'd be a value pick outside of the first round, and I think that's probably where you'll see her go.”
All the pieces are certainly there for Magbegor to make a difference, with her athleticism at such a young age a bonus. The Opals rookie can run in transition, and she also uses an impressive stride length to her advantage well to combine with solid touch around the rim. A small sample size of midrange shots suggests that Magbegor can certainly utilise this area of her game, and if she can force opponents to respect both her penchant to get to the rim and her ability to knock down shots from slightly further out, her impact at the offensive end will be felt in quick time.
High Post Hoops has Magbegor falling into the early stages of the second round, to be selected by a Chicago side that is extremely settled in the backcourt but could definitely use some long-term additions in the frontcourt. However, prior to the NCAA Tournament, in which a number of players bolstered their draft stock against fellow potential draftees, Magbegor was being talked about as a potential first round selection, so that may well still come to pass.
The WNBA Draft takes place on Thursday, April 11 (Australian time), commencing at 9am with the first round shown LIVE on ESPN2 and the remainder screening on watchESPN.