The Associated Press released its latest WNBA mock draft earlier this week, with one notable choice at #20 – Baylor's Australian senior Kristy Wallace to the Phoenix Mercury.
The AP consults with coaches and general managers before putting together this list, but coaches are not allowed to offer a pick for their own team. However, prevailing opinion among those team decision-makers consulted appears to be that Mercury (and Opals) coach Sandy Brondello will use one of her consecutive second round picks at #20 and #21 to draft Wallace despite the fact the Baylor star won’t be available until 2019 following a devastating ACL injury in the final regular season game of her senior year.
So, why would Brondello use a second round pick in a stacked draft on a player that can’t even practice with the team, let alone play, for the best part of 12 months? It may sound fanciful, but as it turns out, there are several reasons that it could happen.
Brondello has long known about Wallace’s potential, and the Opals coach clearly has the Baylor star in her plans after calling her up for the camp prior to last year’s FIBA Asia Cup.
There are a number of back court players tipped to be selected in the back end of the second round of the draft, including Wallace’s fellow Big 12 players in Oklahoma State’s Loryn Goodwin and Texas’ Brooke McCarty. The trio battled each other hard all season so there is plenty of form to go by. Who could forget Wallace's Australia Day performance against Texas that earned her an ESPN National Player of the Week award? However, Brondello knows a lot more about what she’ll be getting with Wallace in terms of fit and personality, which could potentially help with team cohesion if and when the Queenslander does join up with the team if this all plays out.
Position of the picks
This class appears to be one of the most stacked draft classes in recent times, and whilst that doesn’t sound like it bodes well for an injured player such as Wallace, it may yet actually help her chances.
A stacked class means that even though their first selection won’t occur until the 12th pick, the Mercury are more likely to hit on someone that they feel can make a difference straight away than they generally would with a pick that low. Unless a player unexpectedly drops down the list to the point that they become a total steal when the Mercury’s second round picks roll around, that would appear to increase the likelihood that they can take a chance on Wallace, especially considering that they have two consecutive second round picks at #20 and #21. Finding two players that late in the draft that can come in and play a role straight away is almost unheard of in the WNBA.
Of the 85 players taken with picks 20-36 in the last five years, only 21 have played in the same season in which they were drafted and more than half are yet to feature in the league at all, with little correlation between draft position and playing time. If the odds are stacked against whichever player you select playing in their first year anyway and you think Wallace can do a better job once she’s healthy, is there really much difference in taking her over anyone else?
They’ve done it before
Brondello and the Mercury are no strangers to taking a flyer on injured players, having done so in 2015 with Tennessee centre Isabelle Harrison and again in 2016 with Oregon centre Jillian Alleyne.
Harrison was odds-on to be taken with the overall #1 pick prior to her senior year, but suffered an ACL injury and tumbled down the draft order. Eventually it was the defending champion Mercury, with few needs that could be addressed in the draft, who took the centre with the 12th and final pick of the opening round. Two seasons later, Harrison is averaging 11.4 points per game with San Antonio after being traded prior to last season, having shown enough in her time as a backup to Brittney Griner to convince San Antonio (now Las Vegas) to part with a former All-Star in Danielle Robinson to secure the centre. The decision may not have been a resounding success, but it wasn’t a complete failure and if the Mercury once again don’t see a player that can make a difference in their first season in the league by the time they get to the 20th pick in the draft, why not take a flyer and see what happens?
She’s a damn good basketball player
If this wasn’t the case, rival coaches wouldn’t believe Phoenix were a chance of drafting Wallace and the previous three arguments would be moot.
Wallace may have flown slightly under the radar in her first three seasons in a Baylor side with a stacked back court, but emerged as a national star in her senior year. The Australian was a unanimous All-Big 12 First Team selection and also earned a Big 12 All-Defensive team nomination after an outstanding season. Wallace was also conspicuous by her absence in the post-season. Baylor fell in the Sweet 16 after being considered one of the favourites to reach the Final Four prior to the senior’s season-ending injury. The senior has proven herself to be a solid scorer alongside her elite skills as an offensive facilitator at the point, and her lock-down defence has been a hallmark of her game since the moment she set foot in Waco.
There are certainly many sticking points when it comes to any player being drafted, but especially with a player coming off an injury. Did the Mercury acquire a third draft pick because they feel there are enough elite players in the draft that they will find quality that can help them now as far down as picks #20 and #21? Are they willing to take another chance on an injured player? They are certainly in win-now mode having reached the semifinals last season. With 2015 All-Star DeWanna Bonner returning after taking 2017 to give birth to twins in July, the long game may not be their preference in this year's draft. They could even flip a combination of their draft picks for an established player in the days leading up to the draft. All of these are questions which will only be answered in due course, but there are certainly plenty of reasons for the Mercury to further strengthen the Aussie connection to the franchise by selecting one of the country’s finest college players in recent memory.
Yet even if the Mercury have absolutely zero interest in drafting Wallace, that doesn’t mean one of the eleven other WNBA teams won’t select her.