After a 2017 WNBA season in which the Seattle Storm spun their wheels, general manager Alisha Valavanis will almost certainly be active in the trade market.
Few trade assets in the Storm’s possession will be more valuable than their first-round pick, which is the fifth overall selection in the 2018 draft. On its own, the pick probably won’t net Seattle an All-Star-caliber player, but it could be packaged with another piece or two to command a solid return.
Worth pondering, however, is whether the Storm would—barring an offer Valavanis couldn’t refuse—be better off keeping the pick. And branching off that, how much is the No. 5 pick worth for Seattle.
With those two questions in mind, let’s take a look historically at what kind of value the selection has carried in past years and briefly analyze this year’s WNBA draft class and evaluate Seattle’s options there.
What Does the No. 5 Pick Typically Deliver?
The WNBA draft is a lot like its NBA counterpart in that teams outside of the lottery can’t expect to regularly find the kind of players who will go on to compete for MVP honors and reach multiple All-Star Games.
Excluding players who went in the WNBA’s inaugural allocation draft in 1997, only one player selected outside of the top two picks has won an MVP Award. Tamika Catchings was the third pick in a 2001 draft class that included Lauren Jackson.
That’s not to say the WNBA draft is a complete black hole once you get past the consensus best players in the draft class. Of particular concern for the Storm, 27 players selected outside of the top four since 2007 have appeared in at least one All-Star Game. While the Storm may not be able to find another Breanna Stewart this spring, they may be able to unearth the next Jonquel Jones, who was the sixth overall pick in 2016.
It may not be enough, though, for the Storm to get a player who could be an All-Star in three or even two years. Valavanis and head coach Dan Hughes may want somebody who can step on the court right now and play a key role for a team with top-four aspirations in 2018.
The history of the WNBA gives Valavanis and Hughes a general idea of how much a player selected with the fifth pick can strengthen the Storm in the years ahead.
Taking that into account, the draft data is limited to the first three years of each player’s career. Below is an average of the player efficiency rating, win shares and win shares per 48 minutes from every player selected with the No. 5 pick:
- Year 1—12.8 PER, 1.2 WS, .085 WS/48
- Year 2—14.9 PER, 1.3 WS, .112 WS/48
- Year 3—16.1 PER, 2.1 WS, .153 WS/48
To give those numbers a little more context, here’s how they’d look compared to the Storm’s roster from last year:
Not surprisingly, the Storm shouldn’t expect to land an All-Star with the fifth pick. Jones is certainly the exception rather than the rule in terms of All-Star players falling out of the draft lottery.
The Storm are in dire need of role players, and their lack of depth is even worse when considering Sue Bird turned 37 in October. Bird is one of the most legendary point guards in WNBA history, but even she’s going to noticeably decline sometime. The team may also have to replace Noelle Quinn, who’s a free agent this offseason.
The idea of getting a rookie who can come off the bench and deliver solid minutes for Seattle shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Stewart and Jewell Loyd can only get so much better. The Storm’s best bet at becoming a title-contending team is increasing the contributions the supporting cast. Looking toward the draft is one of the easiest ways to achieve that goal.
Of course, Valavanis and Hughes’ hands would be tied if the talent pool isn’t all that deep. Plenty of players selected around the fifth pick have been big disappointments and washed out of the league completely in a few years.
It seems as good a time as any to examine the Storm’s likeliest targets in the first round of the 2018 draft.
Who Will Be Available for Seattle at No. 5?
Generally speaking, I’d lean more toward taking the best player available rather than selecting a player who addresses a personnel need.
Hardly anybody remembers the Portland Trail Blazers didn’t exactly need another shooting guard heading into the 1984 draft. Instead, the Blazers are the team that passed on Michael Jordan to take Sam Bowie—legitimate justifications for the decision be damned.
Of course, the Las Vegas TBDs are an example of how that plan can cause problems. Figuring out a way to accommodate Kelsey Plum, Moriah Jefferson and Kayla McBride in the same backcourt is a good headache to have but a headache all the same.
If an obviously talented future All-Star falls into the Storm’s lap with the fifth pick, then they shouldn’t hesitate in selecting her, even if it leads to a logjam in the depth chart.
With that said, Valavanis and Hughes should have some framework for which players in the 2018 draft class are going to help the Storm the most in terms of their current squad. At the top of Seattle’s draft board should be either a playmaking point guard who can eventually take over for Bird or a defensive-minded center to play alongside Stewart.
Looking ahead to the draft, the Storm should have a good opportunity of bolstering their backcourt, since one of Diamond DeShields or Kelsey Mitchell is likely to be available at No. 5.
The chances Las Vegas selects a guard in the lottery for a third year in a row are slim, so Maria Vadeeva and A’Ja Wilson are the likely options there.
The calculus is largely the same for the Indiana Fever, who already have Tiffany Mitchell, Erica Wheeler and Briann January. The Fever could go with another guard, but they seem certain to add whoever between Vadeeva or Wilson is still on the board.
That leaves the Chicago Sky, who have the third and fourth overall selections. The Sky are a wild card since they’re so early into their rebuild. Much like the Stars, they may focus more on talent accumulation rather than addressing need. It’s possible Chicago could go with Mitchell and DeShields with back-to-back picks. More likely, though, the Sky will go the frontcourt-backcourt route and take Mitchell/DeShields and one of Mercedes Russell, Gabby Williams or Teaira McCowan.
Unless another team trades up into the top four, the Storm should have the opportunity to get one of the two best guards in this year’s draft class.
If Valavanis and Hughes are inclined to trade the No. 5 pick, then they should think long and hard about whether the move would represent a drastically better outcome than not making the trade at all.
History indicates the player selected fifth overall grows into a solid role player, with a big improvement in the third season. Sure, not all draft picks pan out, but flipping a pick for an experienced veteran doesn’t always deliver, as evidenced last year by the Carolyn Swords trade.
Mitchell is averaging 26.1 points and 4.0 assists per game this year. She just passed Jantel Lavender to become Ohio State’s all-time leading scorer, which puts her career in context. DeShields posted 17.4 points and 3.8 assists in her final year at Tennessee, and she’s scoring 18.0 points a night in Turkey. Had DeShields been eligible for the 2017, she would’ve been a lottery pick. Now, she’ll arrive in the WNBA with some professional experience under her belt.
Mitchell or DeShields is arguably better than any player the Storm could realistically hope to get in return straight-up for the fifth overall selection. Neither Russell nor McCowan—assuming the latter forgoes her senior year—would be a bad route, either, since they’d provide the size and a defensive presence inside in the event Swords doesn’t improve under a new head coach.
Valavanis and Hughes should be motivated make moves that help in the Storm in the short term, but they shouldn’t lose sight of the team’s long-term future. This may be the last time for the foreseeable future—and ideally, it is—Seattle will have a draft pick this close to the lottery. The silver lining of last year’s disappointing finish was that the Storm would be positioned to get a really good player in a pretty deep 2018 draft class.
The Storm’s front office shouldn’t be dead set against trading their first-round pick, thus ignoring what could be very favorable trade offers. Unless it receives an offer that is way too good to pass up, though, Seattle would benefit more from taking its chances in the draft.