The time has finally come.
The time for tanking teams to have their moment in the spotlight is nearly upon us after a full year of reorganizing, scouring the college ranks for the next generation of talent and watching as once-great teams try to find their identity.
The WNBA Draft can either make or break the entire year of a franchise. Teams can spend months determining whether they should swing for the fences or opt for a safe shot inside the park, but no organization can genuinely know whether they walk away with a home-run prospect or a swing and a miss until they first suit up for a game in the league.
The Indiana Fever, who earned their first number-one overall pick in franchise history, will again have to rely on a roll of the dice to dig them out of a stretch of three straight single-win seasons. The Fever seemed determined to land their young star of the future following a 6-26 performance in the 2021 season, bringing seven rookies from the 2022 draft into its ranks after selecting seventh the previous year.
The Fever lucked out with the selection of forward NaLyssa Smith at number-two overall, who placed second on the team with 13.5 points per game and earned a spot on the All-Rookie team after earning a double-double in her first-ever game in the big leagues.
If there was any time for the Fever to swing for the fences, now might be it.
The Las Vegas Aces added forward Candace Parker to their already-stacked roster in the offseason, making it that much harder for the Fever to compete with the Aces and the New York Liberty in recent years.
The Fever will have yet another chance to create a star-studded young lineup around a fourth-year head coach Marianne Stanley, armed with the number-one and number-seven overall picks.
Should the Fever try for a risky shot with their two picks? Or should they play it safe and continue to build around the young talent they currently have?
In every draft, from Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu in 2020 to South Carolina forward A’ja Wilson in 2018, there always seems to be a standout prospect that every tanking team tries to gun for before the draft lottery decides their fate.
This year, Boston seems to be the likely choice to go at number-one.
Boston averaged 13 points, 9.8 rebounds and two blocks per game for a South Carolina team that went undefeated before it fell in a four-point loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Final Four.
The 6-foot-5-inch forward had another stellar season highlighted by a 22-point, 10-rebound performance against the Maryland Terrapins in the Elite Eight. The three-time All-American and two-time National Player of the Year tacked on five assists and two blocked shots against the number-seven team in the country, pushing South Carolina to its third Final Four appearance since 2021.
Should she be selected with the number-one overall pick, the Fever must figure out the rotation between Smith, Boston and center Queen Egbo.
Egbo made thiry-one starts for the Fever after she was selected with the tenth overall pick in last year’s draft. The former NCAA champion with the Baylor Bears earned 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in thirty-one starts for the Fever. Egbo has quickly found a near-permanent spot in the Fever’s rotation after scoring ten points and pulling down six boards in a forteen-point loss to the Washington Mystics in early May.
Boston is the lock at number-one. No one can argue against her talent, sky-high potential and readiness for the WNBA.
But it wouldn’t be the draft without any draft-day surprises.
This pick is unlikely, but an intriguing one nonetheless.
Diamond Miller likely won’t slip out of the top five. Teams like the Minnesota Lynx and Dallas Wings may be looking for extra scoring talent with their top picks and likely won’t pass on Miller. The Fever selected two forwards, Smith and Emily Engstler, with their top-two picks this year. An one-time All-Star in Erica Wheeler and the team’s leader in points and assists per game in guard Kelsey Mitchell will likely take up the two guard spots in 2023.
Miller led Franklin High School to a 65-57 victory over Saddle River Day School in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final in 2019. Miller finished the championship game with 25 points, 18 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks, according to TAPinto.net Managing Editor Guy Kipp.
The 6-foot-3-inch guard led the Terrapins in points (19.7), rebounds (6.4), steals (2.1) and blocks (1.3) per game during the 2022-23 season. The Terrapins pushed through its Big-Ten schedule and beyond to earn a 28-7 overall record and a 15-3 record against conference opponents, scoring a season-high 32 points in a 73-68 win over the Baylor Bears in late November.
Miller’s size, tenacity to play both inside and out and all-around talent could make her a fantastic glue-piece for the Fever to fill multiple needs simultaneously as they search for a direction and their first winning season in the 2020’s.
Here’s where the number-seven overall pick can come in handy.
ESPN’s most recent mock draft has the Fever selecting South Carolina guard Brea Beal with the seventh pick, while Indiana Hoosiers guard Grace Berger slid down to the Seattle Storm at number-nine. Beal, a strong defender during her four seasons with South Carolina, would fit the defensive identity the Fever are trying to instill after they ranked dead last in the league in defensive rating.
Berger may be a solid option for a Fever team that ranked second-to-last in assists per game with eighteen during the 2022 season.
A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Berger averaged 12.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game during her final year with the Hoosiers. Berger pulled ahead of junior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil by one assist to take the lead in the category, going as high as ten assists in an 83-60 win over a Big-Ten rival in the Purdue Boilermakers.
Mitchell will likely return to the Fever in 2023. The Fever may need some extra playmaking off the bench after guard Danielle Robinson signed with the Atlanta Dream, if they want to spark an offense that ranked dead last in the league with an offensive rating of 95.2. Mitchell will become an unrestricted free agent in 2025, giving Berger all the time she needs to get acclimated with the team’s offense before the Fever have to make a choice on retaining the former number-two overall pick in 2018.
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