As was the case five years ago when Seimone Augustus, now a sixth-year veteran, clearly was the best player in the WNBA draft, University of Connecticut forward Maya Moore holds a similar distinction this year.
The Minnesota Lynx holds the WNBA’s top overall pick for the third time in franchise history. In a recent interview, Minnesota second-year Head Coach Cheryl Reeve all but assured me that her team will use this year’s top pick to select Moore next Monday when the 2011 WNBA Draft is held. They traded their overall pick last year to Connecticut for Lindsay Whalen.
Minnesota has two picks in the opening round, two in the second, and one in the third. “This year’s draft is unique,” claims the coach.
The three-round 2011 WNBA Draft can easily be called “the Maya Moore and a bunch of ‘but’ players draft.” The “but” reflects doubts if these players can earn a roster spot on one of the 12 WNBA teams when the season begins June 3.
The key, continues Reeve, “is overcoming that ‘but’ part.”
The local team’s present roster — each WNBA team can only have 11 players — projects only two openings: one definitely for the 6-foot-1 Moore, if selected, and the second for the team’s second first-round selection.
“I think our biggest challenge is to be able to add players to balance out the roster,” admits Reeve. “The  draft pick will kind of fit in.”
Moore would make a nice “fit in” on any WNBA team, most observers believe. ESPN analyst and former WNBA head coach/GM Carolyn Peck, who admitted as much during a March 31 pre-draft media conference call, sees Moore having a Tamika Catchings-like work ethic.
“The impact that Maya has will depends on how she’s used,” Peck explains. “She is going to play hard on every play. She also can play the ‘3’ or the ‘4’ and her scoring ability and her willingness to make plays and take big shots.”
Peck, however, also wants to see Moore go to the basket more “and not rely so much on a catch-and-shoot situation.”
I asked Peck what position Minnesota should look to fill with their second first-round pick at number four. “You could use a player like Courtney Vandersloot [from Gonzaga], depending on what Chicago will do [at number three] or even Tulsa [at number two]. It really depends on what happens at two and three [Tulsa and Chicago, respectively]. You could go with a [Amber] Harris if she’s there, Vandersloot if she’s there, or do you take a Jantel Lavender if she’s available?”
Personally, this columnist thinks the Lynx need a point guard to back up Whalen. Neither Wright nor Wiggins, who is coming off another injury-plagued season, are suitable in that role — both are more shooters than table setters. I’d rather see 5’-9” Oklahoma guard Danielle Robinson than the 5’-8” Vandersloot with that fourth overall pick.
“We have one of the best rosters in the league,” states Reeve. “It’s our ability to turn this roster full of quality players into a quality basketball team. If we can stay healthy, this is probably the Lynx’s year.”
“You cannot undervalue having a strong, good point guard,” surmises Peck.
Among the other top draft prospects are Xavier teammates Harris and Ta’Shia Phillips and Lavender of Ohio State.
“There are a lot of bigs this year” in the draft, said Tulsa Head Coach and General Manager Nolan Richardson, who also participated on the media phone call.
“I really believe Amber Harris [a 6’-5” forward] is a guard in a post body because she can do so many different things,” says Peck, who sees Harris playing the power forward spot in the pros. “I like the way Ta’Shia positions herself once the ball comes to her side, and uses her strength to take the ball to the basket as opposed to just using her height,” she added on the 6’-6” Phillips, who played center.
However, Peck expresses concern if players like Phillips and Lavender and other post players can handle the speed of the women’s pro game. “The WNBA is moving more toward having very agile centers,” she points out.
Both Phillips and Lavender say they are ready to take the next step in their careers. “I love to rebound, and I am looking for that challenge, because there are a lot more bigs in the WNBA,” proclaimed the 6’-4” Lavender, who graduated last month with a BS degree in education from Ohio State.
Added Phillips, who will graduate this spring with a double major in entrepreneurship and marketing, “We have to use speed and learn the tricks [the veterans] already know. It will be a challenge.”
The draft next Monday officially signals the end of the WNBA off-season. “It’s a good draft,” Reeve believes.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.