For the Los Angeles Sparks, the WNBA 2021 Draft was a good one. From top to bottom, the Sparks’ selections were solid picks. In general, Los Angeles came away with arguably the best draft of any team in the league.
Derek Fisher, the Sparks general manager and head coach, may have stolen the show when he went after and nabbed Rutgers guard Arella Guirantes with the draft’s No. 22 overall pick late in the second round.
As a redshirt senior at Rutgers, Guirantes scored an average of 21.3 points a game in 19 contests for the Scarlet Knights. This after scoring 20.6 points game during her redshirt junior season. All total, Guirantes scored 1,696 points in her career at Rutgers, including dropping 30 points in the Scarlet Knights’ 69-66 defeat at the hands of BYU in the first round in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
“It hurts,” Guirantes said after playing the last game of her collegiate career. “I’m going to be sad about it now, in the moment. But there are things to get ready for. This team has big things to get ready for, and I’m still a leader, I’m not gone yet. I have to show them you have to feel the pain, and use it as motivation to get through your next obstacle.”
The playmaking and scoring abilities of Guirantes were attributes that he and the team simply could not afford to pass up, Fisher said.
“Arella Guirantes is a player with lottery talent who was one of the best players in college basketball this year,” Fisher said. “We’re excited to add her to our roster and know the potential she has as a two-way perimeter threat.”
By dropping so far in the draft, Guirantes is out to prove to the rest of the WNBA teams that it was a mistake by passing her up on their draft boards and letting her fall completely out of the first round.
“I think if I didn’t need any more motivation going into this new journey, that was it, I think they poked the bear,” Guirantes said. “I’m excited. I’ve never ran away from a challenge. I think it just adds more to the story. So, whoever has the pen just keeps writing.”
Besides turning heads with the Guirantes’ pick, the Sparks also made waves prior to the draft as they traded their 2022 first-round pick to the Dallas Wings for the No. 7 overall pick, giving the team two picks in the first round. With that No.7 overall pick, the Sparks drafted Jasmine Walker from the University of Alabama.
“Early on, we identified Jasmine Walker as a seamless fit for our roster both as a player and as a person,” Fisher said. “At 6-foot-3, Jasmine can both play on the wing and can stretch the floor as a big. She’s also one of the best defensive players and rebounders in this draft class. We’re ecstatic to add Jasmine Walker to the Sparks.”
With the No. 10 overall pick in the first round, the Sparks drafted Stephanie Watts from North Carolina. The shooting guard is expected to join a loaded backcourt, giving the Sparks plenty of depth alongside superstar Nneka Ogwumike.
“Stephanie Watts is a guard with great size who has shown the ability to score from all three levels, facilitate, rebound, and defend,” Fisher said. “She brings us another perimeter player with size and versatility who fits our vision. We’re excited to have Stephanie join our group.”
With the regular season set to start May 14 at home against Dallas, the Sparks will enter the season as one of the favorites to win the WNBA title. The 32-game season will stretch to the middle of September, with players receiving a break when the Olympics start in mid-July.
The Sparks were not the only team to make moves to improve their roster through the draft. With the WNBA celebrating 25 years of the league being in existence, the draft was also a historical playbook night for Dallas. Controlling three of the first five overall picks in the draft, including the first two overall picks for the first time in WNBA draft history, Dallas took local hometown player Charli Collier out of the University of Texas with the first overall pick.
Collier, a 6-foot-5 center, dominated in her final season with the university, averaging 19 points alongside 11.3 rebounds. The junior came into the draft as the number one overall prospect, as her size and scoring ability down low makes her instantly WNBA ready.
“It’s my God, my God is so good,” Collier said after being taken No. 1 overall in the draft. “Every day I wake up with this passion and I love basketball; like my heart is racing right now because I worked so hard for this moment. There is a lot of people that have a lot of things to say about me, but you can never question my work ethic.”
Collier will join a Dallas team that finished last season 9th overall, as they completed the season with a (8-14) record and missed the playoffs by one game in a shortened season within the bubble. By adding Collier to the team’s roster to play alongside superstar guard Arike Ogunbowale and young post player Satou Sabally, who was the No. 2 overall pick in last season’s draft, the Wings are serious threats to win the championship with depth at the frontline positions.
The Wings followed up picking Collier by taking Awak Kuier, who was born in Cairo, Egypt, and becomes the first player drafted out of Finland where she played with the Finnish national team. Averaging 14 points and 12 rebounds during her career overseas, Kuier is expected to add scoring depth to a Dallas frontcourt that now has two of the top players in the 2021 draft.
At the age of 19, Kuier’s talent remains raw though many scouts believe she can transform into a dominant presence at the forward position. Her ability to knock down the three-ball will allow the Wings to stretch the floor as she joins a talented frontcourt.
With the fifth overall pick, the Wings drafted guard Chelsea Dungee out of the University of Arkansas. The relentless scorer dropped a career-high 41 points in a game her freshman year and continued to improve in her three years at Arkansas. Sandwiched in between the three Dallas picks, with the third overall pick, the Atlanta Dream took NCAA tournament star and Pac-12 Player of the Year Aari McDonald from the University of Arizona.
Leading Arizona to their first-ever national championship appearance, McDonald will make an instant impact in the league as her scoring and her incredible defense will provide the Dream with a star for years to come. The Indiana Fever took point guard Kysre Gondrezick with the fourth overall pick. Gondrezick played at West Virginia for four years and was projected to be a second-round draft, but her experience and ability to run the point moved her up the draft board for the Dallas franchise.
Featured Image: Arella Guirantes (24), the No. 22 overall selection in the 2021 WNBA Draft, scored 1,696 points during her collegiate career for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Photo credit: Rutgers University