Sky eyes top talent with No. 3 pick
By Patricia Babcock McGraw
"With the No. 1 pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft, the Chicago Sky selects … "
I know, I know, wishful thinking.
We won't hear those words during Monday's WNBA Draft, which will be televised live on ESPN at 2 p.m. Still, one could argue that the Chicago Sky essentially holds the first pick of the draft that isn't a foregone conclusion.
The Minnesota Lynx lucked out in the most recent draft lottery and earned the actual No. 1 pick, which it will use to snap up Connecticut forward Maya Moore, a player who has been mentioned by some as the best women's college player of all time.
At No. 2, most WNBA insiders are convinced the Tulsa Shock will move quickly on Liz Cambage, a 6-foot-8, 19-year-old center out of Australia who is considered one of the best young players in the world.
That leaves the Sky, at No. 3, with the pick of the litter of any college senior who isn't Moore.
"At No. 3 in this draft, we're in a very good situation and we have a lot of options," said Sky assistant coach Jeff House, who has spent the entire winter crisscrossing the country to evaluate talent. "There's also a lot of interest in the No. 3 pick from other teams (that may want to negotiate a trade for it). Our phone will probably be ringing off the hook in the next few days. There are a number of things that could happen."
If no trade develops, the Sky needs to draft a player that it believes will help the team earn its first playoff berth in franchise history.
There are a couple of scenarios that could play out here. The Sky could go big or small.
"The strength of this draft is definitely with posts and point guards," House said. "There's depth in both of those areas."
But ironically, post and point guard are the two areas the Sky is most secure, with all-star Sylvia Fowles at center and second-year standout Epiphanny Prince and veteran Dominique Canty at point guard.
What likely will happen is that the Sky will try to go with a player at either one of those positions who is proven to be flexible.
That means the Sky will be looking for either a point guard who can also score consistently from the perimeter and act as a shooting guard, or a post player who has a legitimate perimeter game and strong ball-handling skills and can serve as more of a complement to Fowles, whose game is most potent inside the paint.
My guess is that the Sky will go big instead of small.
New head coach Pokey Chatman has likely found her starting point guard already.
She spent the entire winter becoming a fan of Prince.
Chatman is winding down her last season as the coach of Spartak, a team out of Russia that is a perennial power in the Euroleague. Prince is the point guard of that team.
Figure Chatman to hand the reins of the Sky offense over to Prince with the knowledge that she'll also have a very capable reserve in Canty, who was the starter last season.
That leaves the post as Chatman's most likely focus on draft day.
Living in Big Ten country, I've become a big fan of Ohio State center Jantel Lavender, the only four-time Big Ten player of the year in league history. Her game is solid and she's probably the most well-known post player in the draft.
But I don't think she's quite versatile enough to fit the Sky's objective of finding a complement to Fowles. Lavender can shoot mid-range jumpers, but her bread and butter will always be back-to-the basket moves that the Sky already gets out of Fowles.
My take? I think the Sky will go with Amber Harris out of Xavier, who is probably the best hybrid post player out there. She averaged a double-double this season at 19 points and 10 rebounds per game.
She's got size at 6-foot-5 and can bang inside, but she is also at home outside of the lane and could present all kinds of matchup challenges.
"She's also one of the most athletically gifted players in the draft," House said of Harris. "She can hit 12- to 14-foot jumpers. She can drive the lane. She definitely has that versatility that we'll be looking for."
The Sky will also be looking for more wins this season. Securing that first-ever playoff berth is a must in year No. 6, which means that securing a can't-miss draft pick is also a must.
I'm hoping Harris is that pick.