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2018 WNBA mock draft: A’ja Wilson is going No. 1. After that, anything can happen

A new crop of stars are about to enter the WNBA. We know who Las Vegas will pick first, but it’s up in the air after that.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Stockton Regional-South Carolina vs. Florida State John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 WNBA Draft will be held at the Nike Headquarters in New York City on Thursday, April 12. ESPN2 will begin coverage with the first round at 7 p.m. ET, while the second and third rounds will take place at 8 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

This year’s draft comes after one of the most exciting Final Fours ever, which saw two of three games go to overtime and Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale hit game-winners in consecutive games to win the tournament. The women’s hoops momentum is reaching a peak.

This season’s draft is deep with potential All-Stars at every position. The No. 1 pick is a lock, but after that, this draft is wide open. No team is sitting nicer than the Chicago Sky, who hold the No. 3 and 4 pick. They’re looking for stars to rebuild with.

Last year’s champion Minnesota Lynx do not have a first-round pick, but the runner-up Los Angeles Sparks do. They’re looking for a piece to help bring them back on top for the second time in three years, and other playoff teams are hoping to snag an undervalued star.

Below is SB Nation’s mock draft, which includes our own observations and analysis from WNBA coaches and analysts.

Mock Draft

1. Las Vegas Aces - A’ja Wilson, F/C, South Carolina

Wilson is a future All-Star whose 6’5 height and size will help make her one of the best bigs in the league in time. She can shoot in the mid-range, has tremendous post moves and protects the rim well. She’ll make the perfect co-star with Kelsey Plum, last season’s No. 1 pick, who left the NCAA as the all-time Division I women’s scoring leader.

Las Vegas’ first professional basketball team has a ways to go, but will have two franchise pieces to build off of.

Las Vegas Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer’s scouting report:

You don’t get many players that can drive like she can. She can attack the basket with one dribble and cover a tremendous amount of ground. It says something when you have a player who’s relied on to take the ball out of bounds all the time. The trust factor is there to make the right pass. She’s also the player who comes back to get the ball and is the outlet pass to start a press-break because she’s going to make the right decisions. Those are the intangibles you look at for a player.

She shoots from an elevated position above her head so you don’t have to worry about shot-blocking. Overall, those are the intangibles that may set her apart from a lot of the other big players out there. I think in our league, she’s going to scare a lot of people guarding her because she’s able to take the ball to the basket off the drive.

2. Indiana Fever - Kelsey Mitchell, PG, Ohio State

The Fever have needs across the board. They’re in full rebuild mode, having traded their best player, Briann January one year after Tamika Catching’s retirement.

They can go one of two ways with this pick: Kelsey Mitchell, one of the most dynamic scoring guards in NCAA history, or Azura Stevens, UConn’s polished big.

With Mitchell’s incredible three-point range (she shoots 40 percent from the field on nine attempts per game), handles and court awareness, she seems too good to pass up here. The Fever can build around her and whoever they select at No. 8, a pick they received in the January trade.

How ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson sees Mitchell’s fit:

I kind of feel like Indiana will go with Mitchell [at No. 2]. Remember they don’t have Briann January anymore, and from what I understand Shenise Johnson won’t be ready to start this season. In my opinion, they need a player who can play that 1-2 combo. I think Pokey’s excited to see what Kelsey Mitchell can be as a passer. She took a lot of shots and scored a lot of baskets. That was her role and what she was expected to do. But they’ve seen some other dimensions of her game as she’s been asked to move into the 1-spot in some situations. But that’s just a guess of mine.

3. Chicago Sky - Azura Stevens, F, UConn

Stevens surprised many by entering the draft a year early, but she’s clearly ready to go pro. With her talents, Stevens is in consideration at No. 2, though it’s impossible to go wrong between her and Mitchell.

Stevens played a traditional big position for Connecticut because of the Huskies’ lack of size, but she showed in her first two seasons at Duke that can stretch out to the wing and play on the perimeter, too.

She’s versatile, a talented defender, and has a long frame you can’t find anywhere else in the draft. She’s a steal at No. 3.

How ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson sees Stevens’ fit:

Obviously the conversation around the first round of the draft has changed dramatically with Azura Stevens declaring for the WNBA. She’s a unique player and it starts with her physical dimensions more than anything. Her length... her skill not only around the basket, but she’s shown the potential to make plays with her face-up game.

4. Chicago Sky - Gabby Williams, G/F, UConn

The Sky get back-to-back lottery picks, and with needs everywhere and no rush to contend for a title right away, Gabby Williams makes a lot of sense. UConn’s star struggles to shoot the ball from range and is a bit undersized, but she was the best athlete in college hoops and is an all-around contributor. She was the heart and soul of the Huskies, and controls the tempo of every game she plays in.

Williams is an elite defender who can fill the stat sheet up with points, assists, or rebounds. With the right development, she can be a star.

Las Vegas Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer’s scouting report:

All you have to do is look at Alyssa Thomas from Connecticut and how she’s improved her game over the years. I think Gabby Williams fits that mold. She’ll teach herself some perimeter shooting. You watched her in the playoffs, she made some really big foul line jump shots. She’ll get better and better especially if they get a coach and an individual to work with her. I think she’ll be a solid player for a long time in the WNBA.

Indiana Fever head coach Pokey Chatman’s scouting report:

We’ve taken into account how important heart is on the court. Half the game is also played on the defensive end. Those are two valuable assets that she brings regardless of her ability to hit a three or nail a free-throw line jumper.

5. Seattle Storm - Jordin Canada, PG, UCLA

The Storm have to start thinking about Sue Bird’s inevitable replacement, and with talented point guards left on the board, this is probably the year to find one. The Storm could go with Duke’s Lexie Brown here, but Canada feels like the right choice.

Canada can run the floor, shoot from deep, and weave around anybody off the dribble. She won’t be a team’s primary scoring option, but she’ll get her buckets in the “W” while also creating attempts for Breanna Stewart, Jewell Lloyd and others. She’s an elite passer.

How ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson sees Canada’s fit:

Is there a player more fun to watch than Canada? She can lose a defend off the bounce no problem. She’s very crafty, can penetrate the defense and find the seams. She’s just got that next-level quickness. She’s not a pure shooter, meaning I don’t think she’s thinking about shooting the three every time she touches it, which makes her different from Lexie [Brown]. But you have to respect the fact that she’s worked on that three. She has an extremely high motor. The only question mark is her durability, because she’s kind of small and you can move her around the floor, but that’s fixable.

6. Dallas Wings - Diamond DeShields, G/F, Turkey

DeShields is undoubtedly a talented athlete who can play guard or forward with great 6’1 size and length. She isn’t a true three-point threat, but she’s phenomenal off the dribble, and at changing directions. She could be a star scorer.

What’s pushing her down in the draft is the uncertainty that surrounds her. She’s moved places three times, from North Carolina her freshman season to Tennessee. She then went pro overseas after skipping her senior season of college eligibility.

That’s something coaches and analysts agreed is a huge question mark.

Chicago Sky head coach Amber Stocks’ scouting report:

Skill is a broad term we often use to just identify talent on the court. But competitive character, managing through the mental and emotional burns of the season is a skill. Some players are able to do it at a different level. Looking at the intangibles is good not just when you’re looking at the 40 minutes of a game, but everything that goes into being a talented player and having a high character team... the locker room... the practices... the intangibles there are just as important.

How ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo sees DeShields’ stock:

Diamond is really interesting because she’s so talented, everyone knows the potential she brought at North Carolina and Tennessee. I think the positives are that she has a year of playing professionally under her belt. She’s playing in a good league, having the chance to play with good teammates against good competition can only help her.

I think a negative could just be the uncertainty with Diamond. I think because she started at one school, transferred to another and seemed like she was coming back... and then I think most people were surprised that she decided not to play... there’s an uncertainty about her. It’s not as easy to watch her play in person, although some coaches have gone overseas to do that in terms of their scouting, but I think there’s a bit of ‘What exactly are we getting with Diamond DeShields?’

7. Washington Mystics - Victoria Vivians, F, Mississippi State

Vivians is a versatile wing who makes perfect sense for Elena Delle Donne’s Mystics. A 6’1 wing, Vivians is a flamethrower from deep who can also defend multiple positions. She will fill a real role wherever she lands, but she’d be a hero in Washington, which has struggled to defend opposing backcourts.

How ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo sees Vivians’ fit:

A lot of people really like Victoria because of her size... Big guards are at a premium in the WNBA... and her ability to score. Not only did her efficiency increase this year, but the dramatic increase in her three-point shot, shooting from 20-something to the 40s. She’s shown that she’s a player who can continue to improve, and adjust her role even if that means fewer field goal attempts. I think people really liked her a year ago, and becoming more efficient has only helped her. She’s a very appealing big guard in this draft.

8. Indiana Fever - Monique Billings, F, UCLA

Billings definitely has some muscle to build as a post player, but she has a great sense of where to be to grab boards. She led the Pac-12 in rebounds this year, and also broke her own blocks record at UCLA. Billings can score in the interior, and may be the perfect match to run the break next to Kelsey Mitchell.

This is a huge draft for the Fever.

Indiana Fever head coach Pokey Chatman’s scouting report:

When you look at Mo, you can tell she’s trying to work on her range a bit. She’s trying to shoot it from about 10-14 feet. She’s always been high motor, runs the floor like a guard. She can defend multiple positions because she can move laterally. She’s great on the boards, but you can see she’s trying to get herself a little more solid and under control offensively.

Las Vegas Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer’s scouting report:

If she had 15 to 20 more pounds on her, she’d be a better player for our league.

9. Connecticut Sun - Kia Nurse, G, UConn

The Sun need help in the backcourt to match Jonquel Jones’ and Alyssa Thomas’ production on the inside, and Kia Nurse is the perfect piece. A knockdown shooter, Nurse can serve a vital role as a scorer, and can also defend quick guards.

Nurse may not be a star, but she’s a necessary glue piece who can help tie any team together.

10. New York Liberty - Lexie Brown, PG, Duke

With no striking need, the Liberty are likely to go with the best available player regardless of position. They’d be lucky to steal Brown at No. 10. Brown is one of the best defenders in the draft who averaged four steals per game this season, and also shoots better than 38 percent from range.

Brown is destined to be a starting point guard in time.

How ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson sees Brown’s fit:

The thing that sets Brown apart is her size. She’s got a couple inches on most of the point guards. Her three-point range is something intriguing to me because you stretch the line more in the WNBA than in college.. She’s a great leader, she was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

Another part of her game that impressed me was her strength on the ball. She has a high basketball IQ, sees the floor well and comes from a basketball pedigree. I think what’s different about Lexie is that she can play the 1 and 2. She’s got enough size that she can move to the 2 and become a shooter as well.

11. Los Angeles Sparks - Maria Vadeeva, F/C, Russia

Vadeeva is one of the unknowns in the draft as a 19-year-old playing in Russia. She could have been a lottery pick had she played college basketball, but since she’s been difficult to scout and nobody knows for sure when (or if) she’d come to the U.S., it’s hard to take her with a top overall pick.

Since the Sparks have a championship-caliber team together, whoever they draft isn’t likely to see a whole ton of playing time. That means they can afford to wait for Vadeeva to move to America. The 6’3 low-post scorer who already plays with Nneka Ogwumike and Angel McCoughtry overseas should be worth the wait, if necessary.

How Las Vegas Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer sees Vadeeva’s stock:

I don’t think she’ll fall to 13, and I’m definitely not taking her at 1. So, it’s a crapshoot where’s she’s gonna go depending on needs and if someone makes a surprise pick. I think she’s going to be a first-round pick.

How Indiana Fever head coach Pokey Chatman sees Vadeeva’s stock:

She’s surrounded by talent abroad and is playing well. We always have to take in regard to a player with such a high pick because of the commitment, if they’ll pass from a national team commitment being a top player. It’s one of those things, there’s too many question marks there that we still have to work through.

How ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson sees Vadeeva’s fit:

I’ve seen very little of her, but from what I’ve seen, she’s 6’3... lefty... very physical... she can rebound outside of her area... nice passer... nice touch. Really, more than anything, going back to the physical aspects of her game, a lot of times when it comes to post players it takes them a while to develop that strength and physicality, so I think that’s an advantage for her.

And then the passing ability for a big as the game evolves, the ability for a post player to pass and find open teammates is a premium. She’s kind of one of the unknowns in this. Because we haven’t seen a ton of footage on her or seen her live, I’m interested to see. I’ve talked to some WNBA GMs and they feel that if she were a college player, she could be a lottery pick. That just speaks to the level of skill and versatility she has and will hopefully bring to the WNBA.

12. Phoenix Mercury - Marie Gulich, C, Oregon State

A 6’5 center who nearly doubled her points production in her senior season (from 10 to 17 per game), Gulich has been a high riser in draft projections. She’s an efficient scorer down low (66 percent), and on the defensive end, she swatted three shots per game this season. She’s a great late-first talent who could form an unstoppable frontcourt with Brittney Griner in time.

How ESPN analyst Rebeccca Lobo sees Gulich’s stock:

Just talking to coaches it seems like she’s the prospect whose stock rose more than anyone throughout the latter part of the NCAA Tournament. Coaches were aware of her, but she played so well in the tournament especially in the later matchups and in the Tennessee pulling up against Mercedes Russell.

I think before the NCAA Tournament run, the conversation was that she was mid-to-late second-round, but her play may have moved her up to late first-round or early second-round. People are really interested in how hard she works, great size, her ability to face the basket, her fadeaway on her shot and her ability to score on like-sized players.