Caitlin Clark [1296x729]
Caitlin Clark [1296x729] (Credit: Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

Canada Switzerland reach hockey worlds semis

A big part of getting a good grade on WNBA draft night is often in place months before, when the lottery order is decided. In the case of the 2024 draft, the Indiana Fever really couldn't mess it up after they got the first pick: Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark would give them an A-plus.

As was the case last season when the Fever also picked No. 1 and got South Carolina's Aliyah Boston, it was all smiles at Indiana headquarters Monday on draft night. Not just because Clark was officially in the fold and coach Christie Sides could already envision her passing the ball inside to Boston, last year's WNBA Rookie of the Year, and NaLyssa Smith, the No. 2 pick in 2022, over and over and over.

But also because the Fever now have two of the greatest 3-point shooters in college hoops history. Clark is the NCAA record holder, having finished with 548 treys. Kelsey Mitchell, the No. 2 pick in 2018, had 497 3-pointers at Ohio State.

Between them, they compiled 7,353 points in college as the top two scorers in Big Ten history. Clark is the No. 1 scorer all time in men's and women's Division I.

"My heart is pounding really hard right now," Sides said when talking about having two perimeter scorers the caliber of Clark and Mitchell on the same team along with the young post players. "It's a coach's dream."

But the Fever aren't ESPN's only A-plus team on draft night. The Los Angeles Sparks, in need of two impact players right away, got them in Cameron Brink and Rickea Jackson.

If you are looking for "bad" grades, we don't have them this year. In some past seasons, eyebrows were raised starting early in the first round. But on Monday, teams seemed to make the most of their places in the draft and the talent available. Some teams took bigger chances, especially with young talent from overseas. Some opted for specific needs and potentially bypassed a player they might regret later.

All that said, so much can happen with injuries, team chemistry and how players adjust to the being pros. But through Monday's draft, here are the grades.

Indiana Fever: A-plus

Picks: 1. Caitlin Clark, Iowa, PG 15. Celeste Taylor, Ohio State, PG 27. Leilani Correa, Florida, SG

No franchise needed the excitement Clark brings more than Indiana, which hasn't made the WNBA playoffs since 2016. Both Sides and general manager Lin Dunn said they are eager for Clark to meet all her teammates and have her personality impact the team and the community. They also said she is more than ready for what's ahead of her on the court.

"I hoping she's going to go home and get some rest for a little while. She's just been on the go," Sides said. "But I can't wait to get her in the locker room with our players. They can get to know her, know she's a fierce competitor. These guys see all the articles written and things on social media. They don't know her yet. I'm ready for that day."

In Taylor, the Fever drafted a player who does know Clark from their matchups in the Big Ten this season. Taylor played five seasons in college, at Texas, Duke and Ohio State. Her defense could help her stick on this roster.

Correa is another guard with good size and skill. But it's a numbers game, and she might not make the roster.

Los Angeles Sparks: A-plus

Picks: 2. Cameron Brink, Stanford, PF 4. Rickea Jackson, Tennessee, SF 28. McKenzie Forbes, USC, SF

The Sparks also needed an infusion of talent and excitement, and they went with two players who have very good pro skill sets and should be able to complement each other on the court.

Los Angeles' big decision likely came down to Brink or Kamilla Cardoso at No. 2, and the Sparks couldn't have gone wrong either way. With Brink, they have a player who can protect the rim, step out to defend on the perimeter when needed and score in a variety of ways.

Jackson is also a proven scorer who would have been a lottery pick last year too but opted to return for her fifth college season.

The Sparks need some pizazz and players who have the confidence to believe in a new era in L.A. Brink and Jackson can do that.

Chicago Sky: A

Picks: 3. Kamilla Cardoso, South Carolina, C 7. Angel Reese, LSU, PF 13. Brynna Maxwell, Gonzaga, SG

They had their battles in the SEC, including some that got heated, but Cardoso and Reese now will join forces as a dominant rebounding duo. Under Teresa Weatherspoon, who is in her first season with the Sky, they both are likely to play a lot and help Chicago form a new identity.

Cardoso and Reese will need to expand their games offensively, but considering their talent and size, there's no reason to think they can't do that.

Maxwell is an interesting pick too, because she has been such a reliable 3-point shooter. In her Gonzaga career, she made 377-of-882 from long range (42.7%).

Washington Mystics: A-minus

Picks: 6. Aaliyah Edwards, UConn, PF 21. Kaylynne Truong, Gonzaga, PG 30. Nastja Claessens, Belgium, SF

The Mystics get such a high grade for a couple of reasons. The biggest: getting Edwards, because she projects to be a proven commodity at the exact position the Mystics need. UConn starters generally make smooth transitions to the WNBA. Edwards' toughness and resilience were constants for a Huskies team that went through the ringer with injuries the past few seasons.

Like the Sparks and the Sky, the Mystics are in a new era and need players they can build around. Edwards can be such a player.

As for Truong and Claessens, Mystics general manager Mike Thibault has shown an eye for talent over the years that others might not see. One example: He drafted Belgium's Emma Meesseman in the second round (No. 19) in 2013, and she was a key factor in the Mystics' 2019 championship.

Atlanta Dream: B-plus

Picks: 12. Nyadiew Puoch, Australia, PF 20. Isobel Borlase, Australia, PG 32. Matilde Villa, Italy, SG

We're obviously going out on a limb with this grade because these players aren't expected to make an impact this season for the Dream. They might not even play in the WNBA in 2024.

This draft was all about investment in the future for Atlanta, and we might look back on it as a windfall if these players develop as hoped. Admittedly, it could also not pan out.

But all three are 19-year-olds who already have professional experience and time to grow. Puoch might compare to Seattle's Ezi Magbegor. Some thought Borlase was a potential first-round pick.

Las Vegas Aces: B

Picks: 16. Dyaisha Fair, Syracuse, PG 18. Kate Martin, Iowa, SG 24. Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech, C 36. Angel Jackson, Jackson State, C

Getting a B grade isn't typical when a team doesn't even have a first-round pick. But indulge us because we kind of love what the Aces did here. The two-time defending WNBA champions don't have any obvious needs, and it's possible none of these players makes the team, because it's so hard to do.

But in Fair and Martin, the Aces took two different kinds of underdogs: Fair because of her 5-foot-5 size and Martin because she doesn't really have an obvious position she fits into as a pro. But they're both accustomed to being underestimated and proving people wrong.

Kitley is injured (ACL tear) and won't play this season, but she and Jackson (who played three seasons at USC before transferring to Jackson State) are both 6-foot-6 and worth giving a look.

New York Liberty: B

Picks: 11. Marquesha Davis, Ole Miss, SF 17. Esmery Martinez, Arizona, PF 23. Jessika Carter, Mississippi State, C 35. Kaitlyn Davis, USC, SF

The Liberty needed defense, and they did a pretty good job in trying to address it with the picks they had. People might compare Marquesha Davis to the Liberty's Betnijah Laney-Hamilton or Phoenix's Kahleah Copper.

Martinez started her college career with a defense-oriented West Virginia team under former coach Mike Carey. Carter might prove to be a serviceable pro center, and that she was still available at No. 23 is a bonus for the Liberty, who get to at least give her a look.

Connecticut Sun: B-minus

Picks: 10. Leila Lacan, France, PG 19. Taiyanna Jackson, Kansas, C 22. Helena Pueyo, Arizona, PG 34. Abbey Hsu, Columbia, SG

The Sun wanted a guard with their first-round pick and got that with Lacan, an exciting prospect who could become an impact player as she develops.

Jackson was somewhat of an enigma at Kansas because she has so much potential at 6-foot-6 but would disappear at times on court.

Pueyo is known for her defense and Hsu for her scoring and 3-point shooting.

We might be grading the Sun a little too high based on enthusiasm about Lacan's future. But it could be very bright.

Phoenix Mercury: B-minus

Picks: 25. Charisma Osborne, UCLA, SG 29. Jaz Shelley, Nebraska, SG

The Mercury get a decent grade because they at least selected two intriguing players, even if they are both third-rounders. Osborne played five seasons at UCLA, and past Bruins guards have made an impact in the league. And it seems like she was more of a second-round pick than a third-rounder, so that might pay off for Phoenix.

Shelley started her career at Oregon then played the past three seasons with Nebraska. The Australian guard is a pretty sharp 3-point shooter who logged a lot of minutes for the Huskers.

If either player makes Phoenix's roster, even for depth, the Mercury did OK with this draft.

Dallas Wings: C-plus

Picks: 5. Jacy Sheldon, Ohio State, SG 9. Carla Leite, France, SG 33. Ashley Owusu, Penn State, PG

This could work out great for the Wings, who wanted to get guard help from the draft. The issue: Was Sheldon valuable enough to bypass the chance to take post player Aaliyah Edwards with the fifth pick? That will be something to watch during the next few seasons.

Also, was Leite the right French guard to select or was Lacan, who went right after her at No. 10 to Connecticut? That's another comparison to keep an eye on.

As for Owusu, the Wings probably felt it was worth giving her a look as a third-rounder because of the peaks of her college career at Maryland. But it also had some valleys after she left the Terps.

Minnesota Lynx: C-plus

Picks: 8. Alissa Pili, Utah, SF 31. Kiki Jefferson, Louisville, SG

Pili was all over the draft board for us, so it figures that we aren't sure about this grade. The former Pac-12 player of the year has a diverse offensive skill set, but not all WNBA evaluators were sold on her ability to defend well at the pro level. Clearly, Minnesota thinks she is up to the task, and she might not need to play a big role right away.

But if it doesn't work out and/or Angel Reese is a big success, the Lynx might second-guess the draft pick swap they made with Chicago that allowed the Sky to pick up Reese.

As for Jefferson, she didn't score quite as well in her final season at Louisville as she did during her first four campaigns at James Madison, but she is a big guard who was worth the pick.

Seattle Storm: C-plus

Picks: 14. Nika Muhl, UConn, PG 26. Mackenzie Holmes, Indiana, PF

Muhl didn't jump into our mock draft first round until the very last edition, so realistically, she was selected where she was more consistently projected. Is she a good enough defender and playmaker to make up for not being a noted scorer? That will be the key as to whether this grade is close to on target or too low.

Holmes underwent surgery after battling knee issues in her five-season Indiana career, and she isn't expected to play in the WNBA until 2025. She was very consistent and dependable when healthy in college. But like Megan Gustafson, a second-round pick out of Iowa in 2019 who is now with the Aces, Holmes probably needs to prove she can expand her range to make it in the WNBA.