April 18, 2024

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What can we expect from Caitlin Clarke and Angel Reyes at the next level?

What can we expect from Caitlin Clarke and Angel Reyes at the next level?

Even before millions tuned in to watch Caitlin Clark vs. Angel Reese, Part 2 The match had a competitive atmosphere between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

But there is a great possibility that there will not be many strong confrontations between the two at the professional level. It takes longevity to have that kind of rivalry, and it's not that simple in the WNBA, where roster spots are limited and often (but not always) go to draft-lottery-ready overall players.

Iowa State's Clark, this year's leading Nationals prospect, is an almost guaranteed lock to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, which takes place April 15 in New York. Reese, who declared for the draft just days after LSU's Elite Eight loss to Iowa, has murkier prospects given the fact that the majority of the draft's 36 picks were waived before the first tip of the season.

Reese had 48 hours after that final game to declare for the WNBA draft or stay in college. She was eligible to stay an additional year under the COVID-19 exemption.

ALBANY, NY - APRIL 01: Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes shoots the ball over Angel Reese #10 of the LSU Tigers during the first half in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament at MVP Arena on April 01, 2024 in Albany, New York .  (Photo by Sarah Steer/Getty Images)

Iowa State's Kaitlin Clark, who was photographed scoring a goal past LSU's Angel Reese on Monday in the NCAA Tournament regional final, is the favorite to go No. 1 in the WNBA draft. (Photo by Sarah Steer/Getty Images)

Kaitlin Clark's Professional Prospects

At No. 1 overall, Clark will join a rising Indiana Fever team with 2023 No. 1 overall pick and Rookie of the Year recipient Aaliyah Boston as a pick-and-roll partner. It's an exciting duo that fans are eager to see, but don't expect Clark to average 30 points per game as a pro.

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Last year's scoring leader was Seattle Storm guard Jewell Lloyd, who averaged 24.7 points per game. That number narrowly missed the all-time scoring average of 25.2 points set by Diana Taurasi in 2006. Clark won't be able to come in and dominate bigger, stronger veteran defenders in a league centered on the best players in the world. Her debut will be against the Connecticut Sun, who had the best defense in the league in 2023 behind forward Alyssa Thomas.

Clark's vision and IQ make her a top candidate. Clarke's assists are an aspect of her game and her scoring records have been eclipsed throughout the season. Many of her passes will go to Boston, as she did for center Monica Cignano for three years at Iowa State.

It may take some time for other teammates to adjust to playing with Clark and her ability to find weaknesses in the defense that no one else would think of. Stories from Iowa State practices focus on how players learn to keep their heads up in transition and be ready to pass at any moment. Iowa State became so good because it had teammates who learned it and stayed with it for three to four years.

Once her Fever teammates get used to Clark's ways, she could easily rank among the best point guards in the league. Las Vegas Ice star Chelsea Gray (7.3 apg), New York Liberty leader Courtney Vandersloot (8.1) as well as Phoenix Mercury center Natasha Cloud (6.2) will all compete for the assists crown next season.

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Clark has some solid moments defensively, but he will have to improve on that side of the ball. Iowa State coach Lisa Bluder often hides Clark on weaker guards — partly to keep her fresh enough to knock down 40 when necessary — but WNBA teams can expose that. That defensive edge was the difference between the two-time WNBA champion Aces and the Liberty in the 2023 Finals. Most rookie guards who have prolific scoring careers in college have to make a defensive leap in their first few years at the professional level.

Angel Reese faces questions about draft position

Reese is an elite player with skill on the ball and a strong work ethic to get it. This alone may help her stay on the roster, as well as her defense. But she hasn't developed other parts of her game. Reese is not a strong shooter outside of the paint and certainly not from the perimeter. She had to take those shots in the NCAA Tournament and she didn't look comfortable.

This is the biggest question mark and teams will have to be patient, a luxury only a few teams in the WNBA have. Even if Reese stays on the roster, she won't dominate the way she did in college.

The biggest thing working against Reese is that there aren't enough spots in the WNBA, and teams don't have the roster space to develop a young player when they could keep an experienced veteran. Most teams carry a minimum of 11 players to stay under the salary cap. That means about 132 roster spots for 12-plus teams, with an additional 11-12 spots coming in 2025 with a Bay Area expansion team.

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If a player is not in the lottery, the team that drafts him becomes more important than where he is drafted. It's common to waive second- and third-round picks — and even late first-round picks — on a roster cutback date because there isn't enough cap space.

There's a Clark connection to this. Prior to the 2019 season, the Dallas Wings waived former Iowa forward and Naismith MVP Megan Gustafsson as part of their final roster cuts. Gustafson, who did not overlap with Clark at Iowa State, was the No. 17 overall pick (fifth in the second round) after leading NCAA Division I in scoring twice and finishing in the top five in rebounding twice.

Wings CEO Gregg Beebe said at the time that Gustavon had the talent and skills to play, but the roster couldn't accommodate her. She returned later that season on a difficult contract while replacing an injured player, and remained in the league for her fourth team in six years. The Aces signed her after she averaged a team-best 7.9 points in 15.1 minutes per game in Phoenix.