Kelsey Plum, the former Washington Huskies point guard who went first overall in the WNBA Draft last week, is already making waves thanks to her bizarre situation with the San Antonio Stars.
Kelsey Plum is already breaking the WNBA. Much like her male counterpart at the University of Washington, Markelle Fultz, she was the consensus number-one pick in the draft, which was held this year by the San Antonio Stars.
Plum was, of course, one of the most decorated athletes the Washington Huskies have ever had. She set a new scoring record for the women’s basketball program, and with the help of forward Chantel Osahor (who was selected in the second round of the WNBA Draft by the Chicago Sky), brought the Huskies into national prominence again with a Final Four run last year and another tournament appearance this year. Plum won the Player of the Year Award this season after leading the nation in scoring.
Kelsey Plum was clearly the best amateur player available in the WNBA Draft. On the women’s side, with far less popularity than the NBA, number one picks are expected to help build the brand. Of course there will be that kind of brand-building pressure on NBA superstars and number one overall picks like (presumably) Fultz or Lonzo Ball*, but on the women’s side, when most casual sports fans couldn’t name the three best WNBA players right now, there’s more pressure to put fans in the seats and to be the dreaded “Face of the League.”
Before last season, the Seattle Storm took the consensus number-one pick, Breanna Stewart, happily. Stewart was a member of Geno Auriemma’s super-Huskies at Connecticut. Stewart not only helped the Storm win more games, she helped the entire league. The WNBA managed to build a brand for Stewart using her frequent highlight reel plays to draw at least some of the interest in individual players that helps drive NBA fandom. Stewart won Rookie of the Year for the Storm and appears to be the next Lauren Jackson.
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Kelsey Plum emerged as the best college player in the country this season for the Washington Huskies, but there was a problem. The Stars held the first pick, and they needed help at every position on the floor except the one Plum plays — point guard. The Stars drafted guard Kayla McBride with the third overall pick in 2014. She made her first All-Star team the following year. They drafted guard Moriah Jefferson with second overall pick in 2015. Now that Plum has reluctantly signed a contract with San Antonio, the Stars have three star guards in their lineup.
The assumption across the league was that the Stars would trade their first-overall pick for more draft capital so they wouldn’t waste their coveted number-one pick on yet another point guard. Then Draft Day came around and they didn’t. In fact, after San Antonio took Plum and the Chicago Sky took forward/center Alaina Coates out of South Carolina, most thought Plum (including herself) would immediately be traded to Chicago for some kind of package that included Coates. It didn’t happen.
Now Kelsey Plum, after officially signing with San Antonio, will play for a team that had every intention of trading her a week ago at an uncertain position. If the Stars keep Plum, their coach, Vicki Johnson, could deploy a three-guard lineup, unprecedented in the WNBA. All other teams in the league are playing the trade game, trying to pry Plum loose for the lowest price possible. They’ll wait and see how the situation develops so they can swoop in when her value appears to be at its lowest, similar to the NFL sharks circling the Seahawks’ Richard Sherman.
If Plum is traded, it could start a chain reaction throughout the league that shifts the balance of power. If she stays in San Antonio, she could be a part of a bold, new experiment on the court. The Legend of Kelsey Plum continues, plunging into still more unprecedented territory.
*My God, I’m so sick of hearing Lonzo’s father talk.