Speculation says the unanimous player of the year could be a draft-day trade by San Antonio, which took a guard with a high draft pick last year.
If pressed, Kelsey Plum begrudgingly admits she wants to be the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s WNBA draft if for no other reason than to fulfill a lifelong dream.
“Growing up when I was a kid I told my mom — I was 10 years old — that I wanted to play in the WNBA,” she said during an interview with espnW. “And she smiled at me. Who knows if she actually believed in what I was saying, but I meant it.
“I think for you to say it and now it’s on the verge of coming true, it’s pretty special. You work your whole life for something like this and now here it is. … And I’m competitive so yeah I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to go No. 1. That’s just the competitor in me.”
The Washington Huskies star is virtually assured of being the first player selected considering Tennessee standout Diamond DeShields, a redshirt junior guard, opted to return to school.
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But there’s growing speculation San Antonio, which picks first in Thursday’s draft, is shopping Plum in a draft-day trade. If she is moved, it would be the first time a team has dealt the No. 1 overall choice in 10 years.
The last time it happened, the Phoenix Mercury selected Duke point guard Lindsey Harding before shipping her to Minnesota. She’s the only No. 1 overall pick who was traded on draft night.
Plum is aware of the trade rumors circulating around her. It’s one of the first lessons of turning pro, said the Husky great who capped a historic career as the NCAA’s most prolific scorer.
Instead she’s focusing on the things she can control such as finding a dress for Thursday’s draft, which is no easy task considering she worn “every nice thing I have” in the past two weeks during a cross-country circuit of postseason banquets and ceremonies where she collected a trophy case full of postseason awards.
“For me it’s not about the pick, it’s the right fit,” Plum said last week during a phone interview from Los Angeles. “I’d love to go to a team that loves me and loves my game and is excited about me.
“Whether that’s No. 1, 3, 5 or 7, it really doesn’t matter to me. I’m just into the fit and the opportunity is most important to me. If that happens, then it’s up to me. And wherever I go, I’m all about creating a good locker room and being a great teammate and doing whatever I can to win basketball games.”
San Antonio, which finished last in 2016 with a 7-27 record, won the draft lottery in September and captured the No. 1 draft pick.
The Stars averaged just 72 points per game last year, which ranked last in the 12-team league. They could certainly use a proven scorer like Plum, the NCAA women’s career and single-season scoring leader, who averaged 25.3 points during her four-year UW career.
Last year San Antonio used the No. 2 pick to select Moriah Jeffereson, a 5-foot-6 guard from Connecticut. She started all 34 games and averaged 13.9 points, 4.2 assists and 1.6 steals.
Presumably the Stars are building the team around Jefferson, who was the 2016 Rookie of the Year runner-up, which leads to speculation about whether they would pair her with Plum, a 5-8 guard, in the backcourt. Or perhaps, Plum would begin her pro career as a backup.
“I’ll be really surprised if she doesn’t go with the first pick,” WNBA analyst Rebecca Lobo said when asked about Plum. “Whether that stays with San Antonio or gets traded elsewhere, I’ll be surprised if she’s not picked.”
Chicago, which holds the No. 2 pick, could be a trade partner with San Antonio and potential destination for Plum.
“It’s wise to always keep your options open, and so as the process draws nearer and nearer … just keeping the board open,” Chicago coach Amber Stocks said. “We’re continuing to evaluate players on all different levels and we’re continuing to evaluate all different types of options and some of those may include potential trades.”
Atlanta and Minnesota, veteran teams and championship contenders, also have the pieces to put together a deal that could entice San Antonio.
Plum, the unanimous 2016-17 player of the year, is the surest thing in what’s considered a weak draft.
“Plum has the best chance of the players in this draft to be a star in the league, not necessarily her rookie year,” Lobo said. “She’s a pretty special offensive talent, and coaches will get her where they need her to be defensively.”
Plum signed with Wasserman’s Lindsay Kagawa Colas, who represents nine No. 1 picks over the past 15 years.
Still, it remains to be seen whether Plum can carry a team like recent No. 1 picks Breanna Stewart (2016), Brittney Griner (2013), and Maya Moore (2011) — all Wasserman clients. During the WNBA’s first 19 years, eight of the No. 1 picks have been MVPs and seven won a title with the team that drafted them.
The scarcity of all-WNBA talent in the draft only increases Plum’s value.
“I don’t think this is a draft where anyone is going to come in right away and be expected to be a team’s best player,” WNBA analyst LaChina Robinson said. “If she can knock down open shots and if she can make her teammates better, which we saw her do all this season with her ability to pass the ball … she’ll have a tremendous future in the league.
“I think her competitiveness, her confidence, her skill level — I just at this point would not bet against Kelsey Plum coming in and really being a great player in this league for a very long time.”