2021 Free Agency Rankings, Part Two

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Winsidr has decided to rank the 2021 free agent class. Last week, we brought you free agents 11 through 20, which you can check out by CLICKING HERE. Today, we present free agents 6 through 10. Soon, we’ll unveil the final five. For more around-the-clock coverage of the WNBA, please consider joining our illustrious group of Patreon subscribers!

We laid the parameters last week. Once again, if you missed the first half of this list you can repent – err – read it by clicking here

Let’s dive right into the top ten.

10. Cheyenne Parker

Parker exceeded 20 minutes per game for the first time in her pro career in 2020, and boy were the results glorious. This was a “career-high across the board” type season. A “put the league on notice” type season. A “clutch” season, if you believe in that sort of thing. 

One of the hardest workers in the WNBA, Parker joined names like Candace Parker (stay tuned for part three, coming soon!), Napheesa Collier, and Skylar Diggins-Smith in shooting over 70 percent from the field in the final few minutes of close games, per WNBA.com. Parker was equally impactful on the defensive end, sealing wins for Chicago with timely denials. Sky head coach James Wade relied heavily on Parker and she emphatically delivered to the tune of an All-Star caliber season. 

Parker is a better defender than Stefanie Dolson. We knew that much entering the Wubble. She could be a tad better defending in space, but is sturdy in the paint and shrewd guarding post players one-on-one. 

Offensively, it was surprising seeing Parker match Dolson’s mettle. The 28-year-old flaunted drastic improvements in two essential areas this season: shooting and passing. Modern centers can be split into two categories: stretch 5s and traditional 5s. Parker transformed into a stretch 5 and it launched her ceiling to new heights. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – 47 percent from downtown on nearly two attempts per game as a defensive-minded center is special territory. Parker wasn’t hesitant in lofting attempts from deep, and it allowed Chicago’s offense to flow without a hitch. 

Parker also logged a career-high 9.6 assist percentage, borne out by the eye test. She adeptly identified cutters from the high post time and again, setting up shop at one of the elbows and waiting for her teammates to go to work off the ball. Sure, her turnovers rose in unison with her assists, but that’s to be expected from someone shouldering the highest usage percentage of their career. 

These improvements were so exhilarating because of how they allowed Parker to get the most out of her crafty post game. Parker is an expert at getting to her spot on the floor and loves rumbling downhill before finishing with her left hand. By showing no fear from behind the arc, Parker forced defenders to chase her higher up the floor, creating driving lanes for the Sky and migraines for the opposition. 

Here’s a fun sequence:

First, Parker sets a dynamite down screen on Betnijah Laney that springs Allie Quigley for a roomy three-point attempt. No dice there, surprisingly, but Parker snatches the offensive board at the foul line, then unfurls a mean spin-move on All-Defensive Team member Elizabeth Williams for a bucket. 

Check out the footwork on this easy two:

Quigley sets a cross screen for Parker, setting her up in the post. Parker receives the entry pass and dupes Monique Billings with a little up-and-under, stepping through into another straightforward lefty layup. 

Then there are the immeasurables. Parker radiates joyousness and her energy is infectious. Wade certainly values that type of player. Chicago remains one of the league leaders in “Vibes.” (Sorry.)

Parker is the only major free agent on Chicago’s roster, but look who comes off the books following 2021! Literally everyone important save for Ruthy Hebard. Wade will confront that conundrum when it’s time. He’s got enough on his plate as it stands. Per The Next, the Sky have $141,434 in available cap space to bring back Parker. I’m not so sure that gets the job done. 

An intriguing potential route: trade Dolson’s expiring contract for a first rounder, then ink Parker to a new deal. 

Would getting out from under Maria Conde’s cap hold free up enough space to retain both Parker and Dolson? Wouldn’t you rather select the better of the two and try to bolster your depth elsewhere? 

Much to consider. One thing is for sure: Parker’s agent will want to silence their phone should any important family functions arise. Said phone will be buzzing incessantly all offseason. Stretch 5s who defend are in the highest demand.

9. Chelsea Gray 

I was walking through Brooklyn the other day, on my way to fetch a burrito as I enjoyed the late afternoon sun perkily highlighting brownstone after brownstone. As it often does on such strolls, my mind began to wander toward the world of hoops. I began considering what it must have been like playing in a gym devoid of fans. Maybe for some, the sparse surroundings actually enhanced their focus and productivity. Easier to get in the zone and stay there. But what about a player like Gray, someone who operates with pizzazz and percolates as the crowd comes to life? No-look dimes don’t hit the same on a soundstage. 

I touched on Gray’s future and her lackluster 2020 playoff performance a few weeks back. In generating these rankings I had to continually remind myself that the Wubble season was extremely odd and extremely grueling. I was careful to guard against my own recency bias, viewing the 2020 season through a lens that reflected its context. 

Then there’s the matter of positional scarcity. Above average point guards who create for themselves and create for others on the loftiest stage will always be coveted. Just because Gray flopped against Connecticut this postseason doesn’t mean she hasn’t proven herself previously. Gray has 24 playoff games under her belt through five seasons. That’s nothing to scoff at. 17 of those appearances came in 2016 and 2017 when Los Angeles split a pair of WNBA Finals with Minnesota. In the 2017 playoffs, Gray played over 35 minutes per game and averaged 15 points, 6.75 assists, and 1.4 steals. Big-time production. 

Though a pesky and underappreciated defender, Gray flies highest with the ball in her hands. Her feel in the pick-and-roll is breathtaking. 

 

Here, Diana Taurasi ices Candace Parker’s screen. Gray says, “much obliged!” and slithers her way toward the top of the key. Parker does a fantastic job sealing off Taurasi’s path to recovery, forcing Brittney Griner to commit to Gray. With Taurasi on her hip, Parker rolls to the hoop, knowing Gray will feed her in the perfect spot. Boom. Poetry in motion. 

Guards who operate comfortably out of the post unlock a variety of different looks for their teams. 

Gray toasts Diggins-Smith here for an and-one. If help had come earlier, Gray could’ve calmly slid a pass down the baseline for an open corner trey. 

I expect Gray to enjoy a bounce-back in 2021. I also expect her to remain in Los Angeles. That said, the Sparks have much work to do to retain their 2020 core. Kristi Toliver is one of the few Sparks under contract at the current moment. If I’m a point-guard needy ballclub, Gray is my dream signing.

7B. Aerial Powers

7A.  Emma Meesseman 

 

This one tied my brain into so many knots I called upon my loyal Twitter following to decide the order for me

Powers and Meesseman illustrate the one inherent flaw in constructing this type of list. For certain teams, Powers is a more valuable acquisition. For others, it’s Meesseman. Apples and oranges. 

Teams with plenty of shot creators will want to target Meesseman. She won Finals MVP in one of the most competitive playoff series of all time on a historically dominant team. As a complementary option, Meesseman is about as good as it gets. She’s an expert passer for her position. She’s remarkably efficient with her shot selection. She’s only 27. Her coming contract will span some of her best athletic years. 

Powers will turn 27 in January. She’s the missing piece for teams lacking in the offensive creation department. Granted, the sample size was miniscule, but Powers hit just about everything she put up from ten feet and in this season. She’s lingered around 35 percent from three-point land as a WNBA player. She appeared destined for a career year before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury in early August. 

Both players are sound defensively. Parsing how much credit goes to Washington’s scheme and how much goes to the individual player is tricky. There are refinements to be made in Powers’ guarding abilities, but she scurries around like the Road Runner and is more than capable of disrupting an opponent’s possession. High energy players always possess more potential for improvement. Meesseman may occasionally get beat by faster players, but her positioning is solid. Neither player is a liability. 

Powers receives extra points for combatting Andre Iguodala’s dismissiveness disguised as praise. Angry contingents of men shouting “no manners!” into the void is an indication that the correct chords have been struck. Powers stays winning. 

That leaves us … splitting hairs? Meesseman gets the nod because my Twitter followers are smarter than yours, and because that 2019 WNBA Finals MVP looms large. But Powers may have a bigger impact on how the 2021 season unfolds. 

Isn’t a player like Powers exactly who Las Vegas should be targeting this offseason? Could Powers slide in at small forward for the Dream if Betnijah Laney departs? Meesseman, meanwhile, may help form the most dominant frontcourt in hoops alongside Elena Delle Donne and Myisha Hines-Allen. Bringing back Meesseman is a far greater priority for Washington than welcoming Tina Charles into the rotation. 

Powers and Meesseman played key roles on a championship team. That can only be said of a handful of players on this list. The fact that these two should have their best years in front of them is an added boon for whoever secures their talents.

6. Alysha Clark 

Clark is the most malleable player on the market. She forms an instant fit anywhere and everywhere. I’ll be more flabbergasted than the cast of La-La Land at the Oscars if Clark leaves Seattle. The Storm will have to get creative with the cap, but they understand the importance of Clark’s skill-set. 

Most advanced metrics listed Clark as one of the 10 to 15 best players in the WNBA in 2020. Hitting your career peak in a contract year at age 33? Few have tread such waters. Clark’s game – elite shooting, elite perimeter defense, ageless post play – is exactly what you’re looking for from a free agent entering their mid-thirties. Athleticism and explosiveness aren’t attributes that age gracefully. Shooting and smarts take longer to fade.

I highlighted this play earlier in the season, but it’s worth bringing back: 

Clark not only induces chaos defensively but also sets up Seattle’s transition offense for what should have been an instant payoff. When Clark is the one receiving the outlet pass, opponents are done for. She shot over 52 percent from downtown on over three attempts per game in 2020, truly goofy figures. 

Clark has continually improved in key defensive areas as she collects more information on opponent tendencies. 

It’s rare, for instance, for defenders to get better at fighting through screens as they age. Clark is an outlier. Her mind identifies what a ball-handler is thinking before they can execute their vision, beating players to certain spots on the floor and mucking up their offensive rhythm. She’s also honed her sense of when to gamble and when to stay put. Her sensibilities have always been sharp, but Clark notched by far the most impressive steal percentage of her career in Bradenton. Seattle butters it’s bread on the defensive end, and though just about everyone on the Storm roster outside of Sue Bird is a plus-defender, it’s Clark who leads the charge with her energy and intellect. 

The issue at this point is that Clark no longer flies under the radar. Teams have adapted to new ideas. Shooting and wing defense no longer go undervalued. The other 11 general managers may try to force Seattle’s hand by throwing towering offers in Clark’s direction. 

She’d be perfect in New York. She’d be perfect for Las Vegas. She’d be money on the Lynx. 

Odds are, Alysha Clark will forge ahead at an All-Star (All-WNBA?) level as a member of the Seattle Storm. 

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