WNBA Draft grades; NBA postseason predictions; Team USA’s (almost full) Olympic roster

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Hope you’re well.

Let’s get right to it.

Good morning to everyone but especially …

CAITLIN CLARK AND THE INDIANA FEVER

There was no drama surrounding who would be the first pick in the WNBA Draft, but the team that made the selection is undoubtedly ecstatic it’s finally official: Welcome to the Fever, Caitlin Clark!

The selection was a no-brainer. She’s first in Division I history in points and 3-pointers, second in triple-doubles and third in assists. She’ll join last year’s top overall pick, Aliyah Boston, to form a formidable inside-outside duo for years to come, making it an “A+” selection in Jack Maloney’s eyes.

  • Maloney: “Clark is one of the best offensive prospects to ever enter the league. Her 3-point range and off-the-dribble shooting are unlike anything the WNBA has seen, and she’s a dynamite playmaker. Off the court, she is a marketing dream and will raise the profile of the Fever and the league as a whole.”

Jack has grades for every first-round pick. Here’s the top five:

  1. Indiana Fever — Caitlin Clark: A+
  2. Los Angeles Sparks — Cameron Brink: A
  3. Chicago Sky — Kamilla Cardoso: A
  4. Los Angeles Sparks — Rickea Jackson: A
  5. Dallas Wings — Jacy Sheldon: A

Jack also named his three biggest winners on the night and — in addition to the Fever — he particularly liked what the Los Sparks and the Connecticut Sun did.

  • Maloney: “The Sparks’ rebuild is off to a great start with two potential cornerstones, and it certainly didn’t hurt that later in the night they scored a potential steal with McKenzie Forbes at No. 28. … There’s no doubt that Leila Lacan can play, but when, and for how long, she’ll do so in the WNBA remains to be seen. The French basketball federation is less amenable to the WNBA’s schedule and rules than most countries, which is why she fell to [the Sun at] No. 10. At that point in the draft, though, the possibility that she never spends significant time in the States was well worth the risk.”

Be sure to check out our live blog and the full draft results as well.

And finally, while women’s basketball is riding a wave of momentum thanks to Clark and plenty of others, two of the sport’s most consistent forces — A’ja Wilson and Dawn Staley — are hoping that this year’s collegiate support grows to pro level as well, Jasmyn Wimbish writes.

Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for …


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GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO AND THE MILWAUKEE BUCKS

Giannis Antetokounmpo (calf strain) is doubtful for Sunday’s Game 1 of the Bucks‘ first-round series against the Pacers, another unwanted loop in Milwaukee’s rollercoaster season.

  • Antetokounmpo suffered the strain a week ago against the Celtics. He has not played since.
  • The Bucks went 45-28 with Antetokounmpo this year and 4-5 without him. They lost by 18 to the Thunder and by 25 to the Magic to close the season without Antetokounmpo.
  • With Antetokounmpo on the court, the Bucks outscored opponents by 6.6 points per 100 possessions, which would have been third in the NBA. With him off the floor, the Bucks are outscored by 4.6 points per 100 possessions, which would have been 23rd in the NBA.
  • Oh yeah: The Pacers beat the Bucks four out of five times this season.

Last season, the Bucks flamed out against the Heat in the first round with Antetokounmpo missing time. In 2022, Khris Middleton missed Milwaukee’s second-round loss to the Celtics. This year, for at least one game, it appears Damian Lillard, Middleton and Co. will have to carry a heavy burden. 

Not so honorable mentions

NBA play-in preview, playoff predictions and awards picks


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Did you miss the NBA last night? Same here. Luckily things return tonight with the West play-in games, and if you don’t know how it works, we have a reminder. Basically, the (7) Pelicans host the (8) Lakers, with the winner of that game earning the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. Then, the (9) Kings host the (10) Warriors, with the winner facing the Pelicans-Lakers loser on Friday for the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

So, who earns a playoff berth tonight? Sam Quinn made his pick for Pelicans vs. Lakers. And who keeps their season alive? Sam also picked Kings vs. Warriors. … And if you’re a Lakers fan who subscribes to the theory that L.A. would be better off losing tonight’s game so they could try to capture the No. 8 seed to avoid the defending champion Nuggets, Sam wants to tell you why that won’t help.

And what about the playoffs themselves? All of our experts filled out their brackets and made their title picks. There’s a unanimous NBA Finals matchup prediction staff-wide, and I certainly wouldn’t complain if it played out that way.

Our staff also made its individual award picks, and while several are unanimous or near-unanimous — prepare for Nikola Jokic to become ninth player with at least three MVPs — the Clutch Player of the Year elicited four different responses. Here’s Sam Quinn’s take.

  • Quinn:Those included Stephen Curry, the leading clutch scorer in the NBA, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who made over 58% of his clutch shots, and Jokic, who spent the entire season pretending to give opponents chances to beat him before he broke their hearts in the closing minutes. In the end, though, three votes went to DeMar DeRozan, long one of the NBA’s most clutch players. Chicago’s 24-16 clutch mark was the difference between the play-in and the lottery. … Chicago’s win condition all season was essentially ‘keep the game close enough for DeMar to win it at the end,’ and that will ultimately be what wins him this trophy.”

UEFA Champions League: Barcelona, Atletico Madrid hold on


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Half of the UEFA Champions League semifinal will be determined today. Barcelona, up 3-2 after the first leg, host PSG (preview) while Atletico Madrid heads to Borussia Dortmund (preview) with a 2-1 lead. Both games are available to stream on Paramount+, and Barcelona-PSG is on CBS as well.

Can a young Barcelona side hold on? In his Corner Picks, Tom Fornelli says …

  • Fornelli: “Barcelona’s gameplan to slow Kylian Mbappe worked well, and I expect something similar in the second leg. It’s a solid approach. Take Mbappe away and make the rest of the team beat you. It can, but it’s less likely to happen, especially away from Paris. PSG must be aggressive here, leaving them vulnerable, and Barcelona should exploit it. The Pick: Barcelona (+125)”

Luis Enrique has big lineup calls to make to avoid that fate, Jonathan Johnson notes.

Here are our full expert picks, key players and everything else you need to know.

Team USA reportedly has one spot left to fill on men’s Olympic roster


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USA Basketball has decided who’s coming to Paris for the 2024 Olympics … almost. According to reports, 11 of the 12 roster spots for the men’s team are determined. They belong to:

  • LeBron James
  • Stephen Curry
  • Kevin Durant
  • Joel Embiid
  • Jayson Tatum
  • Devin Booker
  • Jrue Holiday
  • Anthony Davis
  • Anthony Edwards
  • Bam Adebayo
  • Tyrese Haliburton

It’s an amazing roster and an experienced one at that: All except Embiid — who committed to the US in October 2023 — have represented Team USA in some form of international competition before.

The Americans are four-time reigning Olympic gold medalists, but they failed to medal in the 2023 FIBA World Cup and will face stiff competition during the Paris Games from Germany, Serbia and Canada — who went 1-2-3 at the World Cup — as well as from host France.

Sam Quinn ran through snubs/candidates for the final spot, including … 

  • Quinn:Kawhi Leonard — Here’s one theory on why Team USA has elected to leave one roster spot open: the best remaining American player has health concerns. Based purely on merit, Leonard is the best player left in the player pool. He also fills a position of need, as Team USA is only carrying three true forwards at the moment in James, Durant and Tatum. In a perfect world, they’d likely choose to add a defensive-minded wing with forward size to round out that group. That’s Leonard to a tee. But at the moment, he’s not even a sure thing to start Game 1 of the first round for his Clippers.”

What we’re watching Tuesday

Barcelona vs. PSG, 3 p.m. on CBS and Paramount+
Borussia Dortmund vs. Atletico Madrid, 3 p.m. on Paramount+
Lakers at Pelicans, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
Maple Leafs at Panthers, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
Braves at Astros, 8:10 p.m. on TBS
Warriors at Kings, 10 p.m. on TNT


[colabot]

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