Aces eager to see what Monday’s WNBA draft can provide

Tennessee's Rae Burrell, right, heads to the basket as Louisville's Kianna Smith defends during ...

With Monday’s WNBA draft, Aces President Nikki Fargas knows her team has a chance to get better. “I think there are talented women in this draft that could really change the trajectory of a franchise,” she said.

The draft will give Las Vegas an opportunity to bring some youthful energy to a veteran group. The Aces have the No. 11, No. 23 and No. 35 picks. While there’s plenty of potential in this year’s class, Fargas is looking for players who can help Las Vegas reach the summit.

Michigan’s 6-2 forward Naz Hillmon, N.C. State’s 6-5 center Elissa Cunane and Tennessee’s 6-1 guard Rae Burrell, who prepped at Liberty, profile as the most likely selections for the Aces at No. 11.

“We want players in this draft who understand when you come and play for Becky Hammon — play for the Aces — we’re playing for championships here,” Fargas said.

It’s been a unique offseason for the Aces. The team hired Hammon in December. During the evaluation process, Fargas and her staff have been in constant contact with their new coach about the potential picks while Hammon finishes her obligations with the San Antonio Spurs.

Another decision-maker entered the equation Friday, when Las Vegas announced the addition of general manager Natalie Williams, who will fill the void left by two-time WNBA Executive of the Year Dan Padover. He left after the 2021 season to take the same job with the Atlanta Dream.

Despite the hiring being made public just three days before the draft, Williams has already been involved in the team’s drafting process. She’s been in several meetings with Fargas and Chief Business Development Officer Jennifer Azzi. The team has already made moves too, waiving second-year guard Destiny Slocum — the No. 14 pick in the 2021 draft — to make more room on the roster.

“We’re excited about the players that we could still get later in the rounds and really just trying to fill in some gaps in our roster that we feel like we need,” Williams said.

Specifically, Williams wants to add either a big wing or a stretch-four, either in the draft, free agency or by picking up an undrafted player via training camp invites.

With more than 100 players already declared for the draft, there are certainly options for the Aces. Fargas also pointed out this year’s class is more polished and experienced than most. Several players in this draft have played college basketball for five years after the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fargas said the large number of prospects shows the need for the WNBA to expand the number of teams, something players past and present have called for in recent years as young players are finding it increasingly difficult to make a roster.

Fargas also believes more players should have been invited to the draft, beyond the 12 prospective first-round picks who were invited to New York.

“It’s another way to expose more of this talent in the women’s game,” she said.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.