Basketball

Experts praise Alanna Smith, Ezi Magbegor ahead of WNBA draft

Alanna Smith is the perfect fit, Ezi Magbegor the perfect project – either way the two Australian Opals are tipped to be top-15 picks in the WNBA draft on Thursday.

Last year Smith, 22, and Magbegor, 19, were the babies on an Opals team who won the silver medal at the FIBA Women’s World Cup and since then their stock has risen with WNBA sides.

Where the two Opals end up remains uncertain as teams wait to see whether University of Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu decides to enter the WNBA or not, if Ionescu is in the draft she will likely be in the top two picks so that could push down were Smith and Magbegor are taken but neither is expected to be available past the top 15 players.

Smith looks likely to go in the first round with several mock drafts tipping her to join Opals coach Sandy Brondello at Phoenix Mercury when they pick with the eighth selection while Magbegor should go soon after with some mocks suggesting Atlanta Dream at 11 could take her or the Mercury with their second round pick.

After starring at Stanford University, Smith has earned a reputation as a versatile, multi-skilled player who can shoot from outside, rebound and attack the basket. She played as a power forward in college and could continue that role in the WNBA or spend more time as a small forward.

ESPN WNBA commentator Kara Lawson gave Smith rich praise during a pre-draft conference call this week.

"Smith is a perfect fit for the pro style game," Lawson said.

"She's somebody that has good height. She's somebody that can really shoot it. A lot of times we talk about post players shooting it, and it's a small part of their game. She's made over 80 threes this year. That's incredible.

"She can rebound at a high level. She can block shots. She can handle the ball. So I think she's very well-suited for the next level.

"I would be surprised if she didn't go in the first round because of what she brings."

Los Angeles Sparks coach Derek Fisher also praised Smith for her ability to fit into any team.

"She's really versatile, which I think will be great for her transition into the WNBA, regardless of where she's drafted," Fisher said.

"She has a skill set that I think will fit in on any roster basically."

Magbegor has played in the WNBL for the past two seasons opting to become a professional with Melbourne Boomers this past season instead of going to college and her performances at home and for the Opals have impressed WNBA coaches.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve has led her club to four championships and rates Magbegor as the best "value" player outside of the first round.

"She's a player that's definitely younger,” Reeve said.

"She didn't earn minutes in terms of the quality part of the game, if you will.

"It was more when her team was up by a lot. So that's hard to tell in terms of what is she capable of doing.

"If she was not injured over in the Australian league [WNBL], it probably would have helped her a little bit more in terms of raising her stock.

"But I think that people have a handle for her, and I think she'd be a value pick outside of the first round, and I think that's probably where you'll see her go."

The WNBA draft will be held on Thursday morning [Australian time] at 9am with ESPN2 showing it live.

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