What can we expect from Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese next?

By | April 3, 2024

Even before millions of people tuned in to watch Caitlin Clark vs. Angel Reese, Part II, the match created a rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

But chances are there won’t be many intense matchups between the two at the professional level. Having that kind of rivalry requires longevity, and that’s not so easy in the WNBA, where roster spots are limited and often (but not always) go to well-rounded, professional players taken in the lottery.

Iowa’s Clark, the leading candidate for national player of the year, is all but guaranteed to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, which takes place April 15 in New York. Reese’s prospects are murkier, complicated by the fact that the majority of the 36 draft picks will be waived before the first tip-off of the season.

She has yet to announce her plans on whether she will turn pro, but should make a decision soon. Players competing in the Elite Eight or higher have 48 hours after their last game to waive their NCAA eligibility and declare for the WNBA Draft. That puts the deadline around 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday for Reese, who could stay an additional year under the COVID-19 waiver.

ALBANY, NEW YORK - APRIL 01: Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes shoots the ball over Angel Reese #10 of the LSU Tigers during the first half of the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on April 1, 2024 in Albany, New York.  (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)ALBANY, NEW YORK - APRIL 01: Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes shoots the ball over Angel Reese #10 of the LSU Tigers during the first half of the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on April 1, 2024 in Albany, New York.  (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, pictured Monday past LSU’s Angel Reese in an NCAA tournament regional final, is the overwhelming favorite to go No. 1 overall in the WNBA Draft. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark’s professional prospects

At No. 1 overall, Clark would join an Indiana Fever team on the rise with the 2023 No. 1 overall pick and reigning Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston as a pick-and-roll partner. It’s an exciting duo that fans will love to watch, but don’t expect Clark to average 30 points per game as a professional.

Last year’s scoring leader was Seattle Storm guard Jewell Loyd, who averaged 24.7 points per game. That narrowly missed Diana Taurasi’s all-time scoring average of 25.2 points in 2006. Clark won’t be able to come in and dominate bigger, stronger veteran defensemen in a league concentrated with the best players in the world. Her debut would be against the Connecticut Sun, who had the league’s best defense in 2023 behind do-it-all forward Alyssa Thomas.

Clark’s vision and IQ make her a top talent. Clark’s assists are an aspect of her game that has been overshadowed by her scoring records all season. Most of her passes go to Boston, as they did for center Monika Czinano at Iowa for three years.

It may take some time for other teammates to get used to playing with Clark and her ability to find seams in the defense that no one else is thinking about. Stories from Iowa practices talk about how players had to learn to keep their heads up during transition and be ready for a pass at any time. Iowa became so good because she had teammates who learned that and stayed with her for three or four years.

Once her Fever teammates get used to Clark’s ways, she could easily be among the best point guards in the league. Las Vegas Aces star Chelsea Gray (7.3 apg), New York Liberty leader Courtney Vandersloot (8.1) and Phoenix Mercury recruit Natasha Cloud (6.2) will all compete for the assists crown next season.

Clark has strong defensive snaps, but will need to improve on that side of the ball. Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder often hides Clark on weaker guards — in part to keep her fresh enough to drop 40 if necessary — but WNBA teams can expose that. That defensive edge was the difference between the two-time WNBA champion Aces and the Liberty in the 2023 Finals. Most rookie guards who have had prolific scoring careers in college need to make a leap defensively in their first few years at the professional level.

Angel Reese faces questions about the draft position

Reese is an elite rebounder with a nose for the ball and a strong work ethic to get the ball. That alone could help her stick with a roster, as could her defense. But she hasn’t developed other parts of her game. Reese is not a strong shooter outside of the paint and certainly not from the perimeter. She was forced to take those shots in this NCAA Tournament and looked uncomfortable.

That’s the biggest question mark and teams will have to be patient, a luxury few in the WNBA get. Even if Reese sticks to a schedule, she won’t dominate like she did in college.

The main thing going against Reese is that there aren’t enough spots in the WNBA, and teams don’t have the roster space to develop a young player when they can keep a seasoned veteran. Most teams have at least eleven players to stay under the tight salary cap. That’s about 132 roster spots spread across 12 teams, with an additional 11-12 spots coming in 2025 with the Bay Area expansion team.

If a player doesn’t enter the lottery, the team that drafts her becomes more important than where she is drafted. It’s common for second- and third-round picks — and even late first-round picks — to be waived on the roster cut date because there isn’t enough room.

There’s a Clark connection to this. Prior to the 2019 season, the Dallas Wings waived former Iowa forward and Naismith Player of the Year Megan Gustafson as part of their final roster cuts. Gustafson, who did not overlap with Clark at Iowa, was the No. 17 overall pick (fifth in the second round) after leading NCAA Division I in scoring twice and ranking in the top five in rebounding twice.

Wings CEO Greg Bibb said at the time that Gustafon had the talent and skills to play, but the roster couldn’t keep her. She returned later that season on a hardship contract while filling in for an injured player, and she remains in the league on her fourth team in six years. The Aces signed her after posting a career-best 7.9 points in 15.1 minutes per game in Phoenix.

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