Dana Evans is the best guard prospect in the 2021 WNBA Draft

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

Dana Evans has the potential to be a dynamic three-level scorer in the WNBA, just one of the reasons she’s the best point guard in the 2021 WNBA Draft class.

Louisville guard Dana Evans seems to finally be getting her due.

The leader of the 20-2 Cardinals, Evans spent much of this season being pegged as a non-lottery first-round pick in mock draft after mock draft. But with ESPN listing her third in their most recent mock, it seems the tides are turning. We’re finally collectively acknowledging that Dana Evans is the best guard prospect in this year’s draft class.

But what makes her such an intriguing prospect, and how will that translate into the WNBA?

Dana Evans has the versatile scoring talents to be a WNBA star

There are a lot of good wings in this draft class that can play off the ball, but 2021 isn’t a deep draft when it comes to point guard prospects. There’s Arizona’s Aari McDonald, who can play the 1 or the 2. There’s Australian Shyla Heal, who might sneak into the tail-end of the first round. But overall, teams that need a point guard should have one name in mind: Dana Evans. Why? Let’s start with the shooting.

Evans is shooting 38 percent from 3 on the season on 6.5 attempts per game. Per Synergy, she’s scored 1.179 points per possession on catch-and-shoot looks (86th percentile) and 0.873 points per possession on dribble jumpers (80th percentile). Her ability to get her shot off both on and off the ball help make her someone who is impossible for opposing defenses to guard.

Here’s one of those catch-and-shoot 3s:

and here’s one of those 3s where she shoots off the dribble:

Having both of those skills in her repertoire is something that greatly increases Evans’ WNBA stock. In a league where teams are trending more and more towards using multiple ball-handling guards — see Chennedy Carter and Courtney Williams in Atlanta, Arike Ogunbowale and Tyasha Harris in Dallas, or Sabrina Ionescu and Layshia Clarendon in New York — having someone who can be both an on and off-ball option adds a needed dimension for whichever team drafts her. And with two of those aforementioned teams holding lottery picks, Evans going there could ensure that Dallas or Atlanta are always able to have multiple ball-handlers on the floor together. That makes it increasingly hard for defenses to figure out how to slow you down.

In addition to her jump shooting, Evans has been a problem in transition. Louisville is scoring 1.208 points per Evans transition possession, and she’s often used her defense to fuel that transition offense:

On this play, Evans plays up close on the opposing ball-handler, preventing her from getting space. Evans is able to then get a hand on the ball, poke it away, and immediately get going the other way in transition. She glides down the floor, showcasing her speed as she runs away from the Boston College defense.

And we haven’t touched on Evans’ upside as a passer yet. Averaging 4.3 assists per game, Evans has shared point guard duties with Hailey Van Lith but still ranks in the 97th percentile in assists per game. Her 2.16 assist to turnover ratio is in the 96th percentile, as she’s done a good job on a per-possession basis of avoiding turnovers. She’s a smart passer, someone who can find the right read. Her 25.1 assist percentage is especially encouraging when you see how high her usage rate is this season. Evans will be asked to finish fewer plays and get the ball into other player’s hands more often in the WNBA; it’s good, then, to see that while she was a 30.3 usage rate, she’s also still got a strong nose for passing the ball. To me, that suggests that she’ll be able to make that transition into more of a pass-first player since so many of her possessions do end in a pass.

Is Dana Evans big enough to succeed at the next level?

If we’re looking for a potential issue with Evans, we have to start with her size. At 5-foot-6, Evans would be one of the smallest players in the league. Currently, the following players are Evans’ height or shorter: Jordin Canada (5-foot-6), Crystal Dangerfield (5-foot-5), Moriah Jefferson (5-foot-6), and Leilani Mitchell (5-foot-5).

But that list includes last season’s Rookie of the Year, Dangerfield, whose lack of size was a big reason why she fell out of the first round. How’d that work out for the Lynx, who were able to draft Dangerfield with the 16th pick?

Well, Dangerfield averaged 16.2 points per game, shooting 47.1 percent from the floor and dishing out 3.6 assists per game. Dangerfield showed that size issues can be negated if a player is skilled enough, just as players like Canada and Mitchell have shown that they too can overcome size concerns to be effective WNBA players.

Canada is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders and is only 5-foot-6. And while taller players have dominated the MVP award, with Cynthia Cooper in 1998 being the last player under 6-foot to win the award, there have been plenty of examples of shorter players finding success in the W. Debbie Black (5-foot-2) earned a Defensive Player of the Year award. Temeka Johnson (5-3) was the 2005 Rookie of the Year. The aforementioned Leilani Mitchell has twice won the league’s Most Improved Player award and has been in the league since 2008.

Simply put, Evans is on the small side of WNBA players, but all the skills that we’ve been talking about have me feeling mostly confident that she’ll be able to carve out a long career in the league.

Where would Dana Evans fit best in the WNBA?

So, which teams should be looking to add Evans this offseason?

Atlanta, who hold the No. 3 pick, is really interesting here. The Dream already have Chennedy Carter at the point and Courtney Williams at the two, though both players have enough ball-handling ability to make those positional designations pretty interchangeable.

But while both Carter and Williams are entering their second seasons in Atlanta, their situations are very different. Carter will be in her second WNBA season and is considered a building block for the Dream. Williams is a veteran and the team’s highest-paid player, but 2021 is her last year under contract. Drafting Evans would give them a great contingency plan should Williams look to leave for a contender in 2022 and would allow them to keep two ball-handling guards in their starting five.

Another interesting landing spot is Indiana at No. 4. With Erica Wheeler now in Los Angeles and the 2021 availability of Julie Allemand in question due to overseas commitments, Evans could fill a need at the point, keeping the Fever from having to move Kelsey Mitchell back to that position. Like it would in Atlanta, this scenario creates a dynamic backcourt that would keep defenses on their toes and would help open up space on the interior for Teaira McCowan and/or Lauren Cox to work.

But whatever team drafts Evans, it’s clear that they’re getting a complete guard. She can score. She can pass. She can defend. And while Evans is an undersized guard, that hasn’t stopped other players from finding success, and it won’t stop Evans.

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