The WNBA lottery could mean nothing or everything to the Sky, depending on how the next 72 hours go.
If the Sky clinch their fifth consecutive postseason appearance — a franchise record — they would send the fifth overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft to the Wings. If they’re eliminated from the playoffs by the Sparks, they enter the lottery and risk sending the No. 1 overall pick to the Wings.
Before diving into how the lottery works, let’s tackle how the Sky got here.
Before James Wade resigned as coach and general manager, he constructed this year’s roster, which he was certain would not be in rebuild mode. That included trading the Sky’s 2023 and 2024 first-round picks and the right to swap their 2025 first-round pick to the Wings for guard Marina Mabrey. The four-team trade also included the Sky sending their 2024 second-round pick and the rights to Leonie Fiebich to the Liberty and their 2024 third-round pick and 2025 second-round pick to the Mercury.
The sign-and-trade for Mabrey came with a three-year contract worth $202,000 this season, $208,000 next season and $210,000 in Year 3.
After Wade proclaimed during the preseason, “I’m not [expletive] planning on losing,” he led the team to a 7-9 record before resigning July 1 for an assistant coaching job in the NBA with the Raptors. The Sky have gone 9-13 under interim coach/general manager Emre Vatansever and are facing potential playoff elimination.
Beyond Wade’s midseason resignation, the Sky also have dealt with season-ending injuries to Rebekah Gardner and Isabelle Harrison.
After the Sparks’ 96-89 loss to the Liberty on Thursday, the Sky can clinch the eighth seed with a win Friday at home against the Lynx. If they find themselves on the outside looking in, they will enter the WNBA’s lottery.
To prevent tanking, the lottery odds are based on a cumulative record of the two most recent regular seasons of the four teams that fail to make the playoffs.
The Fever, Storm and Mercury already have been eliminated from the playoffs. Regardless of whether the Sky or Sparks earn the eighth seed, the Fever have the best odds to win the lottery (44.2%) because of their cumulative regular-season records in 2022 and 2023. The Mercury have the second-best odds (27.6%.)
If the Sparks don’t make the playoffs and enter the lottery, they’ll have the third-best odds (17.8%), and the Storm will have the fourth (10.2%.) If the Sky enter the lottery, the Storm will have the third-best odds (17.8%) and the Sky will have the fourth (10.2%.)
The last time the Sky failed to make the playoffs was in 2018, and their cumulative record from 2017 and 2018 gave them the third-best odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick. The Fever had the best odds that year, the Aces had the second-best and the Liberty had the worst.
In the end, the Aces landed the No. 1 pick and selected Jackie Young in the 2019 draft. The Liberty, despite having the worst odds, came away with the No. 2 overall pick, the Fever received the third pick and the Sky got the fourth.
All of the top prospects in the 2024 draft, including Caitlin Clark, Aaliyah Edwards, Angel Reese and Paige Bueckers, have college eligibility remaining, making it even more unclear who the projected top pick will be.
Regardless, the top pick in 2024 will not be suiting up for the Sky whether they enter the lottery or not.