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

Even before millions tuned in to see Caitlin Clark vs. Angel Reese, Part II, the matchup was giving off Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson rivalry vibes.

But there’s a decent chance there won’t be many high-intensity matchups between the two on the professional level. To have that type of rivalry requires longevity, and it’s not that simple in the WNBA, where roster spots are limited and often (but not always) go to all-around, pro-ready players taken in the lottery.

Iowa’s Clark, the leading national player of the year candidate, is almost a guaranteed lock to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, ,which is April 15 in New York. Reese’s prospects are more blurry, complicated by the fact a majority of the 36 draft picks are waived before the season’s first tip.

She has yet to announce her plans on whether she’ll go pro, but needs to make a decision soon. Players competing in the Elite Eight or later have 48 hours after their final game to renounce their NCAA eligibility and declare for the WNBA Draft. That puts the deadline at around 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday for Reese, who could stay an extra year under the COVID-19 waiver.

Caitlin Clark’s pro prospects

At No. 1 overall, Clark would join an Indiana Fever team on the rise with 2023 No. 1 overall pick and reigning Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston as a pick-and-roll partner. It's a tantalizing duo fans are eager to see, but don't expect Clark to average 30 points per game as a pro.

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

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

It might take time for other teammates to adjust to playing with Clark and her ability to find seams in the defense no one else thinks about. Stories out of Iowa practices center on how players had to learn to keep their heads up in 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 to four years.

Once her Fever teammates become accustomed to Clark’s ways, she could easily rank 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 apg) and Phoenix Mercury addition Natasha Cloud (6.2) will all compete for the assists crown next season.

Clark has strong defensive moments, but will have to improve on that side of the ball. Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder often hides Clark on weaker guards — partially to keep her fresh enough to drop 40 when necessary — but WNBA teams can expose that. That defensive edge was a differentiator 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 have to make a jump defensively in their first few years at the pro level.

Angel Reese faces questions about draft position

Reese is an elite rebounder with a nose for the ball and a strong work ethic to get it. That alone might help her stick on a roster, as will her defense. But she hasn’t developed other parts of her game. She isn’t 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 doesn’t look comfortable.

That’s the biggest question mark and teams will have to be patient, which is a luxury few are afforded in the WNBA. Even if she does stick on a roster, she won’t be dominating the way she did in college.

The biggest thing working against Reese is 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 an experienced veteran. Most teams carry the minimum 11 players to stay under the tight salary cap. That’s about 132 roster spots over 12 teams, with 11-12 more spots coming in 2025 with the Bay Area expansion team.

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

There's a Clark connection to this. Ahead of 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 at Iowa with Clark, was the No. 17 overall pick (fifth in the second round) after leading NCAA Division I in scoring twice and ranking top five in rebounding twice.

Wings CEO Greg Bibb said at the time Gustafon had the talent and skill to play, but the roster couldn’t hold 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 a career-best 7.9 points in 15.1 minutes per game in Phoenix.

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