· By Ameen Hafez
Draft Breakdown and Analysis of the 2023 Season 2 MLP Draft
The 2023 Major League Pickleball Season 2 Premier draft was held on July 12th, at 9am in Central Park, New York City. This draft was for the 12 newly dubbed “Premier” teams to choose their new group of players who will compete at the next three MLP events representing their respective teams’ cities:
- Chicago Slice
- Utah Black Diamonds
- Orlando Squeeze
- Brooklyn Aces
- DC Pickleball Team
- Columbus Pickleball Team
- Arizona Drive
- Texas Ranchers
- Dallas Pickleball Club
- Atlanta Bouncers
- Bay Area Breakers
- Miami Pickleball Club
The Orlando Squeeze looked to glean both from their experience in the Challenger level in Season 1, as well as their lengthy NBA draft experience with the help of team owner Ryan DeVos at the helm to draft a team that will bring them a coveted MLP title in Season 2 and a spot in the Premier League for 2024.
In the first round, they made quick work to secure a trade with the third pick, in order to get a better position in the second round from the DC Pickleball Team. Orlando traded the 3rd and 22nd pick for the 5th & 20th spots in return.
DC selected Riley Newman at 3, while the Orlando Squeeze chose Anna Bright at the 5th spot.
In the second round, Orlando chose Andrei Dăescu with the newly acquired 20th pick.
Then, for the first time in MLP history, a team made trades for all four of their picks, and it was none other than the Orlando Squeeze. (According to MLP draft rules, a team may only trade its first & second round picks, its third & fourth round picks, or all four picks together.)
The Atlanta Bouncers and the Orlando Squeeze swapped third and fourth round picks, moving Orlando from 27 & 46 to 34 & 39.
In the third round, Orlando selected Zane Navratil, and then Rachel Rohrabacher in the fourth round.
If anyone had a mock draft that even remotely resembled what actually transpired, you should go play the Powerball.
From all the sources who predicted a 9/3 split of Males to Females going in the first round, you got it wrong. It wasn’t even an 8/4 split, it actually ended up being 7/5 with both Parris Todd & Lea Jansen being selected. In round two, we saw another surprising split where only two men were selected, Tyson McGuffin & Andrei Dăescu, with 10 women. Round three was a 6/6 split, and round four closed it out with 9 men selected and 3 women.
Alright enough about splits, let’s take a look at some of the draft strategies teams employed:
Five teams chose Male, Female, Female, Male: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, DC, & Texas.
Four teams chose Female, Female, Male, Male: Atlanta, Bay Area, Brooklyn, & Utah.
Arizona chose Male, Female, Male, Female.
Miami chose Male, Male, Female, Female.
Orlando chose Female, Male, Male, Female.
From an analytics standpoint, the trades that Orlando made, allowed them to leverage their number three lottery pick to be able to condense the distance and distribution between picks to feel more like a team choosing at the 7th or 8th spot overall, while still getting the top value of who they wanted at the number three position in Anna Bright and a more populated player pool with each pick.
A team picking at spots one through three typically will have an average of about 10-11 picks between each player averaged across all four rounds, whereas the trades that Orlando made brought that number down to 8.5.
Season 1 Standings
So how did the Season 1 Premier League teams fare after their drafts? (Note: SoCal traded all four picks with California)
Team Draft strategy Final Standings
- New Jersey 5’s Female, Male, Female, Male 3
- Seattle Pioneers Male, Female, Female, Male 1
- ATX Pickleballers Male, Female, Female, Male 6
- NYC Hustlers Female, Male, Male, Female 4
- Los Angeles Mad Drops Female, Female, Male Male 2
- California BLQK Bears Female, Male, Male, Female 7
- STL Shock Male, Female, Female, Male 9
- Florida Smash Female, Female, Male, Male 8
- Las Vegas Night Owls Female, Male, Female, Male 11
- SoCal Hard Eights Male, Male, Female, Female 10
- Milwaukee Mashers Female, Female, Male, Male 5
- Frisco Clean Cause Male, Male, Female, Female 12
Two teams went Male, Male, Female, Female: SoCal & Frisco, who ended up in 10th & 12th place, respectively.
Two teams chose Female, Male, Male, Female: NYC (4th) & California (7th).
Two teams chose Female, Male, Female, Male: NJ (3rd) & Las Vegas (11th)
Three teams selected Male, Female, Female, Male: Seattle (1st with the Ben Johns effect), ATX (6th), and STL (9th).
Three teams selected Female, Female, Male, Male: LA (2nd), Florida (8th), & Milwaukee (5th)
The Orlando Squeeze chose a similar strategy to Anna Bright’s Season 1 team: create a strong Men’s Doubles team with the second and third round picks, and pair her with a high upside partner for women’s doubles, just as the Hustlers did with Lacy Schneeman, their fourth round pick. The Squeeze will likely tinker with mixed doubles strategies in practice leading up to MLP Atlanta, to allow them to find the best fit alongside newcomer Rachel Rohrabacker, as Anna is more than comfortable to play with either Andrei or Zane. In addition, this unit has plenty of singles experience should they face any Dreambreaker scenarios.
- This team comprises two of the leading podcasters in all of pickleball: Anna & Zane
- This is the only team with three players who have their own signature paddle: Anna, Zane, & Andrei
- Three of the four players live in South Florida. (Zane lives in Texas)
Anna Bright - 5.94 DUPR
Played college tennis at UC Berkeley, ranked as high as No. 13 in the country and had a 20-3 record in the Spring 2021 season. MLP Newport Beach 2022 champion and event co-MVP. Began playing pickleball with her parents in October of 2021. Officially a full-time dedicated pickleballer, worked for DUPR for a brief time, and is now a full-time pro. She’s already won 14 medals on the PPA tour this year.
Andrei Dăescu - 6.71 DUPR
Former pro tennis player, competed in the 2015 US Open and represented Romania in the Davis Cup. Gold medalist in four APP events in 2022, bronze medalist in men’s doubles in the 2021 World Championships, and bronze medalist in men’s doubles at the 2019 Nationals. Pro pickleball player since 2017 and already has won 10 gold medals in 2023. Originally from Bucharest, Romania. Favorite movie is “The Departed.” Hobbies include go-karting, table tennis, and stand-up comedy. Married and has two daughters, Olivia and Sienna.
Zane Navratil - 6.8 DUPR
Since turning pro, Navratil has won Major League Pickleball twice, become a consistent presence at the top of the world singles rankings, and invented a new spin serve, which has now been banned for being “too elite.” Has taught numerous clinics to thousands of students all over the country. Grew up in Racine, WI, where he won three state championships in tennis for The Prairie School. Went on to play college tennis for UW-Whitewater and was named an Academic All-American. Worked at Deloitte as a CPA for one year before pursuing professional pickleball full-time.
Rachel Rohrabacher - 5.77 DUPR
Former D1 tennis player at the University of South Carolina with a 20-4 record her junior year, Rachel is now a full-time pickleball professional player who has competed on both the APP & PPA tour. Paired up with the likes of William Sobek & Rafa Hewitt for mixed doubles, she already has wins over top ranked players in all three events (gender & mixed doubles, plus singles): Jesse Irvine, Collin Johns, Pablo Tellez, Susannah Barr, CJ Klinger, Ryler DeHeart, etc. She is excited to once again play in a team format like she did in college with her new MLP squad.