With a new year of MLP, there are new nuances for fans to get acquainted with as things are set to stabilize for 2024. For 2023, there are no add/drops for Premier teams, only trades. Challenger teams can still complete add/drop transactions with the available player pool. The game changer for this event 1 Challenger Shuffle Draft is that Jillian Braverman will be in the available player pool. We wrote about this in our inaugural newsletter (which you can subscribe to) but, in our opinion, Braverman’s ability to enter the Shuffle Draft without being in the initial draft player pool is a problem. One Challenger team will benefit heavily from a Premier level talent providing immense value to their 2nd female spot. Think about whether this would be fair if Parris Todd were allowed to enter the Challenger player pool?
Braverman is not on the same level as Parris Todd, but her insertion into the player pool could slant the entire landscape of the Challenger division, depending on the team that benefits from picking her up. With the 2023 results determining which teams start 2024 in Premier, the timing for Braverman’s insertion in the player pool should have been after the first half of the season rather than the first event. It’s an unjust curve ball to the teams that drafted far better than the team that will pick her up.
In terms of the logistics of the Shuffle Draft, each team cannot drop more than one player for. The Shuffle Draft order will be determined based on the reverse order of the standings from the first event in Mesa. The player pools have not been made public yet but the transactions will be revealed on Sunday, March 5th. So, let’s go through the teams from #1 through #12, and the options that present them in the lead up to the first Shuffle Draft of 2023.
#1 – Bay Area Breakers
They won the first event. If there was a re-draft today, there is an argument to be made that every single player on the Breakers could go higher than where they were selected. Pablo Tellez went 6th overall and the consistency he has shown in 2023 makes him a top 3 guy in this division. Christian Alshon (3rd rounder) proved very worthy of his draft slot. Both females, Ewa Radzikowska (2nd rounder) and Rachel Summers (4th rounder), would undoubtedly be picked significantly higher than where they went in December. They are the only team to get plus value at every single selection. They won the first event. No changes are going to be made for the Breakers. End of story.
#2 – Utah Black Diamonds
The Black Diamonds came in second so we would be shocked to see them make a move. This is a veteran team that isn’t going to be overmatched by any team out there. There may be room to upgrade that last male spot in order to optimize Olivia McMillan on the right side of the court in mixed as a lefty, but that won’t happen. Nor should it. The risk is not worth the potential reward.
#3 – Chicago Slice
With the depth of the men in pro pickleball, the most likely spot where several teams could try to upgrade is their 2nd male slot. With players like Brendon Long, Daniel De La Rosa and Eden Lica out there, a semi-final finish from the Slice does not necessarily prevent them from trying to make a move. At the same time, the Slice don’t really fit the bill to move off of Ryler DeHeart, but we have to throw it out there as a possibility. We think it is likely the teams who experienced some success in Mesa are going to be more risk averse because the thought of following up a solid performance with a sub-par performance due to dropping a player is tough for most people to swallow. Each situation is circumstance dependent and we don’t think the Slice are a team that should be making a change. The best option for the Slice is probably to run it back, particularly when their Shuffle Draft position will be later, assuming a number of other teams drop a male player.
#4 – Atlanta Bouncers
This would be a great Jillian Braverman landing spot, except for the fact that the Bouncers semi-final finish will prevent them from having any chance of acquiring her. The Bouncers played five Dreambreakers and with Christine Trifunovic and Ben Newell rounding out their 2nd gender slots, those Dreambreakers could easily have gone a different way. They can’t expect to go 4 for 5 on Dreambreakers again, but the problem for any teams looking to upgrade on women is that, outside of Jillian Braverman, there may not be a single female that obviously represents a significant upgrade. That’s also why this Jillian Braverman thing is potentially so unfair as she represent a significant upgrade whereas she would be a first-round female if we re-drafted the Challenger division today – we actually have her as a top 24 Premier player. We expect the Bouncers will stand pat, but this is the #1 Challenger team that we expect could see a big dip in their results in Daytona.
#5 – Orlando Squeeze
It sounds like the Todd Fought selection was a Callan Dawson Utah connection pick. Fought’s play was solid enough at the first event, but do the Squeeze want to try to upgrade that spot? From our perspective, this team is probably a middle of the pack team constructed the way they are. Their next move will depend on organizational philosophy. Do they just want to guarantee some wins in season 1 or do they want to take some risk for more upside? Putting Jillian Braverman on this team would make them instant contenders but their quarter-final appearance makes that proposition near impossible. It also seems unlikely that Brendon Long makes it this far in the Shuffle Draft because he would be a great fit with his previous partnerships with Bobbi Oshiro. It’s not an easy question for the Squeeze.
#6 – Brooklyn Aces
The Aces are in a weird spot. They have two pregnant women, who will be 2 months farther along in their pregnancies before Daytona rolls around. Brooklyn knew they would have to move off Carr before event #3 but they are only allowed to drop one player per event. As noted above, it is so hard to upgrade the female spots. The only place for most of these teams to upgrade on the waiver wire is through their 2nd male, but there wasn’t really anything in Dow’s performance from Mesa that would warrant his dropping. A change would more be about trying to shake things up and bring in someone who might be able to carry more for a #2 mixed partnership. It may make the most sense for Brooklyn to stay status quo and hope that their entire team performance plays up to the level that was initially expected after the draft. Trades are tough, but maybe there are trades they can explore out there?
#7 – Texas Ranchers
As is the case for most of these bottom half teams, the Ranchers have a conundrum on their hands. The foundation of their team was supposed to be two strong, veteran men, but Pat Smith/Steve Deakin went 0-3 together in Mesa. We wonder if there is a trade in the cards with one of their veterans providing more value to another team that could use the stability as opposed to upside. Genie Erokhina held up fine as the 2nd female. It seems the Ranchers either have to hope that their veteran men put it together or they make a move to try to upgrade one of those spots. We think finding someone more dynamic to pair with Lee Whitwell should be a priority. Frankly, Pat Smith’s play at the start of 2023 is the most concerning of the 4 players on this team.
#8 – D.C. Pickleball Team
D.C. definitely won’t drop Querrey so the question is whether they will drop Paolicelli. They may have performed too well at the first event to have Braverman drop to them, but it still looks to be the perfect situation for an attempt to upgrade that last female spot. Paolicelli is okay, but the chances are D.C. won’t be risking much by dropping Paolicelli, who is a low upside player. There has to be someone out there that can offer close to what Paolicelli gives from a floor standpoint while still providing something in the way of upside. Moreover, Paolicelli does not offer anything from a singles standpoint so a slight downgrade in doubles could be worth it for a singles upgrade with Stefan Auvergne’s ability to win two matches by himself in Challenger. If Salome Devidze is in that player pool, she could be an option, Devidze’s doubles game has not come anywhere near her singles results but getting someone who can dominate some of these Challenger women in a Dreambreaker could be worthwhile gamble in an attempt to gain an edge.
#9 – AZ Drive
Sarah Burr is kind of like Monica Paolicelli, except less seasoned. This team needs more from its 2nd female to help out Sarah Ansboury and Andreas Siljestrom, including in a Dreambreaker. You cannot have two Dreambreaker black holes along with the inexperienced and somewhat immobile Siljestrom. We didn’t think Burr was a Challenger level player and there was nothing we saw in Mesa that dissuaded our opinion in that regard. While there isn’t a clear upgrade for Burr if Braverman gets scooped up and it’s hard to say for sure without seeing the player pool, this almost has to be a spot where the Drive take a chance to upgrade.
#10 – Dallas Pickleball Club
The Brandon French spot is the clear position for a possible upgrade. Unfortunately for the other Dallas players, that likely won’t happen given French’s selection appeared to be one of several nepotism-esque selections in the Challenger draft. French actually played pretty well in Mesa, but that’s relative to expectations. There are better players out there that could move the needle for this team. Christa Gecheva does not strike us as a replacement candidate. Gecheva has some pop to her game and some singles prowess, which we think is very beneficial in this Challenger field that features a lot of players with limited power and singles ability. They will almost certainly have both Brendon Long or Daniel De La Rosa available to them if they want to make a switch. Joey Farias, Eden Lica and John Cincola are options too.
#11 – Miami Pickleball Club
It is unclear to us if Matt Manasse is still the GM of this team. If this team is being run by anyone other than Mansse after their debacle of a draft, Manasse should be an auto drop. If Manasse is still running this team, the question is whether the coach to the stars will prioritize being able to advertise himself as a Major League Pickleball player. Surely, there isn’t anyone dumb enough to give him another shot to be a GM, assuming that privilege hasn’t already been taken away from him. Judging from his Instagram story from February 23rd in the screenshot above, it seems Manasse is full steam ahead to run it back in Daytona. Is it possible that Jeff Warnick gets dropped in an attempt to give Manasse a better chance at success?
#12 – Columbus Pickleball Club
With their last place finish in Mesa, Columbus is guaranteed to get whoever they want from the available player pool. Considering CJ Klinger’s Dad is the GM of this team, it is hard to believe they would drop CJ for someone. Even if Klinger’s Dad wasn’t the GM, there is an no brainer best move for this team and that is dropping Becky Ryan for Jillian Braverman. After watching Becky Ryan in Mesa, it is evident to us that she was way overdrafted at the #13 overall slot. Braverman would suddenly create a #1 mixed team with Yates Johnson and #1 women’s team with Milan Rane that could compete with anyone in the Challenger division.
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