An NCAA champion has been crowned, bringing an end to the college basketball season, and the official list of players declaring for the WNBA Draft is in.
Before teams make their selections on Monday night, with the event being held in person in New York City and airing live on ESPN at 7 p.m. ET, Just Women’s Sports projects how every team will draft in the first, second and third rounds based on franchise needs and player fits. Be sure to check out our big board of the top 50 prospects in the draft class, and away we go!
Rhyne Howard, G, Kentucky
The Mystics had several directions they could have gone with this No. 1 pick, including using it as trade bait in the type of deal they made Wednesday with Atlanta. The Dream, who sent the No. 3 and No. 14 picks to Washington as part of the trade, are now in a position to add the best overall player and fit for the franchise. Howard is the most talented guard in this class and, at 6-foot-2, she has an elite skill set that can quickly translate to the pros.
Howard showcased her talents during the SEC tournament last month, leading the Wildcats to their first conference championship in 40 years while averaging 22 points and shooting 48 percent from the field. She makes the game look effortless at times. The Dream gave up quite a bit to target a specific player at the top of the board, and Howard fits the mold of a cornerstone the franchise can build around.
NaLyssa Smith, F, Baylor
If Smith falls to No. 2, she seems like a no-brainer for the rebuilding Fever. The 6-foot-3 forward was a walking double-double for Baylor and one of the most effective rebounders in the country, averaging 22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds this past season. Smith is the type of competitive forward and impact player the Fever desperately need on their roster to rebound from five straight losing seasons.
Smith has expanded her game and showcased her versatility, switching from a more traditional low-block role to one where she can face up, attack off the bounce and knock down mid-range jumpers. Her ability to run the floor and finish at the rim in transition is elite and will fit nicely into a pro setting. And while Smith has been playing the best basketball of her career in the past year, her raw potential is even more tantalizing.
Nyara Sabally, C/F, Oregon
The 6-5 forward has draft lottery potential due to her unique size and mobility in the paint combined with her ability to face up and stretch the floor. She has great vision as a passer and would be a strong match for the Mystics’ pick-and-roll action.
If Washington isn’t too concerned with her past knee injuries, Sabally has the potential to serve in a backup forward role right away behind the Mystics’ talented core and develop into an impact player for the future.
Shakira Austin, F/C, Ole Miss
Austin showcased her pro-ready frame and physicality during her standout senior season at Ole Miss. The Fever have to commit to investing in player development in order to turn around the franchise, and Austin is just that type of project.
The 6-5 Austin, capable of playing alongside another center, brings versatility to the post. She is an elite rebounder who can advance the ball herself in the open floor, and her ability to be a low-post and high-post threat is a rarity. With the Fever, Austin would likely have the chance to play and thrive early on in her career.
Emily Engstler, G/F, Louisville
The Liberty have established something of a Louisville-to-New York pipeline over the years, and selecting Engstler here would also serve as a homecoming for the New York City native. Engstler’s edge makes her different from anyone else in this draft.
When she’s aggressive on offense, Engstler can score at all three levels, as evidenced by the 11.9 points per game and 37.2 3-point shooting percentage she averaged this season. Her instincts and length would be a game-changer for the Liberty on defense, where is also a strong rebounder at the guard position, having averaged 9.4 per game for Louisville. Engstler has the intangibles and willingness to shift roles and make plays for her team night in and night out.
Kierstan Bell, G, Florida Gulf Coast
With four picks in the first round, Indiana has an opportunity to add key pieces at nearly every position. Bell, as a big guard, can flat-out score the basketball. She has a pro skill set and a swagger that seem made for the WNBA. She will need to transition to a pure guard role after playing 1 through 5 in college.
Bell was one of the most prolific scorers in the country this season, averaging 22.8 points per game at FGCU. While those numbers can be attributed to the high volume of shots she took, she was also efficient from the floor, shooting 46.7 percent. While Bell will need to work on her 3-point shooting, after averaging 28.8 percent from beyond the arc this season, the Fever can add a pro-ready guard to go along with the size they picked up in the first two picks.
Elissa Cunane, C, NC State
With so much young talent on the roster, the Wings’ immediate needs are less clear, and you could certainly make an argument for more depth on the wing. But if Cunane is still on the table at No. 7, she’ll be hard to pass up. The Wings are in a position where they can take the best player on the board who adds to their competition in the post.
The 6-5 center averaged 13.6 points and 7.6 rebounds a game while shooting an efficient 39.7 percent from beyond the arc during her career with the Wolfpack. Cunane’s ability to stretch the floor and shoot the 3 makes her a unique weapon for Dallas at the center position.
Sika Kone, F, Mali
The Lynx can begin to prepare for the post-Sylvia Fowles era in this draft by adding interior depth. They also have the option to stash an asset for the future, with more immediate salary cap concerns looming.
Kone, at 19 years old, is one of the youngest prospects in this draft class, but she stands out for her impressive international resume. The 6-3 forward has competed for Spar Gran Canaria in Spain and is a member of Mali’s national team. At the U19 World Cup in 2021, Kone averaged 19.7 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. She is explosive on the block and has a knack for the basketball, pursuing it at will. Kone is still very much coming into her own, but she has appealing long-term value for Minnesota.
Rae Burrell, F/G, Tennessee
Burrell’s final season at Tennessee was hampered by a mid-season knee injury, but the 6-1 senior still showcased her potential during key moments of the season and into the NCAA Tournament. Burrell has the length and shooting ability the Sparks could covet for wing depth on their retooled roster. After averaging 12.3 points per game during the regular season, the guard elevated her play in the tournament with 17 points per game on 36 percent shooting across her final five contests.
As a junior in 2020-21, Burrell showed what she’s capable of when 100 percent healthy, averaging 16.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from 3.
Destanni Henderson, PG, South Carolina
Here we are again, as the Fever get to cast a wide net in this draft. So far in this exercise, they’ve added interior depth and a scoring guard, and now they need a point guard. Henderson’s performance in the national championship game certainly caught the attention of WNBA teams. She would bring speed and playmaking ability to an initial backup role, and have a real chance to compete for a starting spot down the road with her steady and confident play. Henderson does well in the pick-and-roll game and has been an efficient 3-point shooting threat, averaging 39.9 percent from deep this season for the No. 1 Gamecocks.
Naz Hillmon, F, Michigan
The Aces could go a number of different ways to fill holes on their roster, but if Hillmon is still on the board at No. 11, she is an obvious choice because of her motor. At 6-2, Hillmon is undersized for a traditional post player in the WNBA and has limited range offensively, but she’s made up for it so far with her work ethic and efficiency, having shot nearly 60 percent from the field during her career.
She is highly effective around the rim, capable of being in the right place at the right time for rebound and putbacks. To make an impact in the WNBA, Hillmon will likely need to play more of a 3/4 role and learn to score against taller defenders, and who better to learn those skills from than A’ja Wilson?
KiKi Smith, G, Florida
The Sun are in a tough drafting position this year, since it’s unlikely they’ll be able to roster 12 players under the salary cap unless they make drastic cuts. Connecticut is in need of a mid-range scorer on the wing, and Smith could give them that in the future while not affecting their salary cap this season. Smith suffered a knee injury in the SEC tournament and will need more time to recover and rehab, giving Connecticut the option to draft her and suspend her contract for the season so it doesn’t count against the cap.
Offensively, Smith has a quick first step and hunts for opportunities to score. She has gotten better every year, learning to elevate her play in big moments and against top opponents. Her stock rose significantly as Florida went on a run this season largely on her shoulders before she got hurt.
Veronica Burton, G, Northwestern
The Lynx could afford to add depth at the point guard position, and Burton would give them that and more. The 5-9 point guard put WNBA teams on notice during her junior year at Northwestern, and now she enters the draft as one of the best facilitating options in the class. Burton knows how to stuff a stat sheet, averaging 17.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, four steals and 6.4 assists this season. She is known for her above-average defense, work ethic and toughness, all of which are key elements for any WNBA franchise.
Christyn Williams, G, UConn
Williams is one of the most exciting players in the draft class in terms of her ability to play downhill in transition, and the Mystics could stand to add a dynamic guard to their roster. The 5-11 Williams averaged 14.2 points per game on 45.4 percent shooting from the field for the Huskies this season. She can score in bunches when she gets going and finds ways to impact the game on both ends of the floor. With her speed, she’s difficult to stop when she gets to the rim in the open court, and she is also tenacious on defense.
Lorela Cubaj, F, Georgia Tech
Cubaj would bring both experience and competitiveness to the Dream, while not straying too far from the place where she became a college star. There’s a good chance she doesn’t fall this far, but the 6-4 forward is a tenacious defender with coveted size and strength to go along with an elite rebounding ability. While her offensive game still needs to expand, she was a consistent double-double contributor for Georgia Tech, averaging 10 points and 11.1 rebounds per game this season.
Lexie Hull, G, Stanford
Hull’s draft stock has been on the rise, and if she were to fall this far into the second round, I don’t see how the Sparks can pass her up based on their short- and long-term needs. Hull has valuable length, a strong IQ and impressive shooting ability. Before the Final Four, Hull had been playing the best basketball of her career, elevating her scoring average to 22 points per game for Stanford in the NCAA Tournament.
Queen Egbo, F/C, Baylor
The Storm have always had success with long, highly athletic paint threats, and Egbo fits that bill with her aggressiveness on the glass and efficiency around the rim. At 6-3, she shot over 50 percent from the field during her collegiate career, and her rebounding numbers increased every season while at Baylor. Her activity around the rim and ability to disrupt opponents on defense are appealing attributes for any team, and especially the Storm as they build with an eye toward the future.
Nia Clouden, G, Michigan State
Clouden, a high-octane scorer at Michigan State, could be an underrated player in this draft. Seattle is undergoing changes at the guard spot — after Jordin Canada left for the Sparks in free agency, Briann January signed a one-year deal and Sue Bird announced her intention to retire after this season — and Clouden could be a future asset there. She can initiate offense, play off the ball and manufacture points as well as any other player in the class.
Aisha Sheppard, G, Virginia Tech
Sheppard is an experienced guard who is capable of scoring it in a multitude of ways, but her ability to stretch the floor is what sets her apart and is what the Sparks could look to add to their arsenal. A high-volume 3-point shooter who averaged 37 percent during her college career, she has also made big strides in her passing game.
Olivia Nelson-Ododa, F, UConn
With as many picks as Indiana has in this draft, zeroing in on size and depth in the post seems like the smartest approach. Nelson-Ododa, at 6-5, has the length and athleticism to be effective in the pick-and-roll and run the floor before creating separation to score at the rim. Defensively, she is disruptive with her rim protection in the lane, but she will need to get stronger to compete against WNBA bigs. Overall, Nelson-Ododa is at her best in the paint, which can be extremely valuable at the next level.
Joanne Allen-Taylor, G, Texas
As a reliable off-ball guard, Allen-Taylor would bring a defensive tenacity to the Storm, allowing them to slide players over and fill gaps within their rotation. Allen-Taylor is a capable scorer at all three levels, but it’s her toughness and competitiveness teams will be vying for this draft.
Khayla Pointer, G, LSU
Pointer is a highly experienced point guard who wants the ball in her hands and thrives in big moments. She makes up for her lack of size with her quickness, motor and determination. In addition to her two triple-doubles this season, Pointer led LSU with 19.6 points per game on 36 percent shooting from the 3-point line, the best mark of her NCAA career.
Evina Westbrook, G, UConn
Westbook has good size at the guard spot and a well-rounded skill set that should make her a versatile option at the next level. Westbrook was a consistent offensive weapon for the Huskies this season, averaging nine points, 3.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game through the regular season and NCAA Tournament. Her length, ability to facilitate and overall IQ should be appealing to any franchise looking for depth at the guard spot.
Kianna Smith, G, Louisville
We know the Sun are in the market for shooters and scoring guards, and Smith is one of the purest shooters in the class. Her arsenal also isn’t just limited to 3-pointers, which she made at a 36.7 percent clip this season. The experienced 6-foot guard helped Louisville to the Final Four by scoring in a number of ways, averaging 12 points per game on 37 percent shooting from the field this season.
25. Indiana Fever: Maya Dodson, F, Notre Dame
26. Phoenix Mercury: Mya Hollingshed, F, Colorado
27. Los Angeles Sparks: Chloe Bibby, G/F, Maryland
28. Minnesota Lynx: Macee Williams, C, IUPUI
29. New York Liberty: Jasmine Dickey, G/F, Delaware
30. Dallas Wings: Faustine Aifuwa, C, LSU
31. Dallas Wings: Hannah Sjerven, C, South Dakota
32. Phoenix Mercury: Jordan Lewis, G, Baylor
33. Seattle Storm: Jenna Staiti, C, Georgia
34. Indiana Fever: Ali Patberg, G, Indiana
35. Las Vegas Aces: Kayla Wells, G, Texas A&M
36. Connecticut Sun: Chloe Lamb, G, South Dakota
Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.