The 2023 WNBA Draft Lottery took place last week, setting the draft order just as the NCAA women’s basketball season gets underway. It’s never too early to start analyzing WNBA teams’ needs and the pro potential of top college prospects.
While the next versions of this could look very different based on changes to the draft order and players’ stock rising and falling, our first-round mock draft will serve as a starting point. So, let’s have some fun with it.
Note: This mock draft is taking into account draft-eligible student-athletes. It is unknown right now who will declare for the 2023 WNBA Draft and who will opt to use their fifth year of NCAA eligibility.
Aliyah Boston, F, South Carolina
Indiana couldn’t have secured the first No. 1 draft pick in franchise history at a better time. The Fever are still in the midst of a full-fledged rebuild, most recently naming longtime WNBA assistant Christie Sides as their next head coach.
Indiana could use franchise talent at any position to build around for the future. Assuming the reigning National and Defensive Player of the Year Aliyah Boston declares for this year’s draft, she is the clear No. 1 pick. The South Carolina forward is a generational talent with her combination of size, offensive and defensive impact and experience.
At 6-foot-5, Boston makes everyone around her better, requiring opponents to game-plan specifically for her night in and night out. She is an elite rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. She is also an efficient shooter even when facing double and triple teams, shooting nearly 77 percent from the field through the first two games this season and 55 percent from the field for her career.
Elizabeth Kitley, C, Virginia Tech
The Lynx will look to retool this offseason as they turn the page from the Sylvia Fowles era. This is a pivotal moment for Minnesota, who scored big with the No. 2 pick in the lottery. The direction they take with this pick will follow them for years to come, and what they need most is an interior presence in the post, followed by a point guard.
If Elizabeth Kitley declares for the draft, Minnesota would be remiss not to seriously consider the center. Kitley brings versatility and efficiency on offense, length at 6-6 and strong rebounding instincts. She arguably is the most skilled of any post player in this class with her ability to play with her back to the basket, face up and attack off the dribble, and advance the ball in the open court. She can also stretch the floor with an improved 3-point shot. Kitley offers the full package that WNBA teams covet.
Haley Jones, G, Stanford
The Dream could certainly afford to add a dominant forward this offseason, but I think they’re better off fulfilling that need in free agency. Their next area of concern is the backcourt after the team finished last in the league in assists per game last season.
Haley Jones is in a category of her own with her combination of size, athleticism, versatility, court vision and basketball IQ. While it is too early in the season to evaluate how much she has improved her perimeter shooting, Jones’ assist numbers have increased every season she’s been at Stanford, with the senior averaging 3.8 through five games this season. She has great instincts and can defend any position on the floor.
Diamond Miller, G, Maryland
Newly named head coach Eric Thibault said in his introductory press conference that he intends for the Mystics to play with more pace and space on both offense and defense next season. Diamond Miller is exactly the type of two-way player who can thrive in that system.
Miller has the rare blend of length, as a 6-3 guard, and athleticism that can fit into any WNBA offensive scheme. She’s used to playing in a high-paced offense under Brenda Frese at Maryland, averaging 17.3 points, 2.3 assists and two steals while shooting a career-best 36.4 percent from beyond the arc. Miller’s future hinges on her consistency after she missed the majority of her junior season with a knee injury. If Miller can stay healthy and continue to showcase her unique skill set, she has the potential to be a home-run for any franchise in this draft class.
Ashley Joens, G/F, Iowa State
It is difficult to predict what exactly the Sky’s needs are this early in the offseason, but roster change feels imminent. Most of the Sky’s core players are unrestricted free agents, and there is always the possibility that 14-year veteran Allie Quigley retires.
Chicago is going to need scoring, versatility and high IQ to replace the skill they might lose. Ashley Joens fits that mold well as a tough fifth-year guard who brings high-level experience, a nonstop motor, competitiveness and versatile scoring abilities. The 6-1 guard has averaged over 20 points per game and 36 percent shooting from beyond the arc her last four seasons in Ames.
While Joens has been one of the most offensively prolific scorers in the country for years, she impacts the game in a multitude of ways. She is a strong rebounder from the guard spot, she can take advantage of mismatches while playing with her back to the basket, and she has great vision as a passer and an elite understanding of the game. Joens is rarely rattled on the court, and she would be a great addition to a Sky roster that might be in rebuild mode.
Jacy Sheldon, G, Ohio State
The Liberty were able to piece together their backcourt last season to give Sabrina Ionescu the ability to play off the ball, but now they’re tasked with finding a more permanent solution and depth for the future.
Jacy Sheldon is a versatile scorer who can play on or off the ball and does a good job of reading what the defense gives her. The 5-10 guard is a career 35 percent 3-point shooter and is an efficient finisher at the rim, an area where the Liberty struggled last season. While Sheldon might take some time to adjust to the speed and physicality of the WNBA game, she is tough enough to compete on the defensive end, currently leading the nation with 8.5 steals per game. Sheldon could be just the complementary piece the Liberty need for Ionescu to take the franchise to the next level.
Grace Berger, G, Indiana
The Fever’s future is promising with a roster full of young, skilled talent, but they still have holes to fill. Indiana struggled to take care of the basketball, score efficiently and defend last season, making room for a poised combo guard who can help bring all the talent on this roster together.
Fifth-year guard Grace Berger has been a consistent leader and calming presence for the rising Hoosiers, with the ability to process the game three steps ahead. Berger can play on or off the ball as a complementary guard, and she can create for others, averaging a career-high 5.7 assists through three games this season. At 6-1, she has the size, strength and athleticism to make the jump to the pros. Berger is smooth off the dribble and can create space for herself with an elite mid-range pull-up. She’ll need to continue to work on her perimeter shot, but she would be a piece to the puzzle that this Fever roster does not currently have.
Rickea Jackson, F, Tennessee
I would be surprised if the Dream ended up keeping this pick. It’s more likely that they include it in a trade package for a top free agent, but if they don’t, they could use it for additional depth at the forward position.
If Rickea Jackson fell to No. 8, Atlanta would be hard-pressed to pass on her. Jackson can go get her own shot, averaging 16.2 points per game during her college career and a career-best 7.7 rebounds per game this season. With a quick first step toward the rim, she’s tough to defend off the dribble. As more of a natural wing, she has the size and skill to expose mismatches and play in an up-tempo, pro-style system.
Jackson’s time at Mississippi State was plagued by head coaching changes. The extent to which she buys in and evolves under Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper this season will determine how teams evaluate her. If she can fine-tune certain areas of her game and improve her defense, I see no reason for her not to be one of the top prospects in this class.
Dyaisha Fair, G, Syracuse
Assuming the Storm don’t use this pick in a trade for a veteran, they could clearly use depth at the point guard position in the wake of Sue Bird’s retirement. While time will tell how well Dyaisha Fair transitions from the MAC to the ACC this season, she has the potential to be the most dynamic guard in the 2023 draft class.
Fair can flat-out score the basketball, tallying over 2,000 points in three seasons at the University at Buffalo and averaging 20-plus points per game since she was a freshman. She is a shifty guard with a high motor who also impacts the game on the other end of the floor as a pesky on-ball defender. She can create for herself and score at all three levels, shooting a career-best 37 percent from the field her junior year. At just 5-5, Fair has also averaged 4.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game for her career.
Aijha Blackwell, G/F, Baylor
It’s the end of an era in Connecticut, where the roster could look vastly different next season. Regardless of the changes to come, it seems safe to assume the Sun will need depth at the wing/forward position.
Aijha Blackwell is one of the most elite rebounders in the country with her power and explosiveness to the glass. With a pro-ready frame, she gets to the free-throw line often and can defend anywhere on the court. At 6-0, Blackwell has been a bit of a tweener during her college career, primarily playing forward. Her ability to shift over to the wing permanently will be crucial to her WNBA draft stock, but Blackwell has all the tools to make the change. She can handle the ball in the open court, be aggressive in transition, finish through contact and score at three levels. While her full-time perimeter transition could take time, she’ll be one of the most sought-after prospects in the draft because of her upside.
Stephanie Soares, F/C, Iowa State
Depending on how free agency shakes out, there is a good chance the Wings add size and depth in the paint. That leads me to my surprise pick in Stephanie Soares.
Players with Soares’ skill set don’t come around very often. At 6-6, she can protect the rim with her size and athleticism while also stretching the floor with a 3-point shot. Through her first three games with the No. 7 Cyclones this season, she is averaging 15.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 2.3 assists. Teams will continue to evaluate how the two-time NAIA Player of the Year’s game translates to the physicality of the Big 12, but Soares has the potential to be a hidden gem for first-year head coach Latricia Trammell if the Wings can be patient with her development.
Charisma Osborne, G, UCLA
The Lynx can’t afford to have a bad offseason — the moves they make in the next six months will define their trajectory for years to come. After securing elite size, length and skill in Kitley, Minnesota has a chance to cure their backcourt woes by adding a point guard with this pick.
Osborne can play on or off the ball, has the size and speed needed for the WNBA and is one of the most efficient guards in the class when attacking off the dribble. She can also make defenses respect her from the perimeter as a career 33-percent 3-point shooter. Osborne seems to be on a mission early in her senior year with UCLA, averaging career-highs in points (20.3) and rebounds (10.7) per game.
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.