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WNBA mock draft roundtable: How would you pick if you were GM?

Emily Engstler has a lot of traits that should translate quickly to the WNBA level. (Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It’s that time of the year for WNBA mock drafts, where pundits and analysts give their best predictions for how the draft selections will play out on Monday night in New York City.

At Just Women’s Sports, we decided to add a wrinkle to the projections. Lyndsey D’Arcangelo, Rachel Galligan and Hannah Withiam got together to simulate the first and second rounds of the WNBA Draft from the general managers’ point of view. The list of prospects and draft boards are set, but there are always surprises on draft night.

After doing rocks, paper, scissors to determine the draft order (Lyndsey first, Rachel second and Hannah third), we set out to make each team’s best draft decisions in real time.

Editor’s note: This mock draft was completed before the Minnesota Lynx traded the No. 8 and No. 13 picks to the Las Vegas Aces on Sunday in exchange for the Aces’ first- and second-round picks in 2023.

1. Atlanta Dream (Lyndsey)

Rhyne Howard, G, Kentucky

With the first pick in the draft as Atlanta’s general manager, I felt I couldn’t go wrong with either Rhyne Howard or NaLyssa Smith. Ultimately, I’m going with Howard. She’s an all-around playmaker and scorer (20.5 points per game) who can come in and make an immediate impact as the Dream look to build around her for the future.

2. Indiana Fever (Rachel)

NaLyssa Smith, F, Baylor

Indiana is in a great position here to get a No. 1-caliber player regardless of who falls to them. Smith has the impact potential the Fever can build around for the future, and she fills an immediate (and desperate) need on their roster with her size, competitiveness and athleticism. The best part is Smith hasn’t even come close to hitting her ceiling.

3. Washington Mystics (Hannah)

Shakira Austin, F/C, Ole Miss

With Howard and Smith off the board first, as expected, the Mystics have a few directions they could go here. Head coach and GM Mike Thibault said on a media call Thursday that he has three prospects ranked as the best in this draft, which is why he felt comfortable trading the No. 1 pick to Atlanta earlier this week. Nyara Sabally and Emily Engstler are intriguing possibilities, but Austin’s pro-readiness is too appealing to pass up, especially as Elena Delle Donne’s health remains up in the air.

4. Indiana Fever (Lyndsey)

Nyara Sabally, F/C, Oregon

The Fever have the chance to scoop up enough first-round picks in this year’s draft to put together a competitive team full of college stars who are more than ready to make the leap to the pro level. Since Hannah took Austin with the third pick for the Mystics, I’m jumping on the chance to get Sabally and add her to the growing list of young talent on the Fever roster. Injury history aside, she’s got all the intangibles to be successful in the WNBA.

5. New York Liberty (Rachel)

Emily Engstler, G/F, Louisville

Between the prospect of a homecoming and an addition to the Liberty-Louisville pipeline that has been established in recent years, this pick almost feels poetic. Engstler demanded respect night in and night out for Louisville this season with her competitiveness on both ends of the floor. She is unlike any other player in this draft and would be a great addition to the Liberty as they continue to build the franchise into a playoff contender.

6. Indiana Fever (Hannah)

Destanni Henderson, G, South Carolina

The Fever have already addressed their needs in the post with Smith and Sabally, so it’s time to turn to the backcourt after losing guards Kysre Gondrezick and Julie Allemand to trades this offseason. With Engstler off the board, I could go with a wing like Kierstan Bell or a shooting guard like Christyn Williams, but I need a floor general to create shots for Kelsey Mitchell and Bria Hartley and to spell 32-year-old point guard Danielle Robinson. Henderson’s motor and offensive skill set should fit right in.

Kierstan Bell is an elite-level scorer with the physicality of a pro. (Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

7. Dallas Wings (Lyndsey)

Kierstan Bell, G, Florida Gulf Coast

The Wings’ roster is already chock full of talent and space is limited. But with Bella Alarie opting out for the season, there’s space to add additional talent. Bell would be a great complement to the roster as a pro-ready guard who can do it all on the court. She should also get the playing time necessary to improve her game on the defensive end and from beyond the arc.

8. Minnesota Lynx (Rachel)

Sika Kone, F, Mali

Barring any late moves, the Lynx are in a tough position with their cap space. Given this is Sylvia Fowles; last year in the league, the team has an opportunity to look ahead and add an asset for the coming years. At 19 years old, Kone is extremely young, but what she could become with WNBA coaching is highly intriguing.

9. Los Angeles Sparks (Hannah)

Christyn Williams, G, UConn

The Sparks were one of the best defensive teams in the country last season but dead last in offensive output, averaging just 72.8 points per game. Their frontcourt is stacked with the addition of Liz Cambage and returns of Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike and Amanda Zahui B. Williams’ transition game and shooting ability will help the Sparks open up their offense and draw defenders out so those players can produce in the paint.

10. Indiana Fever (Lyndsey)

Elissa Cunane, C, NC State

Linn Dunn said in the pre-draft media call that the Fever are going into this draft knowing exactly what they need. Indiana is desperate for frontcourt depth and especially thin at the center position. Adding Cunane here not only fills that hole, it also gives Indiana a shot at redemption in developing a big after the early departures of Teaira McCown and Lauren Cox.

11. Las Vegas Aces (Rachel)

Naz Hillmon, F, Michigan

Hillmon might be undersized, but her work ethic, rebounding ability and efficiency around the basket can’t be denied. Las Vegas could use additional depth in the paint and a player who can complement A’ja Wilson while developing into a greater perimeter threat. Hillmon is a great candidate for both.

12. Connecticut Sun (Hannah)

Nia Clouden, G, Michigan State

The Sun have a set lineup of veterans and don’t have much cap space to work with as a result. If Clouden, one of the purest shooters in this draft class, is still on the board with the last pick of the first round, she has a shot to compete for one of the final guard spots in training camp and ease Connecticut’s cap concerns with her rookie contract.

13. Minnesota Lynx (Lyndsey)

Rae Burrell, F/G, Tennessee

With limited cap space, the Lynx are in an interesting position in this draft. They might not be able to sign any draft picks unless they make some moves to free up cash. Still, taking the best talent available here makes the most sense. If Burrell is still on the board, she’s a solid player who can come in and compete for a roster spot — if there’s one available.

Veronica Burton's defensive skill set is among the best in this draft class. (Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

14. Washington Mystics (Rachel)

Veronica Burton, G, Northwestern

Burton would add depth at the guard spot and bring a defensive tenacity and toughness that Thibault seems to covet in his guards. Burton can score the ball and facilitate, and she plays extremely hard on both ends of the floor, most notably as an elite on-ball defender. She has a chance to make a lot of noise in the league.

15. Atlanta Dream (Hannah)

Lorela Cubaj, F, Georgia Tech

Burrell and Burton would have warranted consideration if still available at this spot, but now that the Dream have Howard, Erica Wheeler, Tiffany Hayes and Aari McDonald in the backcourt, they can look to add depth in the post. Cubaj has intriguing WNBA potential with her mobile 6-foot-4 frame and elite rebounding and defensive skills.

16. Los Angeles Sparks (Lyndsey)

Queen Egbo, F/C, Baylor

I can’t think of a better fit here for the Sparks’ roster of dynamic personalities than Egbo, who averaged 11 points and 8.4 rebounds per game this season. She adds depth at the center/forward position and will most certainly learn a post move or two from Liz Cambage.

17. Seattle Storm (Rachel)

Khayla Pointer, G, LSU

When looking at the post-Sue Bird era, the Storm have to be eyeing the hole she’ll leave at the point guard position after this season. Pointer carried a big load during her five years at LSU, and it will be interesting to see how her game translates to the pros, but two things are for certain: Pointer will work and she does not shy away from the moment. She is a high-level competitor who’s eager to learn and would be a great pick at this phase of the draft.

18. Seattle Storm (Hannah)

Olivia Nelson-Ododa, F, UConn

Any player selected at this point in the draft has tough odds of making a WNBA roster, and the Storm are in win-now mode with a handful of veterans on one-year contracts. So, if they’re going with the best player available, Nelson-Ododa brings a UConn pedigree (and connection with Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Gabby Williams) as well as a disruptive presence in the paint.

19. Los Angeles Sparks (Lyndsey)

Evina Westbrook, G, UConn

Again, at this point in the draft, I’m going to go with the best talent available on the board. Westbrook has the UConn pedigree, size and athletic versatility to take her game to the next level. And she’ll have an opportunity to learn from the Sparks’ veteran core of guards.

Lexie Hull put on a strong showcase during the NCAA Tournament. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

20. Indiana Fever (Rachel)

Lexie Hull, G, Stanford

Indiana has a chance to add potential assets at nearly every position on Monday. Hull would bring length on the wing, strong perimeter shooting and elite basketball instincts. Though she might have a learning curve with the physicality of the WNBA, there is no doubt that Hull’s stock rose significantly during the NCAA Tournament.

21. Seattle Storm (Hannah)

Kianna Smith, G, Louisville

The Storm have gone with a point guard and post so far in this draft, and at this point, you can never go wrong with more pure shooters. Seattle could use more deep threats after losing Katie Lou Samuelson to the Sparks, and Smith brings just that after shooting 36.7 percent from 3 and 37 percent from the field for Louisville this season.

22. Minnesota Lynx (Lyndsey)

Aisha Sheppard, G, Virginia Tech

As already mentioned, I’m not sure if the Lynx can even afford their first- and second-draft picks, so this might be a wasted pick altogether. But Sheppard is an excellent 3-point shooter (38.7 percent) and deserves an opportunity to showcase her skills. If she does end up getting cut by the Lynx, perhaps she’ll be picked up elsewhere.

23. Las Vegas Aces (Rachel)

Macee Williams, C, IUPUI

Williams is a potential sleeper in this draft class, with the power, footwork, efficiency and strength to make a good run at a roster spot. Las Vegas can afford to add depth on the interior, and Williams has many of the tools needed to thrive in the WNBA.

24. Connecticut Sun (Hannah)

Ali Patberg, G, Indiana

Picks at this stage of the draft are for insurance, since it’s unlikely the Sun will have enough cap space to keep them on the roster. Patberg has a personal connection to the Connecticut staff, as head coach and GM Curt Miller and assistant coach Brandi Poole tried to recruit her to Indiana when they were on staff there. Patberg’s experience and intangibles would fit well in Connecticut if she sticks around.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

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.

Hannah Withiam is the Managing Editor at Just Women’s Sports. She previously served as an editor at The Athletic and a reporter at the New York Post. Follow her on Twitter @HannahWithiam.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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