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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.