Liberty steal Game 1 from Sky: Can they complete the upset?
The Liberty need just one more win to send the reigning champions home.
Now that the 2022 WNBA Draft is complete, we can evaluate the selections and take a closer look at how each of the 12 teams performed.
The Atlanta Dream made an aggressive move to trade for the No. 1 pick and land guard Rhyne Howard; Lexie Hull and Mya Hollingshed were easily the biggest surprises of the first round; and several projected first-round picks fell to the second round, which is not necessarily a reflection of their ability to compete for highly coveted roster spots in training camp.
Below, we hand out post-draft grades for every WNBA team.
No. 1 Rhyne Howard, No. 15 Naz Hillmon
The Dream had their eyes set on someone specific when they traded up to the No. 1 pick in a deal with Washington last week, and that someone was Howard. Howard’s pro-readiness and elite skill set have been highly touted for years, and the rebuilding Dream have an opportunity to make her a focal point of the organization under new management.
Landing Naz Hillmon in the second round was a home run, as the Michigan star easily could have been off the board at that point. Although she is undersized at 6-foot-2, Hillmon’s work ethic, character and heart make her a perfect fit for the culture Atlanta is looking to build as she develops her game over time.
No. 2 NaLyssa Smith, No. 4 Emily Engstler, No. 6 Lexie Hull, No. 10 Queen Egbo, No. 20 Destanni Henderson, No. 25 Ameshya Williams-Holliday, No. 34 Ali Patberg
The Fever’s 2022 draft class could be an expansion team of its own. There is a lot to unpack from Indiana’s draft night, but one thing is for certain: The Fever loaded up on young and promising talent at nearly every position.
General manager Lin Dunn is looking toward the future, a process that involves tearing down the roster and adding players with size and defensive tenacity. The team’s first two selections, NaLyssa Smith and Emily Engstler, fit that mold to a tee. While Lexie Hull at No. 6 was a bit of a surprise, she brings undeniable length and sharpshooting at the wing spot.
Reuniting Smith with Queen Egbo out of Baylor was a good move for the sake of chemistry and consistency. While some are higher on the 6-3 Egbo than others, her elite athleticism and efficiency at the rim are two highly valued traits in the WNBA.
Destanni Henderson shined in the national championship game as the floor general for No. 1 South Carolina and gives the Fever high-level depth at the point, which they need. While it will be challenging for Ameshya Williams-Holliday and Ali Patberg to make the roster, they bring size and, in Patberg’s case, homegrown talent that will make Fever training camp even more competitive.
No. 9 Rae Burrell, No. 16 Kianna Smith, No. 19 Olivia Nelson-Ododa, No. 27 Amy Atwell
After loading up in free agency, the Sparks were on a mission to add length, depth and shooting ability at the wing in this draft, and they did just that. Rae Burrell played the majority of her senior season with Tennessee at less than 100 percent. If she can take the time to get healthy, her potential in the league is appealing as a 6-1 guard.
Kianna Smith was a bit overlooked in this draft. The 6-0 sharpshooting and steady guard out of Louisville has a legitimate chance to earn a roster spot. While the Sparks are fairly deep already in the post, they would have been remiss to pass on Olivia Nelson-Ododa in the second round given her skill set in the paint and history at UConn.
Amy Atwell is also an intriguing, late addition. An athletic, experienced and offensive-minded guard, she will bring a valuable element to Sparks training camp.
No. 5 Nyara Sabally, No. 18 Lorela Cubaj, No. 29 Sika Kone
The Liberty addressed the one glaring area on their roster — post play — by adding three extremely promising talents in this draft. Nyara Sabally has the potential to be one of the best post players in the class with her 6-5 frame, versatile skill set, touch around the rim and face-up ability. She has yet to hit her stride after battling injuries at Oregon, an issue that hung over her draft stock but does not seem to concern the Liberty. I did not expect her to be available at No. 5, so this feels like a steal for New York.
The Liberty also added a highly competitive, defensive-minded pro with a great motor in Lorela Cubaj. If she can expand her offensive game, she has a real shot at making an impact in this league. Sika Kone, at just 19 years old, has a high ceiling for the future of the franchise.
No. 3 Shakira Austin, No. 14 Christyn Williams
The Mystics gave up the No. 1 pick and still had one of the best drafts, landing Shakira Austin and Christyn Williams with the No. 3 and No. 14 picks. As part of their pre-draft deal with Atlanta, they also still own the right to swap first-round picks in the highly touted 2023 draft.
Austin’s 6-5 frame, power and strength might be the most impressive in this class, and the Mystics have the opportunity to mold her into a long-term impact player.
Williams gives the Mystics necessary depth at the wing position. UConn has one of the best track records of preparing players for the WNBA, and Williams should be no exception given her explosiveness and ability to attack the rim in the open court.
No. 12 Nia Clouden, No. 24 Jordan Lewis, No. 36 Kiara Smith
Connecticut, facing a limited salary cap, had a trade in place to move down the board on draft night, sources tell Just Women’s Sports. Instead, they were able to secure the player they had near the top of their list in Nia Clouden. The Sun needed scoring depth at the off-guard position, and Clouden’s ability to facilitate, score and play off the ball will force the Sun to make some difficult roster decisions out of training camp.
Jordan Lewis had a strong season for Baylor and enters the WNBA with an experienced resume. Kiara “Kiki” Smith was an absolute steal as the last pick in the draft. The Florida product is still recovering from a late-season injury, giving the Sun the option to suspend her contract and hold onto her playing rights for the future.
No. 8 Mya Hollingshed, No. 11 Kierstan Bell, No. 13 Khayla Pointer, No. 23 Aisha Sheppard, No. 35 Faustine Aifuwa
The Aces addressed multiple positions in this draft, but they specifically needed depth at the stretch four, and they added that right at the top of the board in Mya Hollingshed.
Las Vegas’ decision to trade away vital 2023 first- and second-round draft picks to move up in this year’s draft and select a player who likely would have been available later on was perplexing. Hollingshed, however, does give the Aces elite length and athleticism coming off the best season of her NCAA career. They clearly view her as a valuable asset to Becky Hammon’s system in this new era of the franchise.
The Aces were fortunate to get Kierstan Bell at No. 11, since the confident and versatile scorer was projected to go higher. Bell’s game should translate well to Las Vegas’ high-octane offense. From there, the Aces reunited LSU’s Khayla Pointer and Faustine Aifuwa with their former coach and current Las Vegas president, Nikki Fargas, who knows the competitive edge both players will bring to camp. Aisha Sheppard gives the Aces another experienced offensive weapon who shoots the ball well from the perimeter.
No. 7 Veronica Burton, No. 30 Jasmine Dickey, No. 31 Jazz Bond
This Wings team has so much young talent that it’s hard to determine where it goes from here. This season could serve as a barometer for the players Dallas decides to hold onto and those it opts to move on from.
Despite the lack of space on the roster, the Wings landed a great point guard in Veronica Burton. The Northwestern product has the mentality, facilitating and scoring ability, and defensive tenacity to carve out a long career in the WNBA.
Jasmine Dickey is a prolific scorer who will challenge for a spot in camp. Jazz Bond, a big who can shoot the 3, might warrant an extra look now that the Wings will be without Bella Alarie this season.
No. 22 Kayla Jones, No. 28 Hannah Sjerven
Lynx head coach and GM Cheryl Reeve has spoken openly about the Lynx’s roster and cap space challenges this season. Trading the No. 8 and No. 13 picks to the Aces for 2023 first- and second-round picks was a savvy move given their current situation and the strength of next year’s draft. The combination of that trade and their current roster bind earned the Lynx the B- grade.
This draft was not going to be a focal point for the 2022 season, and it didn’t need to be. The Lynx still added Kayla Jones, a well-rounded player and effective rebounder and shooter. Hannah Sjerven put the world on notice after leading South Dakota to the Sweet 16. At 6-2, she will have a learning curve, but she brings a strong presence to the interior.
No. 17 Elissa Cunane, No. 21 Evina Westbrook, No. 33 Jade Melbourne
Seattle jumped at the opportunity to select Elissa Cunane in the middle of the second round, since many did not expect her to fall to No. 17. Cunane showed at NC State that she is most effective when she can go one-on-one in the paint and shoot open 3s. Her physicality remains a concern, but the 6-5 center adds an element that Seattle will need to consider deeply after this season.
Evina Westbrook adds depth at the combo spot, but it’s unclear if the Storm have a place for her on their guard-heavy roster. Jade Melbourne, just 19 years old, could be an asset down the road if Seattle can hold onto her.
No. 26 Maya Dodson, No. 32 Macee Williams
With all of their picks coming in the third round, the Mercury were always going to be limited in this draft. Their biggest need was depth in the post given Brittney Griner’s uncertain future in Russia, and they added two five-year collegiate posts in Maya Dodson and Macee Williams.
The 6-3 Dodson, after a standout season at Notre Dame, brings athleticism and the ability to run the floor. Williams had one of the most dominant collegiate careers at IUPUI and might shock some people in camp with her strength, power, footwork and efficiency. They’ll both have their work cut out for them in training camp, competing against a talented Phoenix roster.
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.
The Liberty need just one more win to send the reigning champions home.
New York leads Chicago 1-0 in the series.
The Aces won 79-63 to open the playoff series.
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