March Madness is here, and that means it’s time to reassess the current draft class heading into the NCAA tournament. With draft capital shifting significantly over the last few months and WNBA free agency coming to a close, teams will have a good sense of their current needs and will have their eyes all over the NCAA tournament, getting their last real looks at many of the nation’s top draft prospects. While much of the draft discussion will center around the order of the top two picks, Nyara Sabally has a chance to shake things up if she decides to go pro and continues her success on the floor.
Here is Winsidr’s second mock draft of the year. Look for another update toward the end of the NCAA tournament.
1. Washington Mystics: Rhyne Howard, G, Kentucky
NaLyssa Smith is making a strong case to be the top pick, but Howard is showing that there is nobody with her level of playmaking in this draft. Besides, Washington already has Elena Delle Donne, Elizabeth Williams, and Myisha Hines-Allen as available post players.
As talented as Smith is, Howard provides a tall wing who can play either guard position and defend as well as she can score. Her performance in the SEC tournament, during which she helped Kentucky secure an improbable conference championship, should be more than enough for her to lock up the first selection.
2. Indiana Fever: NaLyssa Smith, F, Baylor
The Fever will be ecstatic regardless of which player falls to them. But Smith complements the existing Fever roster better than Howard. Assuming Kelsey Mitchell and Bria Hartley take the guard spots, Smith will have solid veterans to lean on and be a good opportunity for Indiana to right the ship on bad draft picks.
Smith has a high motor and seemingly gets better with every game. It also helps that she has former Atlanta Dream coach Nicki Collen providing firsthand knowledge of what WNBA teams are looking for and helping expand Smith’s ability. Her shooting isn’t quite at the point where she can play a stretch-four, but she has enough size and strength to hold her own against pro-level defenders.
3. Atlanta Dream: Shakira Austin, C, Ole Miss
There is no other eligible center who dominates the paint nearly as much as Austin does. She continually imposes her size as a rim protector while rebounding and scoring with great efficiency. There are few players with her size in this draft, and with a nearly clean slate from a player perspective, Atlanta would become a lot more competitive by getting a young center like Austin.
4. Indiana Fever: Ashley Joens, G/F, Iowa State
Joens and Kierstan Bell are two of the top wings competing for first-round selections in this year’s draft, and both are exciting options. Assuming the Fever take Smith with the second pick, either wing would make a lot of sense, but Joens is a bit more polished all around than Bell. She’s not only a scorer—she rebounds exceptionally well for a guard and is one of the smartest prospects in the draft.
5. New York Liberty: Naz Hillmon, F, Michigan
Hillmon has been one of the Big Ten’s most impressive players throughout her career and would have probably repeated as the conference’s player of the year if not for the insane season Caitlin Clark is having. Still, she’s averaging almost a double-double per game on one of the nation’s top teams. While she’s not much of a long-distance shooter, she’s averaging 56.5 percent from the field and does a nice job getting to her spot.
6. Indiana Fever: Elissa Cunane, C, North Carolina State
Given the fact that they just traded their starting center, the Fever will certainly look for a new one with one of their first-round picks. Of course, Indiana would greatly prefer for Austin to drop to them at four or Sabally to officially declare for the draft, but Cunane fits just behind those two options. The NC State post player has great footwork and a nice touch around the basket. She has the most range of any post player in this draft. However, if she’s going to stick, she needs to be much more assertive.
7. Dallas Wings: Sika Kone, F, Mali
Kone stood out as the top international prospect during the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup Qualifying Tournament and would probably be much higher if it wasn’t for her knee injury. Given Dallas’ stockpile of young talent, don’t be surprised if the Wings draft Kone and let her get some seasoning in Europe. Representing Mali in the qualifiers, she put up 26 points and nine rebounds on a perfect 10-of-10 shooting night against France on Feb. 10. Considering how competitive roster spots are, Kone presents a good long-term option for a team like the Wings, who hope to have a more consistent rotation this year.
8. Minnesota Lynx: Destanni Henderson, G, South Carolina
The Lynx realistically don’t have enough roster spots for a draft pick this year, but if previous years are any indication, they’re going with the best player available. Henderson’s ability gets overshadowed to some degree by Aliyah Boston’s dominance, but she shoots well from outside and can get to the rim.
9. Los Angeles Sparks: Kierstan Bell, G, Florida Gulf Coast
It’s tough for smaller-school players to get drafted high, but Bell’s scoring ability and Florida Gulf Coast’s stellar season make her well-deserving of a first-round selection. She’s averaging 23.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. She’s also shooting an impressive 48.1 percent from the field. Bell is one of the more exciting players in the draft and has seemingly bounced back nicely from her knee injury.
10. Indiana Fever: Lorela Cubaj, F, Georgia Tech
Cubaj’s numbers don’t scream first-round pick like the other players in this class, but she still brings toughness, defense, and rebounding to a team while possessing impressive physicality. She is a high-effort player that’s willing to do the dirty work and won’t back down from the league’s biggest players. Even if she doesn’t stick right away, her effort alone will likely lead to her bouncing around a few teams, similar to Natasha Mack’s rookie season last year.
11. Las Vegas Aces: Nia Clouden, G, Michigan State
Clouden’s name has skyrocketed up draft boards, mostly due to her ability to score in bunches. She is technically a point guard, but she functions more in a shoot-first role where she looks to attack early. This season, she regularly put up 20+ point performances, and her choice to declare early suggests that she has likely received some intel that she has first-round potential.
12. Connecticut Sun: Rae Burrell, G/F, Tennessee
Burrell is a bit of a wild card here. Her body of work says first-round pick, but she’s had injury problems this season and hasn’t been as consistent as she was in the past. WNBA scouts will be eyeing her in March to see if she can put together some better performances to warrant getting taken here. Either way, look for Connecticut to aim for another player with a strong pedigree and WNBA-ready tools.