After Dawn Staley and her South Carolina Gamecocks cut down the nets this past Monday night, the exciting college season came to a close. The baton handoff will be completed on Monday, April 11, when the WNBA Draft elevates those eligible collegiate stars to the pros. For the first time since before the pandemic, the draft will be held in person, so you’ll get the full Orange Carpet treatment this year (though we’ll likely be robbed of any heartwarming grandmother moments, like the Onyenwere matriarch provided last year). With the free agent carousel in the rearview, teams are looking to round out their rosters with talent for both 2022 and the next generation of WNBA hoopers.
Here at Winsidr, we love to keep you covered (and Adam has done a nice job with solo mocks here as well). In recent weeks, you’ve probably seen a lot of mock drafts, but this is something different. We gathered our staff, divided up the teams based on regional expertise, and went pick-by-pick through the first round. (Shout out to Tristan, who took on a third of this assignment with the Indiana Fever.)
Let’s do this. After an eleventh-hour trade, Kevin and the Atlanta Dream are the first on the clock.
|Team||Mock GM||Round 1 Picks|
|Atlanta Dream||Kevin Forch||1|
|Connecticut Sun||Rachel Galligan||12|
|Dallas Wings||Amaka Thistle||7|
|Indiana Fever||Tristan Tucker||2, 4, 6, 10|
|Las Vegas Aces||Jon Bird||11|
|Los Angeles Sparks||Adam Miller||9|
|Minnesota Lynx||Mitchell Hansen||8|
|New York Liberty||Myles Ehrlich||5|
|Washington Mystics||Dani Bar-Lavi||3|
1. Atlanta Dream (trade with Washington) (Kevin Forch, @kevinforch)
Rhyne Howard, Kentucky
20.5 points per game (PPG), 7.4 rebounds per game (RPG), 3.3 assists per game (APG), 2.3 steals per game (SPG), 1.3 blocks per game (BPG)
Atlanta is the surprise recipient of the #1 pick, after a blockbuster deal with the Washington Mystics, and they use their second top pick in franchise history to get the brightest star in this draft class: Rhyne Howard, the 6’2” guard/wing from Kentucky and my presumptive first pick in the WNBA draft.
Howard’s versatile scoring package immediately provides the Dream with a wing to pair with Erica Wheeler, as the team tries to rebuild its offense after losing much of their production from last year. Howard is an oversized ball handler who’s able to create her own shot off the dribble on the perimeter and finish through contact with larger players in the paint. She is also an excellent three-point shooter, averaging 38.2 percent from deep across her four years at Kentucky—something that allows her to slot instantly into a leading role in any modern WNBA offense.
Rhyne Howard is a straight baller
— Cats Coverage (@CatsCoverage_) March 6, 2022
Howard is also a serviceable facilitator for her teammates, having averaged over three APG during her junior and senior years. She should have plenty of time on-ball as the new centerpiece of a young, rebuilding franchise like the Dream, so it’s a great sign that she’s willing and able to make plays for her teammates when defenses throw tough looks at her. Overall, Howard gives Atlanta a cornerstone player who can develop into one of the league stars, if this upstart franchise gives her the guidance and support she needs.
2. Indiana Fever (Tristan Tucker, @TristanRTucker)
NaLyssa Smith, Baylor
22.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 55% FG%
This one’s a no-brainer. In a 1A/1B-type draft, there’s no wrong pick here for the Fever. This pick, though, dictates the order in which I opted to develop the rest of the team. Smith is an all-out baller, shooting 60.4 percent as one of the highest scoring players in this draft class; this year, she was one of only five players to average 20 points and 10 boards in the NCAA.
At 6’4”, Smith has the tools necessary to step into the starting lineup and be incredibly efficient from the get go. Smith isn’t a three-point shooter at this stage of her career, but she provides tons of intrigue in that she may improve that aspect of her game. Smith’s three-point attempts increased each year of her college career, and her form on mid-range jumpers was on full display in a game against West Virginia earlier this season.
Smith excels as a screener, a roller, and, above all else, is a strong downhill attacker that hunts mismatches on offense. She has every quality you want from a potentially franchise-altering star, and I love her fit next to what the Fever already have in Kelsey Mitchell. Smith slots seamlessly into this roster, helping Indy build through the rest of the draft.
3. Washington Mystics (trade with Atlanta) (Dani Bar-Lavi, @dblfluidity)
Shakira Austin, Ole Miss
15.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 2.1 BPG
Washington Mystics GM and head coach Mike Thibault sent shockwaves through the WNBA community this week by trading down in the draft. The Mystics sent 2022’s top overall pick to Atlanta to receive the third and 14th picks in this draft, as well as the rights to swap their 2023 first round pick with Atlanta’s 2023 first round pick, which originally belonged to the Sparks. Per reports from the Washington Post’s Kareem Copeland, the Mystics’ front office had no consensus on who to take with the top pick. The team’s decision makers agreed if they could make a deal to to turn one pick into multiple picks they would be comfortable with whichever prospect of their top three ranked remain on the board–which I assume means Rhyne Howard, NaLyssa Smith, and their pick in this mock draft, Shakira Austin.
Of the players left with Howard and Smith off the board, Austin offers the highest ceiling available, as well as a great fit for the Mystics’ immediate needs. Already a defensive force in protecting the rim, Shakira Austin flashes greatness in many different areas on offense. While some scouts have remarked that Austin’s jump shot will need some tuning in order to find consistency in the WNBA, she enters the league with a great repertoire of post moves. Austin is able to finish through or around defenders off the post-up by combining solid footwork and her physical profile, standing at 6’5” with a promising combination of strength and agility. And while her shot mechanics are a work in progress, Austin has shown enough confidence in her shot from mid-range or closer to make defenders respect her out there.
Clutch shot from Shakira Austin down the stretch! ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/nP50NtXZYZ
— Ole Miss Women's BB (@OleMissWBB) February 27, 2022
On the defensive side, Austin will step in as a rim protector with good rebounding skills. In the SEC, one of the most competitive and talented conferences in basketball, she placed fourth in BPG and third in RPG. She regularly displayed good defensive awareness for the Rebels, as seen here playing help on South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston without leaving her assigned player.
— Ole Miss Women's BB (@OleMissWBB) March 5, 2022
In terms of her place within the grand scheme of things for Washington, Shakira Austin is a prospect that can immediately play a supporting role off the bench within the Mystics’ established rotation while also flashing the potential to be a future franchise centerpiece as Elena Delle Donne ages out. For now, Austin provides a scoring big with real size off the bench to fill a portion of the void left by Tina Charles’ departure, and to provide valuable relief minutes for Delle Donne should her back injury flare up again.
4. Indiana Fever (Tristan Tucker, @TristanRTucker)
Nyara Sabally, Oregon
15.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG
Sabally is a great get at number four, giving the Fever the second-best center prospect in this draft class and getting someone to take the reins from Teaira McCowan. There’s some thought that the Fever may target NC State center Elissa Cunane with one of their picks, but Sabally has the most untapped potential.
There are some injury concerns that come with Sabally, who missed eight games this year alone and played in just 47 total games with Oregon. However, the risk/reward payoff is too great to ignore, considering Sabally’s immense talent when healthy.
Her 6’5” frame makes Sabally an intimidating force inside with an unstoppable build. In her NCAA tournament game this year against Belmont, Sabally posted 31 points, 12 rebounds, and seven blocks. When healthy, Sabally can easily turn it on, scoring in transition in as little time as possible.
I love the idea of a physical frontcourt that can get anything it wants down low with sheer physicality. Pairing Smith with Sabally would do just that. Given the Fever have four picks in the first round, they can afford to take their time with Sabally. She’s well worth the risk.
5. New York Liberty (Myles Ehrlich, @mylesehrlich)
Naz Hillmon, Michigan
21.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 57.3% FG%
Even with the addition of Stef Dolson in the offseason, the New York Liberty decided to add another post presence. With the run on frontcourt players, this pick came down to Michigan’s Naz Hillmon or Louisville’s Emily Engstler.
The most appealing part of Hillmon’s skill set is her ability to crash the offensive glass. Last season, only the Los Angeles Sparks (6.1 offensive rebounds per game [ORPG]) generated fewer second chances than the Liberty, and by the narrowest of margins (6.2 ORPG). Both those marks were significantly worse than the league average of 8.1 ORPG. In terms of capitalizing on those extra opportunities, New York finished dead last, with their 8.1 second chance PPG, a half-point behind Los Angeles (8.6 PPG), and far below the W’s average mark (10.2 PPG).
Hillmon, on the other hand, excels at corralling o-boards. Last season’s 141 offensive rebounds ranked fifth nationwide, according to Her Hoop Stats. In her four years at Michigan, Hillmon secured a teammate’s miss a staggering 501 times, which put her well on her way towards becoming the only player in school history—men or women—to eclipse the 2,000-point/1,000-rebound plateau.
While she does all her damage inside the arc, that skill set is complementary to a Liberty team that otherwise stretches its bigs (see: Dolson, Natasha Howard, and Kylee Shook). Hillmon works hard to get post position and can spin and finish away from extra defenders with regularity. Her ability to open up and repost will help her find space to operate on a team with so many perimeter threats. The biggest concern, when it comes to Hillmon’s future outlook, is whether she’s got the size to compete consistently at the pro level; if not, her lack of offensive versatility severely limits her potential. If the Liberty are enamored with her dexterity and touch around the rim, they’ll take that chance.
6. Indiana Fever (Tristan Tucker, @TristanRTucker)
Kierstan Bell, Florida Gulf Coast
23.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 1.9 BPG
Getting Bell with the sixth overall pick would be huge for the Fever and would give the team three potential day-one starters. Bell’s output and on-ball proficiency are hard to ignore, but what makes her incredibly enticing is her 6’1” frame. For a team that wants to play with a bit more of an edge, Bell makes perfect sense.
Bell playing against worse competition than the other players before her may alter her stock, but it shouldn’t. While the counting stats are obviously impressive, Bell does a great job of causing turnovers and not committing fouls while doing so, posting one of the best personal foul efficiency rates in this draft class.
Bell is also great at getting into prime position to make a bucket, something the Fever could use.
Kierstan Bell does a superb job at sealing screens, making back-cuts and positioning herself for atop the key threes.
— 60 and 36 (@60and36) March 29, 2022
7. Dallas Wings (Amaka Thistle, @amakaothistle)
Veronica Burton, Northwestern
17.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 6.4 APG, 4.0 SPG
The Dallas Wings have a lot left to figure out with their 16-person roster, but in lieu of trading the pick for a future first, I went with the player who provides the best combination of skill, athleticism, and fit. Veronica Burton is a two-way lead guard who was a National Defensive Player of the Year finalist while also generating about 50 percent of her team’s offense. Dallas lost multiple close games last year, in part because their best offensive guard duo—Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey—was also their worst defensive one. Burton should fix that.
She’s proven to be a capable scorer and playmaker with a bounce to her game that should help her adapt to faster, bigger, stronger WNBA defenders. But her offense is ancillary on this team. She’ll likely be making decisions against rotating defenses, and she has the first step to drive to the basket for a score as well as the wherewithal to take open shots, if that’s the better option.
Her biggest value to this team will be as a guard stopper who provides cover for Ogunbowale and Mabrey by taking the more difficult assignment. Burton should slot into the role Moriah Jefferson played last year—if she makes the team—and she’s capable of providing similar playmaking, while being a massive upgrade on defense. A quintet of Burton, Alisha Gray, Kayla Thornton, Satou Sabally, and Izzy Harrison could potentially be a scary defensive proposition for opponents to navigate while also retaining enough offensive dynamism and playmaking to capitalize on advantages created on defense.
8. Minnesota Lynx (Mitchell Hansen, @M_Hansen13)
Sika Kone, Mali
12.6 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.9 SPG
The Lynx are in an interesting spot entering the WNBA Draft, not only with limited salary available under the salary cap but also having 11 players currently on the roster, a number Minnesota has often carried into the regular season. Keeping that in mind, the Lynx could end up looking to trade the eighth pick rather than selecting a player to add to a crammed roster. If Minnesota doesn’t trade the pick, Kone is an ideal developmental, blossoming young talent to add to a veteran-heavy team.
Kone, who is just 19 years old and won’t turn 20 until July, might not be ready to make a serious impact in the WNBA this year, but has the potential to evolve into a serviceable player as she gains experience. For Minnesota, that is exactly the type of player it is likely looking for while taking a shot at a player who could eventually add to the depth in the paint once Sylvia Fowles retires after this season.
Kone, who has played with SPAR Gran Canaria in the Spanish Endesa Women’s League since 2019, has battled through some injuries as of late, resulting in a step back in performance. During the FIBA U19 World Cup in 2021, Kone showcased her potential with a dominant showing while averaging 26.2 PPG and 14.8 RPG for the Malian U19 National Team.
Don’t be surprised if Minnesota trades this pick in the first round, but if it doesn’t, Kone is a player worth taking a chance on as a pick-and-stack type player and a long-term project to see if she can live up to her potential.
9. Los Angeles Sparks (Adam Miller, @ajmil0)
Rae Burrell, Tennessee
12.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.6 APG
Realistically, whoever the Los Angeles Sparks pick will face an uphill battle just to make the roster. The Sparks don’t really have a spot for a rookie, regardless of talent. However, if they were to draft for need, it would be the wing position. That leads us to Rae Burrell. The Tennessee graduate averaged 17.0 PPG as a junior, but dealt with a knee injury for most of the season.
She finished the season averaging 12.3 PPG and 3.9 RPG, but had solid performances during the SEC Conference tournament and the NCAA tournament, capping off her season with 22 points and six rebounds in the Volunteers’ loss to Louisville.
The current Sparks roster is loaded with talent at the guard and post positions, thanks to an active free agency, but don’t have true multi-position players. Burrell would give LA someone who could accomplish that, in addition to solid perimeter defense. If she somehow stuck on the roster, Burrell would be a nice spark off the bench behind Katie Lou Samuelson, who could complement players like Te’a Cooper and Jordin Canada.
Even if she doesn’t end up making the roster, don’t be surprised if Burrell makes it onto a WNBA roster at some point this season. From a pure talent perspective, she is one of the most pro-ready prospects in the draft. But it may take some time before she finally sticks on a roster.
10. Indiana Fever (Tristan Tucker, @TristanRTucker)
Emily Engstler, Louisville
11.9 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.7 SPG, 1.8 BPG
For my final pick in the draft, I went with the best available player, rounding out what could end up being a ridiculous defensive class for the Fever. GM Lin Dunn said that this team needs to play with more toughness; adding a pure enforcer in Engstler does just that.
Engstler is a nightmare matchup for opposing players, with her 4.5 stocks (steals plus blocks) per game ranking higher than most every other player in the class. Engstler also has an underrated ability to handle the ball and makes good passes, even if they didn’t always translate to a score.
Engstler was the engine that kept the Louisville machine running and gives the Fever a player that is a surer bet than the other players selected in this mock. The 6’1” forward offers a little bit of everything, though she plays more like a 4 than a 3; she’ll need to slide into the 3 role at the next level, which may give general managers pause.
Across Louisville’s NCAA Tournament run, Engstler recorded 23 steals, which is tied for the most steals in a tourney run since 1998.
With this final pick, I feel as though the Fever would reshape their culture and mentality by building through the defensive end.
Stanford’s Lexie Hull, LSU’s Khayla Pointer, and South Carolina’s Destanni Henderson were other offensive options, while Georgia Tech’s Lorela Cubaj and NC State’s Elissa Cunane offer intrigue in the second round.
11. Las Vegas Aces (Jon Bird, @jonbird333)
Hannah Sjerven, South Dakota
15.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 1.8 BPG
Who will be the first draftee of the Becky Hammon era? South Dakota’s Hannah Sjerven made an interesting case for herself during the 2022 NCAA Tournament, leading the Coyotes to upset victories over Ole Miss and Baylor before eventually falling to Michigan in a close 52-49 loss. A 6’2” forward/center from Rogers, Minnesota, Sjerven is a three-time Summit League Defensive Player of the Year. She showed her defensive prowess in the tournament, limiting likely lottery pick Shakira Austin to 3-of-16 shooting (her season average was .463), holding her own against Naz Hillmon, and earning a hard-fought victory over Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith (while primarily focusing on Queen Egbo). Across her three 2022 Tournament games played, Sjerven averaged 17.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 2.0 SPG. Per Her Hoop Stats, Sjerven is the only player to average 23 points, 12 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and 2.5 steals per 40 minutes this season.
The Aces training camp roster is currently full of guards (Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, Riquana Williams, Sydney Colson, Destiny Slocum, Jackie Young) and centers (A’ja Wilson, Kiah Stokes, Kalani Brown, Theresa Plaisance), with Dearica Hamby as the team’s only true 4. A player with length on defense and the ability to hit shots all over (highlighted by her 7-7 performance against Ole Miss, finishing with contact underneath, hitting from midrange, and draining a three), Sjerven fits the template for this era of positionless basketball and could add size and skill at the small forward/power forward position. Similar to the Washington Mystics’ Alysha Clark, who played as a post at a mid-major before becoming a small forward and defensive stalwart in the WNBA, Sjerven has the potential to do the same, possibly providing the Aces with a versatile player with the ability to match up defensively with small forwards with size (like 6’4” DeWanna Bonner, 6’1” Diamond DeShields, 6’1” Kahleah Copper, 6’1” Angel McCoughtry, etc.), an area where the Aces’ roster is currently lacking.
A former mid-major player herself at Colorado State, Coach Hammon also happens to be a South Dakota native. With the first selection of her coaching era, could Hammon and the Aces possibly give an opportunity to this Coyote?
12. Connecticut Sun (Rachel Galligan, @RachGall)
Kiara “Kiki” Smith, Florida
14.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 4.6 APG, 2.4 SPG
The Sun are in need of scoring on the wing, and Smith could make for a good option for the future. Given that she is unlikely to play this season as she rehabs from a knee injury suffered in the SEC Tournament, Smith could be suspended and developed as a viable asset for the future.
Smith accelerates in transition, has a quick first step, and hunts for opportunities to score. Intriguing to WNBA teams is the fact that she has gotten better every year and elevates her play in big moments and against top opponents. Smith, a four-year starter for the Gators, is an exciting prospect to close out the first round.