Following the NCAA tournament and a blockbuster trade at the top, the first three picks in the 2022 draft look pretty locked-in, but the rest are still up in the air. Several players made strong cases for themselves as first-round candidates based on their performances over the last few weeks. As we saw in 2021, WNBA teams are not hesitant to think outside the box when it comes to making their draft selections. This year is bound to feature some surprises as well.
Here is Winsidr’s final mock draft for 2022:
1. Atlanta Dream: Rhyne Howard, G, Kentucky
After a blockbuster trade with the Washington Mystics, the Dream accelerate their rebuild by picking the best player in this year’s draft. There was an initial thought that Atlanta might consider NaLyssa Smith here, but it appears now that the trade was a deliberate move to land Howard.
This move provides the Dream with the best scorer in this year’s draft to pair with Erica Wheeler. Howard has the ability to play three positions, and unlike the situation that she would’ve faced in Washington, she should get a chance to play right away. Her performance in the SEC tournament, during which she led Kentucky to a championship over heavily-favored South Carolina, makes her a potential franchise piece for the Dream.
2. Indiana Fever: NaLyssa Smith, F, Baylor
Indiana ends up with the best post player in the draft, who is also a great rebounder and post-up player. She has all the tools necessary to start for the Fever and possibly be an early Rookie of the Year candidate. Indiana desperately needs someone with Smith’s motor and competitive fire to turn around its previous losing seasons.
Smith averaged 22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds and received valuable coaching from Baylor coach Nicki Collen, who made a point to work with her post player on getting ready for the WNBA. Within a matter of weeks, we should see the fruit of Collen’s work pay off as Smith should make an immediate impact.
3. Washington Mystics: Shakira Austin, C, Ole Miss
In comments immediately following their trade, Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said that he was equally happy to land any of the top three players in this year’s draft. That would narrow this choice down to Austin pretty quickly. While Washington currently has Elizabeth Williams, Myisha Hines-Allen, and Megan Gustafson available at center, one of them could easily slide over to the power forward spot, especially with the unknown of Elena Delle Donne’s health.
Austin has a high ceiling and provides stellar rim protection and length in addition to some great post moves. In fact, former Liberty great Rebecca Lobo noted herself recently that when she covered Ole Miss in person, she frequently commented that many of Austin’s moves were already pro-caliber. While she likely won’t get playing time right away, she will have some talented veterans to learn from and could be a solid player for the Mystics for years to come.
4. Indiana Fever: Nyara Sabally, F, Oregon
The first thing that stands out about Sabally is, unfortunately, her injury history. However, if she can stay on the floor, she offers size and elite passing and mobility which make her ready to contribute at the WNBA level. Her pairing with Smith would offer a physical front court that could impose their will on defenses for years to come.
5. New York Liberty: Emily Engstler, F, Louisville
New York has shown little hesitation in taking players slightly out of position if they offer grit and toughness on the floor. Engstler offers just that after showing strong defensive play and rebounding during the NCAA tournament. She will have to compete to make an already full roster, but she has the toughness to square up with just about anyone on the Liberty roster and will certainly make the decision difficult.
6. Indiana Fever: Destanni Henderson, G, South Carolina
Last year, Aari McDonald shocked the country with impressive play against UConn and skyrocketed to the third pick in the draft. Perhaps somewhat ironically, it’s a different point guard lighting up the Huskies who makes a strong case for going early in the draft this year. Had this year not been so loaded at the top, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Henderson in the lottery. She has unbelievable quickness and playmaking to go with some stingy defense, which was evidenced by her play against Paige Bueckers. While her teammate Aliyah Boston won Most Outstanding Player in the tournament, Henderson made the biggest difference for South Carolina in the championship game, and the WNBA has taken note.
7. Dallas Wings: Kierstan Bell, G, Florida Gulf Coast
Despite receiving news that Bella Alarie won’t be with the team this season, it’s hard to imagine Dallas taking a player that sticks on this roster. However, if Bell is on the board at this point, it’s difficult to see the Wings passing up on her. The wing had an impressive season offensively, averaging 22.8 ppg at Florida Gulf Coast, and has the athleticism needed to play at the highest level. She could provide another solid scoring option to Arike Ogunbowale with her ability to score in bunches.
8. Las Vegas Aces: Veronica Burton, G, Northwestern
Now that Las Vegas has traded for this pick, the popular sentiment is that Henderson could be selected here, especially with the Aces waiving Destiny Slocum. If she’s still on the board, Henderson isn’t sliding past this pick. But if she’s not available, Burton provides the Aces with some solid perimeter defense. She finished the season averaging 4.0 spg while boosting her production to 17.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, and 6.4 apg. She’s capable of handling the toughest defensive assignments and has great basketball IQ to make the right plays.
9. Los Angeles Sparks: Sika Kone, F/C, Mali
With the current makeup of the Sparks roster, they would need to make moves that either include moving on from Te’a Cooper or moving on from unprotected contract players. The benefit to someone like Kone is that she can stay overseas for a few years while improving her game. Even if she planned to come over this year, she is still recovering from an injury and likely wouldn’t be ready for the start of the season. Kone has a high ceiling and can play the four or five. Plus, she has great athleticism to go with solid professional experience that should keep her in the first round.
10. Indiana Fever: Rae Burrell, G/F, Tennessee
The Fever round out their four draft picks with a wing that can step in and score right away. Despite an injury-plagued season, Burrell had an impressive showing during the NCAA tournament and likely played well enough to earn a spot in the first round. She should make a strong case for getting in the rotation.
11. Las Vegas Aces: Elissa Cunane, C, North Carolina State
The Becky Hammon era kicks off with what would likely be the steal of the draft if Cunane falls this far. She’s the best shooting big in the draft and would be a natural fit with how Hammon indicated she wants her team to play. Cunane could make a strong case for fitting in as a backup center, and she gives Las Vegas some much-needed size.
12. Connecticut Sun: Naz Hillmon, F, Michigan
As a championship contender, Connecticut isn’t a team with a ton of weaknesses. However, if Hillmon falls to the end of the first round, it’s tough to imagine the Sun passing up on someone with her skill set. She offers scoring around the basket and is someone who can crash the boards. Hillmon is going to need to improve her shooting if she’s going to stick in the league, but she has the work ethic to get herself onto a WNBA roster.