NEW YORK – On a warm spring Monday night full of camcorders and conviviality, fits glistened and smiles abounded at Spring Studios in Manhattan, home to the 2023 WNBA Draft. Thirty-six players earned a chance to compete for roster spots in the most competitive women’s basketball league on the planet, as their families supplied hugs and cheers.
Big names were everywhere—the sprawling sixth floor studio, fit with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Tribeca, hosted legends like Sheryl Swoopes and Ticha Penicheiro. Current players Nneka Ogwumike, Kelsey Mitchell, and DiDi Richards mingled, as did college coaches Dawn Staley, Geno Auriemma, Kim Mulkey, and just about every other head of a major Division 1 program. Heck, Jake from State Farm roamed the event, drawing murmurs of excitement at every turn.
Here are my top ten takeaways from a celebratory night.
1. The league needs more roster spots, expeditiously
I said it last year in my draft coverage, and I’ll happily assume the role of a broken record until something changes. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert held a press conference hours before the draft, in which she stated, “we think today the rosters are the right size,” and that roster expansion would be a conversation for when league expansion is actualized.
Today the rosters are the right size? Um, no! No, they most certainly are not! Much like the 2022 Draft, this year’s event was an embodiment of why rosters must expand with quickness. Alexis Morris, fresh off helping LSU to a National Championship, was taken 22nd overall by Connecticut. Morris used the phrase “if I make the roster” in post-draft interviews. Brea Beal, a 2022 National Champion with South Carolina and one of the staunchest perimeter defenders in the country, fell to Minnesota at No. 24. It would be a damn shame if players as good and marketable as Morris and Beal are left on the outside looking in after training camp.
I’ll go a little further. The fact that players this talented are facing such a steep uphill battle just to potentially sit on the end of a WNBA bench is unacceptable. The only conceivable argument against imminent roster expansion is based in dollars and cents, and guess what? Most WNBA owners and teams want to pay their players more money! They want a higher salary cap! They want more roster spots! Do you know how rare it is in America to have organizations that want to pay their employees more, but are prohibited from doing so? Catering to the stingier millionaires is unwise, and it’s actively holding the league back.
2. The Fever finally have their franchise cornerstone
Don’t get me wrong—this isn’t shade towards any current Fever player. NaLyssa Smith showed immense promise as a rookie, and balled out at Athletes Unlimited earlier this year. Kelsey Mitchell is a bucket. Erica Wheeler is the perfect veteran for a team brimming with youth. Ultimately, none of those players hold the superstar potential of Aliyah Boston.
Boston is one of the best defenders I’ve ever watched at the college level. Her vision of the floor is seconds ahead of the other nine players—a common quality among all-time greats. Boston rejects everything that enters her front door and cleans up mess in neighboring areas. She’s both a headliner and a security blanket. She’s fleet of foot, able to hang with smaller and quicker players on pick-and-rolls all over the floor. She’s everything you could ask for in a defensive-minded center.
I’m equally enthralled by her offense. The counting stats won’t blow you away, but context matters. Boston routinely faced three, even four swarming defenders in her airspace when she’d begin making a move. Her passing is, dare I say … brilliant? It’ll take people by surprise just how astutely Boston reads the game—people, that is, who didn’t follow her closely at South Carolina. She isn’t flashy, but she’s as fundamentally sound as they come. Magnificent footwork, with finishing skills to match. Boston has the ceiling to develop into a very proficient shooter, and will knock down threes as a pro.
On top of all the scouting report minutiae, she is a constant source of great vibes.
What’s not to like about Aliyah Boston as the face of your franchise?
3. Haley Jones is going to be a star
I left Jones’ media availability more confident than ever about her future success as a pro. Her extremely polite and winning responses to difficult questions confirmed my hunch that she didn’t feel properly maximized in Stanford’s offense the past few seasons. As gently and fairly as possible, Jones hinted that she wasn’t able to flourish in certain ways given how the Cardinal coaching staff deployed her immense talents. She didn’t mention the coaching staff by name, and expressed gratitude to everyone at the school, but the implication was there (or at least that’s how I read it).
Her “inability” to shoot from outside has been levied against her during a somewhat harsh few months of draft analysis, but might there be more to this story? Jones was downright spectacular in the 2021 Final Four, leading Stanford to wins over South Carolina and Arizona. Her free throw percentage—often an indicator of shooting potential—reached 82 percent last season before dropping to a perfectly average 72 percent this year. She operates at an elite level on the boards, in transition, and as a passer—both in stationary sets and on the move. She has tons of defensive potential; what she lacks in speed and athleticism, she makes up for in anticipation and positioning.
It wasn’t just the response to critiques of her game that left me confident about Jones’ future—it’s how she carries herself. Much like Boston, she embraces the work and is incredibly engaging while doing so. It’s hard to quantify, but you get the sense that she’s going to figure it out, and win everyone over while doing it.
I’m a huge fan.
4. Outside of Las Vegas and New York, Atlanta tops the 2023 League Pass Rankings
I’m going to repurpose one of my tweets from draft night, because who is this writer if not lazy and stale? *clears throat* …
We must consult the CBA to see whether the league allows a roster to be this much fun.
We just discussed Jones. The Dream have last year’s top pick, Rhyne Howard—a future superstar who already projects as an All-Star. This offseason, Atlanta traded for Allisha Gray, one of my favorite players in the league and a two-way force. Aari McDonald is a fan-favorite who improves every day on both ends. Naz Hillmon was the steal of the 2022 second round. Cheyenne Parker cannot be overlooked.
And since this is an article about the draft, can we get a round of applause for Laeticia Amihere? Yet another Dawn Staley mentee, Amihere didn’t start for South Carolina yet was the second Gamecock taken after Boston. This speaks to her versatility and uniqueness on the court. Essentially, all the players mentioned in the previous paragraph are two-way talents. Amihere is no different. She fared better than anyone else in the nearly impossible mission of
stopping slowing Caitlin Clark. She defends bigs just as well. She can operate from a more traditional offensive role in the frontcourt, or run point. I think Amihere will be money off the bench as a rookie in Atlanta.
Extra points for taking Michigan’s Leigha Brown with the 15th pick! I’m no college basketball expert, but every time I watched the Wolverines, Brown was a tough cover. Brown and Hillmon formed a fearsome duo in the Big 10, and reuniting fierce pairs is always good for watchability.
The Dream are going to be off-the-charts levels of fun this season. Not just fun, either. Competitive, too.
5. Cheryl Reeve did it again
Diamond Miller (second overall) has All-Star potential, and figures to be excellent alongside Napheesa Collier. Maia Hirsch (12th) is a very smart pick who won’t play in the WNBA this year but could help the Lynx at center moving forward. Dorka Juhász (16th) and Beal (24th) are two leading candidates to become this year’s Hillmon (the second-round steal). Reeve—who is no longer the general manager in Minnesota but still seems to lead the charge from a basketball operations perspective—drained every droplet of value out of her selections this year, setting the Lynx up for years to come while bolstering the current roster significantly.
I really hope Juhász and Beal make the team.
6. So did Mike Thibault
Washington’s general manager and former head coach was intent on trading the fourth overall pick for future selections. He did just that, moving Stephanie Soares to Dallas for the Wings’ 2024 second-round pick and Atlanta’s 2025 first-round pick (traded to Dallas in the Allisha Gray deal).
This might’ve been the most underrated and clever move of the draft. Whether or not you think Soares will be a good pro (and many do), Thibault is clearly content with his current roster, and for good reason. The Mystics are deep, with tons of top-level talent. It would be tough for a rookie to crack their rotation out of the gate.
More importantly, the upcoming drafts in ‘24 and ‘25 figure to be way stronger than this one. Netting a first-rounder from a team still in rebuild mode is a massive haul for the fourth pick in what’s widely considered a weaker draft. This also gives Thibault another major trade chip, should he want to upgrade his roster during the season or next offseason.
7. Zia Cooke is a perfect fit in Los Angeles
I’m giddy about Cooke heading to the Sparks. GIDDY, I tell you! For starters, her style of play matches the lore of Los Angeles basketball. When I think purple and gold, players like Lisa Leslie, Candace Parker, and Magic Johnson pop into my head. Showstoppers. Superstars. On-court demeanors that match the glitz and glamor of a city known for celebrities and sunshine. Cooke fits that reputation like a glove. Her game oozes fun, creativity, and confidence.
From a more analytical perspective, she may be just what this roster needs: scoring punch and creation from the guard position.
I’ve been bullish on Cooke since I first watched her take the court for South Carolina, but her college career had its ups and downs. She helped SC win a National Championship, and she scored 25 points in a Final Four loss to Stanford the year before. Often, however, it felt like she wasn’t tapping into her immense potential, both as an offensive connector and as a defensive stopper. This year? It all came together for Cooke. She not only displayed her own offense but also played within the flow of the Gamecocks attack. When her shot wasn’t falling, she made an impact by pestering opponents on the defensive end with a gloriously ferocious intensity.
I couldn’t be more excited for Cooke, and to watch what she does in Los Angeles. Stupendous selection.
8. Dallas … I mean, I guess?
And now, a message from Winsidr’s excellent Dallas Wings correspondent (and social media coordinator), Jasmine Harper:
“The Wings need to forfeit future picks unless they can provide a 1,200 word summary on how each player fits their roster.”
What more is there to say, really? Dallas landed Maddy Siegrist at No. 3, traded for Stephanie Soares at No. 4, selected Lou Lopez Sénéchal at No. 5, and Abby Meyers at No. 11. All very promising players! It’s not about the potential of these athletes themselves, as much as it’s about how they’ll mix with a roster already overflowing with names, and with no logical path forward.
So, yeah—what Jasmine said.
9. It’s time to give someone else a shot on the ESPN broadcast
Holly Rowe means well, and it can’t be overstated how difficult her job is. Wandering through a crowd, live on national television, while having to supply energy all by yourself is essentially only asked of award show hosts. It’s a terrifying task I’d want no part of. I have a pit in my stomach just thinking about it. By all indications, Rowe is an incredibly nice person, and extremely qualified as a sports broadcaster.
But we must stop centering players’ trauma on a jovial day, one that should be all about the positives. You can see how uncomfortable it makes certain interviewees, and it’s downright unnecessary. Forget the awkwardness of the opening walkthrough; that’s a tough gig. The priority should be to protect and celebrate players. The draft is rife with joy and full of tremendous accomplishment. Making people cry is not the goal here.
Don’t take my word for it—listen to two of the top three picks in last year’s draft.
Interact with this tweet if you think @Andraya_Carter should host from here on out ‼️ she think I’m playing
— Rhyne Howard 🤟🏾🈳 (@howard_rhyne) April 11, 2023
Cus the way our draft interviews were weird as hell….felt like it was just a spotlight on our traumas bro🤣🤣🤣
— Shakira Austin✨ (@Theylove_kira) April 11, 2023
Terrika Foster-Brasby is elite. Andraya Carter is elite. If you want a candidate outside of ESPN, imagine how good Arielle Chambers would be at that daunting opening montage? There are options. The takeaway here isn’t to tear down Rowe; it’s to request a shift in tone during these interviews. Let players revel in what they’ve accomplished without reminding them of dark days.
10. Let’s open this thing up to fans!
Why not? Easy way for the league to increase revenue, generate excitement, and improve the televised product.