The 2023 WNBA draft has come and gone, and we’re now left with a fresh batch of rookies who are aiming to make their respective teams. With training camps set to open on April 30, there will soon be a plethora of intriguing camp battles to keep our eyes on. For now, I thought it best to explore who might stand out among the class.
A couple of caveats before we jump in: I’m doing this exercise well before team rosters are set. Cuts, signings, and trades are still possibilities. Additionally, I put a lot of weight on team context in my analysis, so even though there may be a better quality player for the selection, the team context will outweigh that. Most importantly, for the sake of the exercise, I am also assuming each rookie makes their respective roster.
I now present to you the 2023 Rookie Class Superlatives!
Most likely to lead the class in points — Jordan Horston
This is all about team context. For a player many expected to go higher, I actually think Horston landed in a decent spot in Seattle. Is the fit super clear? No, but I do think head coach Noelle Quinn is going to scheme for Horston to get buckets. Horston’s jumper will need to improve, but even with Jewell Loyd and Ezi Magbegor as the primary options, I think we’ll see Horston using her athleticism to score in bunches in the W.
Most likely to be the best defender — Diamond Miller
Many people might thrust Laeticia Amihere’s incredible defensive metrics at South Carolina in front of me. I don’t doubt them, and I wholeheartedly believe she’s a phenomenal defensive talent. At the same time, I question Amihere’s minutes early on. I think she will eventually become a rotational player and key cog in the Tanisha Wright Dream Machine. Same goes for Dorka in Minnesota. But for now my vote is for another newly-drafted Lynx: Diamond Miller.
There’s an argument to be made that Boston could—and may likely—win all of my fictional awards. Additionally, there’s a case for any of Boston, Amihere, Horston, or Juhász to win this award.
Statistics courtesy of Her Hoop Stats
Believe it or not, there is also a case for Maddy Siegrist. Because of how scintillating Siegrist was on the offensive end last season for Villanova, it’s easy to forget she had nearly 2.5 defensive win shares, within the 99th percentile. During her college career, Siegrist performed at an exceptional level on the defensive end while expending a lot of energy working to get open and carrying the scoring load. She may not be the likeliest choice, but she is a choice.
Having said that, I think the combination of minutes played (see below), exceptional athleticism, and positional opponents gives Miller the best chance to stand out defensively among this class. Boston would be a close second, if not the top choice, but there are a ton of high-caliber bigs that might posterize Boston for all the wrong reasons. It’s too risky of a move for me. My pick is Miller.
Most likely to play the most minutes — Diamond Miller
Minnesota drafted a lot of young talent this year, but there’s no clear indication as to who will get playing time other than Miller. The Lynx’s salary cap situation isn’t the cleanest, as the roster is full of decent, but not great, veteran players. With Miller in the fold, I think Cheryl Reeve will surprise us and give Miller a lot of minutes earlier on, especially if she impresses in camp. I don’t know if she’ll get a ton of starts, but I can easily see her leading the class in minutes as the season progresses.
Most likely to make the most three-pointers — Taylor Mikesell
This one was a harder choice than I expected. With so many great distance shooters coming out of the draft, and several being selected by the Dallas Wings, it was difficult to find the leader. The one team where a rookie sharpshooter could shine is Indiana. They have a lot of frontcourt youth who can score, and a player like Mikesell, especially if she beats out incumbent Lexie Hull for the spot, could see plenty of opportunities to space the floor for the Fever bigs.
Most likely to make the All-Star Game (or come closest) — Aliyah Boston
Since 2000, 22 rookies have made the All-Star Game, including Rhyne Howard last season. This leaves plenty of room for any rookie to make it, but my gut says it’ll be Boston. I think the Fever will manage her minutes early on, especially if they don’t trade from their glut of aforementioned bigs. Nevertheless, I think many of us can agree it won’t take long for Boston to create a significant role, possibly even as a starter. If that occurs, with some deft adjustments to her game, Boston might come as close as any rookie to making the All-Star Game.
Most likely to make the All-Rookie Team — Zia Cooke, Aliyah Boston, Jordan Horston, Dorka Juhász, and Taylor Mikesell
Since the league has gone to positionless awards voting as of last season, we can look at any combination of players we see fit. To me, if you lead the class in a statistical category, you’re going to be on this team, so Horston and Mikesell make the cut. Boston, even though I’m not confident she’ll be a superstar right away, will do plenty and be worthy of a selection. I believe Cooke will be a tremendous facilitator and learn plenty from Curt Miller’s staff, so I give her the nod. The last one can go in a number of directions, but I’m choosing Juhász, who I think will carve out a strong supporting role in Minnesota. The game may be somewhat quick for her at first, but her ability to stretch the floor combined with her leadership and high basketball IQ make her a solid final choice for the All-Rookie Team.
Mostly likely to surprise (non first-round edition) — Leigha Brown
The second and third rounds consist of several fascinating prospects, but the one that stands out to me is Leigha Brown. The Atlanta Dream got off to a surprisingly strong start last season but faded as the season went on. Part of their issue was scoring, finishing second to last in points per game (PPG). Brown, a notorious scoring assassin from all three levels at Michigan, should offer some needed scoring punch to the burgeoning Dream. My feeling is she finds an integral role by midseason.
Best non lottery fit on new team — Elena Tsineke
While there are plenty of strong fits earlier in the draft, I wanted to address a player who was selected late in the draft, and no one stands out more to me than Tsineke. Her defense has some room to grow, but no team may be better equipped to offset that than the Washington Mystics. Her three-point shooting has vastly improved, and her overall scoring prowess and tough-nosed style will contribute greatly to the Washington bench. She needs to make some improvements when it comes to decision making (her assist/turnover ratio could be better), but there’s no denying that a team in need of a secondary floor general plus scoring depth found a perfect fit in Tsineke.
Most likely to make their team’s roster (non lottery edition) — Alexis Morris
If we step back into reality and realize most of these players unfortunately won’t be on rosters come May, let’s explore who may actually still be on the team that drafted them. My pick is Morris, who found as solid of a home as she could find in Connecticut. The Sun, under new management in head coach Stephanie White, are undergoing a lot of change and will be seeking a new identity this year. With Jasmine Thomas now in Los Angeles, Morris needs to beat out incumbents Natisha Hiedeman and Nia Clouden. Morris sports a skill set White will surely covet, so the promising guard out of LSU has a great shot at making this roster.
Most likely to earn a starting role as the season goes on — Zia Cooke
It’s not a surprise that I’m high on Cooke, who won me over with her leadership, growth, and moxie all season. She finds herself in Los Angeles, a team starting fresh with new faces and a new head coach in Miller. Most of the Sparks’ protected veteran contracts are forwards and bigs, leaving Jordin Canada and Lexie Brown as Cooke’s primary competition. The camp battle between Cooke and Canada will be especially popcorn worthy, but I think Cooke wins it outright and will earn a starting role on this feisty Sparks team.
Most likely to make an All-WNBA Team (not the All-Rookie one) — Zia Cooke
Since 2000, only 10 rookies have made an All-WNBA Team, and none have done so since Stewie in 2016. This is a long shot for any rookie, but I believe Cooke has the best odds. With Sue Bird now retired and Skylar Diggins-Smith out on maternity leave, the active point guard hierarchy in the league rests on Sabrina Ionescu, Kelsey Plum, and Natasha Cloud, in some order. Beyond that, it’s a mixed bag, with some teams bereft of a true facilitator on their current rosters. This gives Cooke the best opportunity. While she still isn’t likely to make an All-WNBA team, there’s far less depth at her position than many others, leaving her room—should she truly break out—to possibly snag a spot.
Most likely to win Rookie of the Year — Jordan Horston
Who’s winning Rookie of the Year? This is a tough one. To me, it’s Horston or Boston. No one else will put up the counting stats or get the requisite minutes to make the necessary impact.
Let’s break this down. Since 2004 (19 drafts), the average winner has been drafted 2.9 overall with 12 number one overall picks winning the award, according to Basketball Reference. That means that 63.0 percent of the Rookie of the Year nods in that time frame have gone to the first selection. The last five winners averaged 14.0 PPG, 4.9 rebounds per game (RPG), and 2.4 assists per game (APG) on 41.0 percent shooting.
Looking at the 2023 draft class, who is realistically going to put up those numbers? Who has the best shot?
I’ve already discussed the potential for Horston. This contest may come down to what Fever head coach Christie Sides decides to do with her lineups and how Boston fits into these decisions. Is Boston a four or a five? In most lineups last season, rookie Queen Egbo played the five with Rookie of the Year runner-up NaLyssa Smith playing the four. Sides is in her first year, so we don’t know yet what she’s thinking. Boston’s position and role may not be revealed until post-camp when Sides has had time to see who jells together. Even so, without a trade, the 6’5” Boston has the 6’4” Smith and the 6’1” Victoria Vivians to compete with for minutes, not to mention the 6’4” Egbo. The last five award winners averaged 32.4 minutes per game (MPG). Will Boston get that? Maybe, but that’s a big maybe, especially early on. This may be Boston’s award to lose being the first overall pick in the draft, but given the circumstances, Horston feels like the most likely to walk away with this award come end of season.
All stats as of 4/28. Unless otherwise noted, all stats courtesy of WNBA.com.