With international basketball in full swing and college basketball starting, here some players to watch as we get ready for the 2022 WNBA draft. The W has not announced when the draft lottery will be, but you can play the lottery yourself at Across the Timeline to see how it might shake out.
In preparation for the 2022 draft, here are ten players I am going to be watching this year who have, I believe, a chance at being first round picks. This is not my current top 10 for the 2022 draft, though I am still writing about only ten. A couple of these players are admittedly long shots. But all are worth watching and trying to envision how they might play at the professional level. Players are not in any particular order, though Rhyne Howard and NaLyssa Smith would be 1 and 2 on my draft board.
- Rhyne Howard – wing – 6’2” – Kentucky
While last season’s discussions of the WNBA’s rules on eligibility focused on Caitlin Clark and Paige Bueckers, it was Howard who was the most pro ready player who was not eligible to play in the W this past season. There is nothing left for Howard to do in college to show that she is a potential top pick. She has excellent size for her position, is a good shooter, and is on a team that is likely not going to do that much in a competitive SEC. She is not the athlete that NaLyssa Smith is, cause very very few are, but Howard has the highest floor of any player in this class. A big wing who shoots high 30s from 3 on a difficult shot diet, who can pass and defend will always have a place in the W. Phoenix certainly could have used her after Kia Nurse got injured. Possibly even before, even at age 21.
- NaLyssa Smith – Big – 6’4” – Baylor
As I said, Rhyne Howard has the higher floor, given her shooting. But NaLyssa Smith has the talent to be the #1 pick. Smith will be able to be effective in the W with her athleticism and high motor. The big question that will determine if she ought to be the #1 overall pick is just how skilled she is. Can she function as a wing on offense, like Satou Sabally, or is she closer to a more athletic Monique Billings? While playing for Kim Mulkey, she was not asked nor expected to shoot lots of 3s or make plays off the dribble, but there is a good chance she shows this year under Nicki Collin that she in fact can play on the outside. If so, the debate over who should be the #1 pick will be fun all season. While she only shot 20% from 3 her junior season, she shot almost 80% from the line and had a good looking shooting stroke from long 2. A negative assist to turnover ratio is not great, but then again, playing without any spacing at Baylor did not help. Baylor is one of my least favorite schools for their homophobia and other issues, but Smith will be worth watching.
- Jade Melbourne – guard – 5’8″ – UC Capitals (WNBL in Australia)
The Shyla Heal draft experience may not have worked out great, but Melbourne is a different player. She is a good athlete who was one of the few international players at the U19 tournament this past summer who could hang with the US. Like many athletic guards and wings, her major swing skill will be her shooting. As of now, it seems unlikely she can be a primary on ball creator, so will need to be able to do something off ball in the W, hence the need for her to shoot. As an 18 year old in the WNBL she was impressive, willing to challenge even Liz Cambage in the paint. WNBL games are quite fun and I will be tuning into Melbourne’s games at least.
- Ashley Joens wing- 6’1″- Iowa St
A smart, strong player who is similar to Rhyne Howard, just not quite as big or athletic, nor as good a 3 point shooter. If she can get her 3 point shot up closer to 40%, could be a candidate as a lottery pick. Her negative assist/turnover ratio limits is something to watch as well. Even with that though, she is a good player at a position where it is hard to find contributors. Hope is she can be a more athletic Megan Walker or Bridget Carleton with more off the dribble juice.
- Shakira Austin – big – 6’5″ – Ole Miss
The US player I have watched the least on this list, especially against high level talent, but worth keeping an eye on. Good athlete, prototypical size for a big. Given how many wings ans guards went in the first round of the 2021 draft compared to centers, seems like centers who are not likely to be superstars are less valuable in the today’s game, which is worth keeping in mind. Austin would have to show a leap in on ball shot creation to justify a lottery pick, but could definitely still go in the top 10.
- Elissa Cunane – big – 6’5″ – NC State
Good offensive center who can stretch the floor. Low block and steal rates a bit concerning, though she is a decent positional defender. Will be important to try to see how she defends in space. Always challenging with college centers as they often just hang out in the paint and be big, but important. Her passing is more acceptable than good, which hurts in comparison to Stefanie Dolson, for instance.
- Sika Kone – big – 6’3″ Spar Gran Canaria
Sika Kone impressed at the FIBA U19 tournament this past summer. She would be the most surprising player to make the first round on this list. But I think she has a chance. An energetic big out of Mali who plays in Spain for Gran Canaria, she was one of the best players at the u19 tournament this past summer. Unfortunately, she did not end up playing the US, as seeing her against the US bigs like Lauren Betts, but Kone still impressed. Might be a bit of a tweener at only 6’3”, but with her size and motor, could play some center potentially. Very few players develop like Natasha Howard, but that would be the model.
- Naz Hillmon – big – 6’2″ – Michigan
The bar for a non-center who does not shoots 3s to be effective in the W is so high that at this point I think she would be outside of my top 10. Definitely a player it would be great to have her wingspan on to see if she could play as an undersized center, but averaging only .5 blocks per game as a junior, and that being a high for her time in college, is not a great sign. She is a very good scorer inside and rebounder, but Stephanie Mavunga was also a killer in the B1G, but did not make the same impact in the W. Has shown that she might be expanding her game to the 3 point line.
- Rae Burrell – wing – 6’1″ – Tennessee
How real is her 3 point shot improvement? From 20% her first year, 32% as a sophomore, to 40% as a junior. Because if that is real, she has a good shot at contributing in the W as a wing with size who can also handle. More of a jack of all trades than exceptionally good at any one thing. If the shooting is real, could be a 3 and D+ player, with some handling and passing. Not an amazing athlete, but seems good enough. Worth watching if she matches up with some of the better athletes at her position. The Stanford matchup will be a fun early test against a likely top 2 pick in the 2023 draft in Haley Jones.
- Christyn Williams – guard – 5’11” – Uconn
One lesson from the 2021 draft was how teams valued athleticism at least as much as skill. It worked with Michaela Onyenwere, though not so well with Stephanie Watts. While Williams does have skill and she produces, drafting her in the top 5 would be largely because of her combination of size and strength at guard. Williams does have skill, to be clear as a decent 3 point shooter at 35% for her career and a solid, if not spectacular, passer with a positive assist to turnover ratio. But her athleticism and strength is what separates her from some other guards in this class. 69% from the free throw line is concerning, but hopefully a blip and she can get it up closer to 80%.