2022 WNBA Season Preview Part 2: Indiana, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Minnesota.

Part 2 of 3 of my WNBA previews. Click here for part 1. Here is Indiana, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Minnesota. As before, this will cover a key question for each team and the top 7 most interesting rotation players.

Indiana Fever

Key Question:

What does this team look like in 2025? More than Atlanta, Indiana has a realistic sense, finally, of where their roster is at. Indiana has to nail and be lucky with their draft picks since free agents are not signing in Indiana. And while the Fever know more than I do, there was some very confusing picks made by them in the most recent draft. If one of Lexie Hull or Queen Egbo turn into borderline starter quality players, then the picks worked. The main concern I have with both drafting both is the lack of upside. It is possible to see how either could be decent W players, but the odds of either becoming even above average starters seems low. NaLyssa Smith was a good pick, but whether she is a star or merely a good W player will be fun to watch as well.

The decision to trade Teaira McCowan showed the Fever are not going to try for the 8th seed at all costs. A step back this season for a chance at Aliyah Boston and better days in the future is smart. This year will be one of evaluating the draft picks they have as well as hiring a new general manager, who will then have to decide whether Marianne Stanley is the right coach to move forward with. Stanley is a Hall of Famer, but unlikely she is coaching this team for much longer.


Danielle Robinson: The contract was too much and for too long, but Robinson is a fine player and the fact that this team in theory has more shooting than last year’s should be to her benefit. Too soon probably to cut her salary and not the worst idea to have a solid veteran point guard to help the rookies become acclimated to the league. If she ever could shoot it from 3 it would be nice, but probably not at this point going to happen.

Kelsey Mitchell: One of the better scorers in the W, now that she is on a max contract, should be looking to up her playmaking and defense. She’s unlikely going to be as good as Jewell Loyd in those areas, but the gap does not have to be as big as it is now. Her 3 point rate has also gone down every year of her career, which for such a good shooter is not ideal.

Lexie Hull: Hull may not start right away, but she in theory provides the shooting and defense this team has been lacking from the 3 position the last few years. She will not be as good as a rookie as Tiffany Mitchell, but teams might actually guard Hull at the 3 point line, which would benefit the rest of the starting lineup. Does Hull have the foot speed to defend quicker 3s and 2s? Something to watch.

NaLyssa Smith: Should walk into the W as one of the best athletes in the league. How will that translate? Will they show up in block and steals and how is her finishing going to be at the W level? Stretching her game out will be important long term, but not something to worry about as a rookie.

Queen Egbo: This team has no good centers with W experience. I don’t know if this team could be worse defensively than the last few, but if they end up with 2 rookies in the front court, it could get ugly. Long term my questions about Egbo are on the offensive end far more than the defensive, but she may take her lumps as a rookie on both ends. 


Tiffany Mitchell: As unusual as it is, once again Mitchell shot nearly 90% from 3 and under 30% from 3. Usually those go hand in hand, but not with her. She is best with the ball in her hands given her lack of shooting, but is not a great finisher in the paint even given her athleticism, nor much of a playmaker with an even assist to turnover ratio. Big year as an unrestricted free agent to see what her next contract will be.

Emily Engstler: Does her high level feel allow her to defend multiple positions? How does her elite help defense translate? The offensive concerns are there, but she will have the time to figure those out if she can defend at the W level. Showing she can play some 3 and not only the 4 would be helpful as well.

Las Vegas

Key Question

What is A’ja Wilson’s best position in the playoff, at the highest levels? And if the answer is at center, does this team have enough quality perimeter play to be able to play her there? And if it is at power forward, who is that center that can help the team defend and not get in the way of Wilson on offense? 

My suspicion is the answer is center. If you have a Liz Cambage level center, you make do, but this iteration of the Aces does not. Here is where the selection of Mya Hollingshed made sense and her subsequent waiving so surprising. This team needs a few of the 3/4 types who can shoot 3s. They don’t need offensive creation from those spots, which makes it slightly easier to find, but that archetype is still hard to find. If Hollingshed simply was not good enough ok, but she should have been kept if there was any chance of her growing into a contributing player.

In a playoff series, Dearica Hamby should be starting and if she is ready Kierstan Bell behind her. The centers on the roster can take the minutes when A’ja has to rest, as few as possible. Given Kiah Stokes and Theresa Plaisance are the only centers on the roster after cuts, signs are looking good.


Kelsey Plum: Speaking of players who should be starting. Kelsey should also be encouraged to fire away from 3 off the dribble whenever she feels comfortable. Outside of Diana Taurasi, no one in the W can bend defenses the way Plum can beyond the arc. Her improvement finishing in the paint has made her ability to shoot from 3 even more deadly, since she can better drive a hard close out.

Riquna Williams: Quietly had the best season of her career in 2021. Even in the Aces system under Laimbeer, she got up nearly 5 3PA attempts per game. That can and should go up under Hammon, to the 6 she shot in LA, or even 7. Even if her 3 point percentage dips a bit with harder attempts, teams will guard her more closely if she firing away out there.

Chelsea Gray: Gray at this point is best used as a wing who can pass like a point guard. She can guard other teams wings using her strength, and not forced to guard speedy point guards. On offense, something the Aces could try are small-small pick and rolls with Gray and Plum. If the opposing point guard switches onto Gray, let her get to work in the post. If they don’t switch, let Plum attack the advantage.

Dearica Hamby: Hamby can often take the more difficult front court matchup, even if she is giving up quite a bit of size, and she offers just enough stretch to help out Wilson. More willingness to shoot would be nice, but not necessary. Assuming health, if she still comes off the bench she should still be getting closer to 32 minutes per game, not 24 she got in 2021.

A’ja Wilson: My pick for MVP this year, because she should be continuing to improve and her raw numbers will be back up as she will be the focal point of this team. W MVP voters tend to prefer players on a top 2 team, but might as well start pushing for a player who drags a somewhat lesser roster to 3 or 4, where It hink the Aces will finish. 3 point shooting is the obvious thing Wilson could add, but passing is more important and should continue to improve. Last year was Wilson’s best passing season and this one  could be even better. 

Key Reserves:

Jackie Young: A 36 game player, not an 8 game player so far in her career. Jackie Young and the Aces need to try to figure out what to do with her when playoff defenses sag off of her and she stops having such a dramatic advantage in size and strength. Either play her at point in bench units with shooting around her or she needs to shoot 3s herself. Otherwise we may be on year 4 of her minutes being cut in the playoffs. Would also help see what her next contract will be, as she enters restricted free agency. 

Theresa Plaisance: I subscribe to the idea that gravity is what the defense gives to an offensive player. This is a product of the actual effectiveness of a player and their willingness to shoot. More attempts at  mediocre percentage will lead to more spacing than a 40% shooter who only shoots once in a blue moon. Plaisance may not be the most effective 3 point shooting big at 30%, but her willingness to fire is worth something, at nearly 8 attempts per 40 minutes. If Wilson is going to play the 4, she may an answer at the 5, though defensively that would not be ideal.

Los Angeles

Key Question:

Just how good are Liz Cambage and Chennedy Carter? Both players for different reasons are hard to place in proper tiers. Carter due to lack of playing time for ~reasons and Cambage because of playing on deep Aces teams and a possibly underperforming Wings team. I have questions about how a team with Skyler Diggins-Smith and Cambage barely made the playoffs in 2018. If Cambage is closer to top 5 than I think, this Sparks team may be able to make it far in the playoffs. If Carter would have challenged for the All-Star team, maybe this team even makes noise in the semifinals and challenged for the finals if both players play up to their considerable potential.

If Cambage is closer to 15, Tina Charles like, and Carter is more solid starter, this Sparks team could be closer to another lottery trip. Assuming health of the veterans, something that did not occur in 2021, I think this team will be closer to 4th than 9th, but the downside risk is real, given the Sparks gave up their 2023 pick to Atlanta in the Carter trade. There is a reason my first W game of the year will be Sparks at Fever. This is my most interesting team of 2022. 


Chennedy Carter: Devastating first step and the ability to finish around and through contact. Inconsistent shooter and defender, but has the tools to be good at both. Hopefully the Sparks put the ball in her hand let her get to work, since this is a team that could not score in 2022. This is a team that does not need to get cute on offense. Post ups for Cambage and high pick and rolls for Carter until other teams show they can stop it.

Kristi Toliver: Hopefully with a better roster and better health, Toliver can have a bounce back year. A back court of Carter and Toliver may not offer much defense, but Toliver is such a good fit on offense next to Carter I want to see it. Toliver can provide second side ball handling once Carter has kicked out a pass and Toliver could feast on open 3s from both Cambage and Carter.

Brittney Sykes: Teams won’t guard Sykes outside of the paint, but someone needs to play perimeter defense. While DPOY level defense is unlikely, Sykes is a good defender. Hopefully she can effectively cut when off ball and use that athleticism to finish, something that she has not been as good as one might hope.

Nneka Ogwumike: I would like to see Fisher stagger Cambage and Nneka so that both can play the vast majority of available minutes at the 5. The Sparks should try to limit as much as possible how much they play with neither Nneka nor Cambage on the floor. Nneka is such a crafty cutter and just enough of a shooter to make the pairing work, but she is clearly also this team’s second best center.

Liz Cambage: Can she be put in position to play 30+ minutes in the playoffs? And what kind of roster needs to be constructed to help her defend well enough to win a championship? Two questions to watch for this year. Keeping her minutes down in the regular season is good, but for a Cambage lead team to win in the playoffs, she needs to play more. The offense in time with Cambage can be elite, but the question is how does LA build a good enough defense moving forward. Cambage is a fine defender, but at the highest levels can be forced to guard in space in ways that is just hard for any 6’8” center.

Key Reserves:

Jasmine Walker: Is Walker, drafted in 2o21 but hurt last season, ready to be the backup stretch 4 this team could use with Nia Coffey gone? She would be able to play 4 out around either star front court player, allowing Carter to also play in even more space. Walker seemed in college to be a decent, not great athlete, and will have to have good technique to hold her own on defense. 

Katie Lou Samuelson: There is a world where Samuelson has improved her defense and is able to shoot the lights out, where she ends up the starting 3 over Sykes. I don’t know that she has the strength to play the 4, but I would like to see her and Sykes together. A lineup of Carter-Toliver-Samuelson-Walker-Cambage would be fun. Might score 110 in 40 minutes and give up 100. 

Minnesota Lynx

Key Questions:

Other than whether Napheesa Collier will play this season and how much, the other question is did Cheryl Reeve fail to anticipate the new salary cap system and overpay, relative to the cap, Natalia Achonwa and Aerial Powers? Achonwa was the more notable miss in free agency, but Powers has the bigger contract to live up to. The Achonwa contract likely cost them both Crystal Dangerfield and their 2021 first round pick Rennia Davis. Reeve is a great coach, but as a GM the last few years has not done as well.

Powers was the more defensible contract, but still may be overpaid relative to the cap. A back court of Powers and Kayla McBride did not have enough passing or ball handling, hence the scramble for Laysha Clarendon last year and the last minute signing of Odyssey Sims this year. But it is still a question if Powers have the size and strength to play the 3. She may, but will be interesting to watch. Reeve may have paid top dollar to two players who play the same position in McBride and Powers, who are both signed through next season also. 


Odyssey Sims: Sims, the surprise signing on 5/3 by the Lynx to presumably start at point guard, can be a decent player, though 2021 with the Dream was rough. She only sort of does the things necessary to be a point guard. She generates low efficiency shots for herself and can make the basic passes. One outlier season in 2019 with the Lynx she had an above average passing season. But coming off a year with a sub 43% TS is tough. By comparison, Jasmine Thomas has had a TS ever year since 2016 right around 50%. And Sims is not nearly the defender Thomas is.

Kayla McBride: A wonderful catch and shoot player, McBride is also a fine defender, particularly using her strength against bigger players. A tick below star level because she isn’t generally going to create shots for herself or others, she is still very effective. 

Aerial Powers: A somewhat tough season in 2021, but could bounce back. Her 3 point shooting was below the 33% where it really needs to be to be a positive and her turnover rate spiked. Starting year 2 with a new point guard signed 3 days before the season and a converted 2 guard as backup and both true point guards waived from the roster is not ideal, but here is hoping.

Natalie Achonwa: Achonwa is not who I would start, I would prefer to see if Angel was ok to try out playing the 4 in a smaller lineup with Achonwa backing her up to limit Angel’s minutes. But I bet Cheryl Reeve will go with the big she signed to a large contract. Achonwa does not provide any stretch as  4, nor is she particularly adept at chasing the faster 4s in the league. But then again, she also gets overwhelmed by the bigger centers. She is a W level player, but will be curious how Reeve uses her this year with better options in Napheesa and Damiris Dantas out to start the season.

Sylvia Fowles: Enjoy her final year. The best defensive center in W history, someone who thrived both in the more interior oriented game during her early days but has been able to stay just as effective in the pace and space era by impeccable defensive positioning and understanding. Watching her stymie guards who are 15 years younger and more athletic is a joy. 

Key Reserves:

Bridget Carleton: Though some of the other cuts by the Lynx were ones I do not agree with, Carleton being on the team is good. If not Angel, Carleton could also start at the 4 instead of Achonwa. Thanks to Stephen Trinkwald of the Double Down WNBA podcast for pointing out that would be worth trying.

Rachel Banham: I would not have kept Banham. While a good shooter, I don’t think she offers sufficient playmaking to be a point guard, even a backup one, nor does she offer enough on defense. I look forward to being wrong though and if she has a career year, I will enjoy every moment of it if she performs well, even if i I would have kept Crystal Dangerfield.

2022 Season Preview 1: Atlanta, Chicago, Connecticut, Dallas.

The 2022 WNBA season is approaching. Here is part 1 of 3 of my season previews. For each team I look at one key question and then run down some things to watch for for the top 7 players on each team. The top 7 get the bulk of the minutes and drive the success of a team, and frankly are unlikely to be waived between me writing and publishing these.

Atlanta Dream:

Key Question:

Who on this team will be on the next good Atlanta Dream team? Rhyne Howard, ideally, is the one definite answer as a starter. Aari McDonald, but more likely as a backup in my opinion, and maybe Nia Coffey, who is only 26, if the rebuild goes quickly. Otherwise, the Dream have not been using their bench to stock up on young players as much as I would have liked them to. This is a team that might win some games if their veterans play well. I wonder if they play too well will they look to trade any of those veterans to both get stuff back and to increase the odds of getting Aliyah Boston?

Kia Vaughn is a fine veteran, but does this team need her leadership, with other veterans already around? The Dream signed all of their free agents to one year deals, Parker is on the books for next year from the prior front office. In time Atlanta may be a place that can get free agents, but for now they should be building through the draft and through second drafts with players who did not make their initial team. They don’t seem to feel that way outside of Rhyne, so we shall see. 

Projected Starters:

Aari McDonald: While the Dream may start Erica Wheeler, they should go with the future here. If Aari is not on the trajectory to be a starter, that is important information. If she comes off the bench for most of the season, well that will also tell us something, but getting to watch McDonald play would be the more interesting way to learn. Can she defend bigger shooting guards so can Atlanta play her and Wheeler together. Can she score efficiently from, well, anywhere in the half court. 30% from 3 and 34% from 2 will likely improve, but by how much?

Tiffany Hayes: Depending on where the Dream go at the 4, this might be the most space Hayes has played in. While that is not saying much given some of the shooting starved teams she has played on in Atlanta, it would still be very fun to see a bounce back season from Hayes. A very good slasher and solid defender, if Atlanta surprisingly pushes for a playoff spot it will likely happen because Hayes has a great year. Possible, if not especially likely.

Rhyne Howard: The clear #1 prospect in my view in the most recent draft, watching Howard play with W level talent is the thing I am most looking forward to. In terms of future stardom, I am very curious to see how the Dream use her this season. Does Atlanta ask her to score in the flow off the offense, or do they have her to run a decent amount of pick and rolls and shoot off movement? The latter would be more fun, but the former understandable as she has all the tools to be a 3 and D+ wing as a rookie and grow into more in time.

Nia Coffey: Coffey shot a very good 41% from 3 in LA last year and provided impressive rim protection from an undersized wing. She would be a great fit at the 4 this season in Atlanta. She should be encouraged to shoot even more from 3 than she did in LA, as any additional spacing she can offer to Mcdonald and Howard will benefit their development. 

Cheyenne Parker: A Parker-Coffey front court might not be perfect defensively, but will be able to score. Parker should both be able to be a good pick and roll partner for any of the Dream bigs, while also being able to post up any mismatches. I do hope they limit how often they ask Parker to post up similar sized centers, but in a pinch she has the skill to do so.

Key Reserves:

Erica Wheeler: Wheeler should be the primary backup for both McDonald and Hayes. A McDonald-Wheeler back court might be too small, but it is the kind of thing worth experimenting with. Dream will hope for a good 3 point shooting season, as this team does not need Wheeler dribbling the air out of the ball every possession and would benefit from her playing off ball more as a veteran leader. 

Monique Billings: Her ability to generate turnovers in a high pressure defense was impressive early in the Dream season in 2021. While overmatched as a starter given she isn’t much of a threat on the offensive end outside of offensive rebounding, she should pair fairly well with either of the front court starters against bench units. If the Dream can get out in transition, that would also benefit her, so she can use her speed against slower bigs.

Chicago Sky

Key Question:

How does this team maximize the chances that the veterans, and in Azurá Stevens’ case, injury plagued starters, make it to the playoffs healthy and rested? James Wade has made the big moves for the Sky successfully, but this season might test his ability to nail the margins. No general manager hits every signing to a minimum contract, but the Sky may be relying on their’s more than most teams. While there is no one on the roster likely to end up as overmatched as Shyla Heal was in 2021, who exactly is playing back 2 and 3 is as much a mystery with the season days away as it was months ago.

Two players for the Sky to either bring back or bring in if their current backups are not good enough are Kamiah Smalls and Kitja Laksa. Smalls was waived, so of course possible that Wade and co. have decided she is not good enough, but she has shown more in her overseas performances than the players they kept. Kaela Davis is long and athletic and looks good, but she is a career 36% shooter from 2 and not a good 3 point shooter. Laksa is a dead eye shooter who may not have the defense to be a starter in the W, but would fit nicely off the bench with the Sky.

Projected Starters:

Courtney Vandersloot: Going to quote what I said last year, because nothing has really changed other than trying to win another championship: “Best point guard in the W. For the Sky to win a championship, might need to look for her own offense a bit more. Too good a shooter while also able to put pressure on at the rim to not look to score.” Given prioritization, is this the last season we see her for a bit? If so, I am ready to enjoy every minute of it. 

Allie Quigley: Can the Sky save her for the playoffs again? The Sky’s difficult choices at the back end of the roster may make it harder for Wade to limit Quigley’s minutes. She was incredibly important in the playoffs, but at age 35, almost 36, needs her minutes managed.

Kahleah Copper: The next step for Copper to raise her game and become an all-WNBA level player is to play make for others. A wonderful finisher and just good enough 3 point shooter, Copper fits well next to other playmakers. If she can even incrementally increase her playmaking, maybe run a few pick and rolls and get open shots for Allie Quigley, that would make the Sky even harder to guard.

Candace Parker: How much does she have left? Can she make it to the playoffs healthy? The Sky were two teams in 2021. A mediocre team without Parker and a championship caliber team with her. Similar to Quigley, the Sky’s loss of some depth might make it harder to sit her, but the Sky should be willing to lose some regular season games to hopefully keep her healthy and rested. My favorite part of her playoff run was her brilliance as a help defender who was able to muck up other teams’ offense when they played total non-shooters.

Azurá Stevens: Stevens being healthy for the playoff run and able to play fairly heavy minutes was key for the Sky. Knock on wood for another relatively healthy season. Stevens is valuable for her ability to guard bigger posts while on offense providing some shooting and ability to attack a closeout. She and the Sky will benefit from her continuing to improve her ability to finish plays.

Key Reserves:

Emma Meesseman: Meesseman has a history of coming off the bench and finishing games so may do the same. It may be matchup driven because for teams that don’t have Liz Cambage or Sylvia Fowles, a Meesseman-Parker front court might make sense, with Stevens in to guard the bigger centers. If she is a backup, Meesseman can shoot all the midrange 2s she wants as she keeps bench units afloat on offense. As a starter though, hopefully she will be a bit more modern in her approach and space the floor better.

Julie Allemand: The French league ends so late it is unclear when Allemand will come over, but the Sky should be hoping for sooner rather than later. She is the most proven of the backup guards and even wings for the Sky. If either Quigley or Vandersloot need to miss time, Allemand would be as good a replacement as possible. A weaker defender than either, she is a reasonable facsimile on offense for either Vanderquig. Not the movement shooter Quigley is nor does she put pressure on the rim like Vandersloot, but she is a good shooter and passer.

Connecticut Sun

Key Question:

How do the Sun fix their half court offensive issues in the playoffs? This team has the talent and chemistry, pun intended, to be a top 2 team in the regular season again. The next step is to figure out how to score against high level opponents in the playoffs. Defensively 5 out offenses provide some challenge to the Sun, but they have the personal, especially with Alyssa Thomas back healthy, to defend that style.

Shooting guard is the one position that could be up for adjustments for the Sun. As I mention below in my section on Natisha Hiedeman, Curt Miller may need to sacrifice defense for some offensive burst from his guards. Either that or Jonquel Jones improves her midrange game to the point she can be a reliable option there. The fit of DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas on offense is going to be somewhat clunky against the best defenses given neither shoots from 3, either at all or well, so the Sun have to find solutions around that. 

Projected Starters:

Jasmine Thomas: The best defensive guard in the W, can the Sun make up for her offensive limitations to win a championship? Functionally a 3 and D point guard, the Sun will need to find other places to generate offense in the half court against the best of the best. Thomas improving her shooting, particularly off the dribble, would also be helpful for the Sun.

Courtney Williams: 3>2. If the shot clock is running down or if it is the best shot possible, then a Williams midrange shot is much better than nothing. But the Sun and Williams should be trying for better where possible. But if she wants to play her same game, it might be time for Natisha Hiedeman to play with her fiance and for Williams to prop up bench units on offense.

DeWanna Bonner: To paraphrase Draymond Green, Bonner may be a 36 game player, not an 8 game player. Her high 3 point attempt rates cause teams to guard her in the regular season, but her inability to shoot hurts in the playoffs. Her foul drawing also dips in the playoffs against the best defenders and best refs. A very fun player in the regular season, but the playoffs await.

Alyssa Thomas: An incredibly fun player who is as good as one can get without shooting 3s. You name a skill a big wing should have other than shooting and she has it. Passing, ball handling, defense, rebounding all of it.

Jonquel Jones: A deserving MVP in 2021, the next step for her is the inverse of Courtney Williams in that Jones is very good at seeking out either 3s or attempts at the rim, but does not have as good an in between game. A reliable way to generate decent midrange jump shots in the playoffs would be a boon to both Jones and the Sun, when teams load up to stop her. 

Key Reserves:

Brionna Jones: Overqualified as a backup center, she plays well next to either Thomas or Jones. Jones is the best possible development outcome for the undersized center who can’t shoot and aren’t particularly fast, she should be studied by all other such players with hopes of making it in the W. 

Natisha Hiedeman: What does Hiedeman need to do to earn Kurt Miller’s trust in the playoffs? She isn’t as good at defense as the other options, but she isn’t a traffic cone either. And on offense, she is the only player on the team, except maybe Nia Clouden, who will take 3s off the dribble. She could improve her finishing and getting to the rim, but you aren’t getting those from Thomas or Williams either.

Dallas Wings: 

Key Question

Why such a large contract for Arike Ogunbowale? Per herhoopstats, Arike will be making the supermax starting in 2023 for 3 seasons. Depending on a few free agents next year, she will be one of roughly 5 or so players who make that super max contract. More in her section below, but I am not convinced that paying Arike that high a percentage of the cap is sensible, especially given they have more young players coming off of rookie deals soon. Satou Sabally will likely get the same salary for the 2024 season and beyond. Dallas is quickly going to be priced into their team, so they should be seeing if this is a team that can go as far as they want to. 

Money matters in a hard capped league. Ask Phoenix or Connecticut how it goes with 3 super max contracts, trying to churn the end of the roster. I have my concerns that Arike will be so good as to justify such a contract, given she is being paid along the lines of Jewell Loyd and Diana Taurasi. Will Dallas be able to match if Marina Mabrey gets a large offer? Dallas will also have to pay Teaira McCowan, one reason I did not like that trade for them.


Arike Ogunbowale: The improved 3 point shooting and volume was good. But unfortunately, nothing else really improved, except for the contract. 39% from 2 from such a high usage player is bad. The defense was among the worst for starters in the league. 3.3 assists was not good enough, especially given her assist to turnover ratio has been the exact same in all four years. And the quality of pass does not seem to be going up, too many drives into 3 defenders and not a good kick out.

Marina Mabrey: Likely not a star, as she does not have the first step or handle to get to the rim and appears to be a good 3 point shooter, not a great, so unlikely to be Diana Taurasi from deep. But Mabrey should be starting for this team over their bevy of point guards. Not a lock down defender, but she competes and can continue to improve, especially against bigger players who can’t drive right past her. 

Allisha Gray: A weird season last year including coach Vicki Johnson suggesting Gray forgot how to play 5 on 5, but she should be starting for this team. The only player has shown the ability to both shoot 3s and defend at a high level. Without playmaking improvement similar to Kahleah Copper she isn’t a star. If Dallas won’t start her, they should 

Satou Sabally: If the Wings win a championship with this core, it will be because Satou becomes a top 3 player in this league. Her assist numbers aren’t particularly impressive, but her ability to whip passes to the corner with either hand is. A fully healthy season from her, with more consistent defense, is how this Wings team makes it to the next level. WHile she should not start at center, the best playoff version of the Wings likely involved her playing the 5 in heavy doses. 

Teaira McCowan: If Bella Alarie had not opted out of the season, she would have been my choice for starter. But I bet McCowan would have started anyways, given the Wings traded for her. McCowan is definitely a W level backup center given how dominant she can be on the offensive end. Great size, decent hands and draws lots of fouls. The defensive end is where the questions lie and we will get a season to see if outside of the mess of Indiana whether McCowan can be the anchor of a league average defense.

Key Reserves

Charli Collier: The #1 pick from 2021 started 18 obligatory games as the #1 pick, but eventually the team realized to win they needed to play her less. Rebounds fairly well, but still unclear what else she does at a starting player level. Some evidence of stretch to the 3 point line and improvement defending in space would be welcome.

Veronica Burton: The theory with the Burton pick makes sense. A good defender who can play next to Arike or Marina and take the more difficult assignment. But I did not have her as a first round pick because of the questions on offense. But that means playing off ball. Can she shoot? Will teams guard her out there? Does she have the handle and athleticism to get to the paint when she has the ball?

WNBA 2022 Final Draft Board

This is my third year doing a draft board for the WNBA draft. Lessons have been learned from past years editions and will continue to be learned. Two that stand out are that centers with great defensive potential maybe ought to do something on offense and that teams value athleticism in wings, even when they aren’t yet able to shoot. Then again, though my love for Natasha Mack’s game has not panned out yet, neither have the choices to draft Stephanie Watts or Aaliyah Wilson.

I have tiered the player on my draft board to give a sense of how I think they might turn out and which players are comparable. I am tiering these players based on an 80th percentile outcome. So this is if they develop well, but for instance if any of these players develop like Jonquel Jones, I will be too low on them. I have learned from last year to assume lower than how I labeled them then. The W is really high level basketball and the tendency in draft evaluations is to overestimate player contributions, not the other way. And as good as the top 2 players in this draft are, there are no A’ja Wilsons or Breanna Stewarts, most likely.

Also, some people hate player comparisons because they are so imperfect, but I think for ease of communication they are hard to beat. When I am reading about a prospect I know nothing about, I appreciate envisioning who in the league they could have some similarities with.

Couple of time All Star:

  1. Rhyne Howard Wing 6’2” Kentucky

Howard’s shooting and positional size will keep her in the league as a solid starter and give her a shot at an all-star or two. Whether she can become the 1st or 2nd option on offense for a good team is the major question to watch. She is a fine passer, but may not be able to break down defenses and get to the rim to allow that playmaking to shine. She is a smooth athlete but does not have the greatest first step. Similarly, a good handle, but is not a point guard with a wing’s size, more of a straight line driver.

Still, her floor is a solid starter given teams can always use athletic wings who can shoot. Teams year after year take chances on wings who can’t shoot hoping they develop. Howard already can! Of all the draft prospects, she could have started for that Phoenix Mercury team that made the finals last year, as someone who had the size to matchup with Sky and nail open 3s from Griner’s passes.

I have no inside information, so teams will be able to do more research, but the character concerns surrounding her seem overblown and stem from people trying to explain away the lack of top SEC talent around her at Kentucky and why she couldn’t drag them farther.

Above average starter

  1. NaLyssa Smith Big 6’4” Baylor

Smith absolutely could be the best player from this draft class. While not especially likely, the outlines of a taller more explosive Napheesa Collier are there. To move her #1 though for me, I would have wanted to see more of her perimeter game. To see more of her shooting from the perimeter and more of an ability to create open shots for others. A 1 assist to 2.5 turnover ratio is not ideal.  .

Smith used her verticality well at times at center, including holding up against Ayoka Lee. But for someone with her athleticism, her defensive impact did not show through in her block or steal rates. If her perimeter game doesn’t develop and she doesn’t provide the rim protection needed to be a starting five, an energy big off the bench at best is a possible outcome, a la Monique Billings. This is what separates Howard and Smith. Less downside risk with Howard, but still star potential.

Solid starter:

  1. Kierstan Bell wing 6’1 FGCU

Bell would be the high risk, high reward pick here. If she ends up being taken towards the end of the first round or even the second, I would not be shocked. But If you are picking in the lottery, you should consider swinging for the fences. Will Bell be Alyssa Thomas but a better shooter? Probably not! But she has the size, skill and athleticism that is hard to find in potential 3/4 types. 

While her team was overwhelmed by Maryland’s size in the tournament, I thought Bell showed she can hang with elite size and athleticism. Maryland has a good collection of players with W size and speed and Bell held her own. 

  1. Shakira Austin big 6’5” Ole Miss

Austin is more of polished on the defensive end than offensive end at this point. She is a potential lottery pick based on potential growth on the offensive end. She will show flashes in each game of a do it all center who can shoot 3s and handle and be an effective center in a modern 5 out offense, the kind we have seen win the past 4 championships. However, the results really are not there yet, 46% 2 point percentage is low for a center and 24% from 3 is not good. A 1.7 to 2.4 assist to turnover ratio is actually pretty good, especially given how rough the guard play at Ole Miss could be at times on offense, but not good enough to say she will be an amazing passer at the next level.

Austin defensively could be really good. She has the size to play more traditional drop defense and the lateral quickness to play in a more switch heavy scheme. She may be able to run around with quicker power forwards, so if the offensive game continues to develop she might be able to offer some positional versatility as well. 

Borderline starter

  1. Nyara Sabally big 6’5” Oregon

If Sabally had not dealt with a couple of serious injuries, I would likely have had her #3 as my favorite center prospect in this draft. If teams are scared off by her medicals, she definitely could fall into the second round. Multiple ACL tears is tough for a young athlete. I don’t have access to those medicals, so I guess I hope she has better injury luck in the pros.

But on the court, Sabally is the actual stretch five that people talk about Austin being. She shot over 40% from 3, admittedly on low volume, in her career at Oregon. She averaged 2 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks, all good if not amazing numbers. While not a dominant inside presence on defense, but she moves well for her size and does offer rim protection.

I do wonder about having 2 centers at 4 and 5. Last year Charli Collier was the only center taken in the first round. That trend might continue if teams feel multiple good wings are more valuable than multiple centers. And good wings can be harder to find than serviceable centers. I thought about accounting for that, but while it is possible at least a couple of the wings and guards I have after here will go above Sabally, I had a harder time figuring out which should.

Solid backup

  1. Christyn Williams 5’11” guard UConn

Williams does not excel in any one area, but she is solid across the board as a big guard/wing. A 35% 3 point shooter, decent but not good. A positive assist to turnover ratio, but not exceptional. She has the size and strength to play the 3 in 3 guard lineups at least some of the time. There is a good chance she will benefit from the additional spacing at the next level. UConn plays with fine spacing relative to the college game, but the W is still more open. 

 UConn players can be tough to scout because how much talent they play with. Katie Lou Samuelson going higher than she should have and Tiffany Hayes lower are examples. Williams has not been asked nor given the opportunity to be the main scorer. Unfortunate championship game aside, Williams has been able to effective even when the offense isn’t run for her. She is also a good defender and has the size, strength, and athleticism to play the 3 in 3 guard lineups.

  1. Nia Clouden 5’8” guard Michigan St.

Clouden is a fast guard who can also shoot. If she gets shoehorned into running a teams offense, that might not go so well. But if she  can pair with another guard, she can be an effective off ball player. She shot 40% from 3 this year on decent volume. A bit lower in prior years, but her free throw percentage also took a jump this year, which is a good sign that her shooting improvement was real.

Defensively she was not a disaster, but is likely what would keep her from being a starter. She is a bit undersized for the 2 and not a lock down defender at the point guard. Has the tools to be a fine defender, but I would not be drafting her for her defense.

  1. Destanni Henderson 5’7” guard  South Carolina

Henderson picked a great game to have her career high and maybe the best game of her career. But it didn’t change where I have her on my board, though it was impressive. For Henderson, I think of Dana Evans as a rookie and the pros and cons of what she offered. She could shoot 3s when open, she could run a functional offense, and wasn’t a disaster on defense even though she was giving up size.

This would be my most likely prediction of Henderson at the next level, but even more so. Henderson is a better spot up shooter and defender, but not as good off the dribble and might struggle to do anything in the paint at the next level.

Backup to the backup

  1. Sika Kone 6’3” big Mali

Unfortunately for Kone, she is out with a knee injury for a couple of months. Reports are she may be able to play in some of the W season, but it is unclear if she will or would even want to. However, towards the end of the first round of the W draft, taking a player who won’t even come over this year could be a good choice. And between 9-12 would be a good value place to draft the Malian big and have her come over for the 2023 season when she will be only 21. Her inexperience shows in little things like defending on the perimeter, but the talent is there.

Kone is a very good athlete with a nose for the ball and a great rebounder. She showed off her skill and athleticism facing a good French squad where she went 10 for 10 for 26 points with 9 rebounds. What is keeping her from being higher on my draft board is questions about what position she is. If Kone can continue to improve her skills, a late first early second round pick might be a steal. But equally possible she tops out as an energy big who struggles to stick in the W.

  1. Emily Engstler 6’1” wing Louisville

I very nearly did not have Englster in my draft board at all because of concerns about what she will do on offense in the W. While her 3 point shooting was solid the last couple of years, her free throw shooting is a major worry. It is very unusual for  a good shooter to be a 63% free throw shooter and she was worse in prior years. She also would have a couple of really bad misses on open jump shots most games and I wonder about her form.She likely does not have the handle or speed to be making plays for herself, so she will need to provide value spotting up off ball. 

What did end up landing her on my draft board is her defensive feel is so high. If she can improve her shooting to be a positive off ball, she could be an excellent defender at either the 3 or the 4. Her combo of steals and blocks is excellent. She also gets steals generally without gambling way out of position, as her positional defense is also good. She may be a bit undersized at the 4, but she held her own quite well against the size of South Carolina.

  1. Elissa Cunane 6’5” big NC State

Watching Cunane it was easy to focus on what she asked to do, but was not necessarily WNBA level good at. Namely, no team who drafts her should expect to be getting a player who can post up other W centers and score efficiently in the post. However, she can do enough other things that she could still be a solid backup big at the W level. She has good size and has shown the ability to defend in the post against the best centers such as Aliyah Boston. Boston won the matchups, cause she’s the best player in college basketball, but Cunane did better in single coverage than most do. More of a good positional help defender, she would likely need to play drop defense. Not gonna be able to switch, most likely.

She also can likely shoot better and more than she was encouraged to in college. Amanda Zahui B., though a very different prospect than Cunane as a shot blocking extraordinaire, offers the outline how Cunane could be a useful backup big. Cunane is likely a better shooter than Zahui B., the defense will be the question.

  1. Jade Melbourne 5’9” guard Australia

Jade Melbourne has not had the hype of Shyla Heal, but Melbourne is another Australian guard worth a look at from WNBA teams. Melbourne is a fast, athletic off guard who could be a solid option off the bench for a W team, and possibly grow into more. She first impressed me as an 18 year old in last year’s WNBL when she willingly challenged Liz Cambage in the paint. Cambage got her once and Melbourne finished the other time, but it showed that she has a good mix of athleticism, skill and confidence.

The big question for her going forward is whether she can improve her 3 point shot. She only shot 28% from 3 this season, but the shot looked improved from prior years. If she can continue to improve on that, she is a good slasher and all around player. She did not look out of place athletically on the court against the likes of Jackie Young and Marina Mabrey and alongside her teammate Brittney Sykes. She’s not a Sykes level athlete, but very few are. 

Players most likely to make me look foolish:

Veronica Burton: Defensively she is excellent, but not sure being an amazing 2 position defender, given her shaky shooting and not especially quick first step on offense, is enough. But she could definitely prove me wrong. Jasmine Thomas is a model for that kind of guard.

Rae Burrell: If Burrell had been healthy all year, she very well may have ended up in the 7-9 range. It is where I had her in my first edition of this draft board. I just have too many questions about whether she is athletic enough to hang at the next level and what her shooting is. If it is closer to her junior year where she shot 40% from 3 and 80% from the line, then maybe I overreacted to an injury plagued senior year and should have used her full body of work to evaluate her.

WNBA Prospect Matchups in the Tournament to Watch

When scouting college players for their ability to play the next level, the trickiest part is projecting how they will do against players with similar talent levels. There just aren’t that many players good enough to play in the W. The NCAA tournament can be a perfect time to watch, for instance, two WNBA sized centers play each other and get a sense of their game. A 6’5” player dominating smaller opponents may be necessary for their chances at the next level, but it is not sufficient. Plenty of very good college bigs, as well as guards and wings, have not made it at the next level

With all that in mind, here are some of the best matchups to watch and root for in this year’s tournament. Not just seniors either. Rhyne Howard facing off with NaLyssa Smith would be fun, but there are WNBA prospects in other classes as well that can give a good test and we can start seeing who might be drafted in 2023 and beyond as well.

While I write here about second round and beyond potential games, this also serves as a what to watch for in the first round, since there are some upsets I will be rooting against and some I will be rooting for.

Oregon vs. Tennessee: Nyara Sabally vs. Tamari Key

Assuming both Oregon and Tennessee both win their first round matchups, this is a great center head to head matchup. Sabally has had an unfortunate injury luck with her knees, but she has the talent to be a top 10 pick if she comes out this year. Key can struggle with foul trouble, but she is a great test for other W prospects as a true 6’5” shot blocker who can move her feet ok. While Key is not likely a first round pick next year, she has W size to test Sabally, and could make teams want to follow her next year for the 2023 draft.

This game would also give a chance to see Rae Burrell against strong competition again. Burrell has not been the same player this year after being injured early on. A smooth athlete, can she recapture any of that, and be effective against an Oregon team with good size in the middle? How is her shooting? 34% from 3 is not bad, but down from her 40% last year. More promisingly, her free throw shooting is for a second year 80%.

Ole Miss vs. Baylor: Shakira Austin vs. NaLyssa Smith

If these two teams meet in the second round, Austin and Smith would likely not start the game matched up, but would likely end up matching up at times. Smith has shown herself to be the clear number 2 pick in this draft. Austin, for me, is definitely  top 5 pick, but whether she is third is still an open question. To show up against the Baylor front line would be a good sign. Can Austin generate offense for herself and teammates? That is a good test as to whether she is a franchise level center, or as is more likely, merely a good center who might be an average starter.

Centers are a more replaceable position outside of the very best, which is why i have leaned towards wings in that third position, but Austin might be good enough to be the choice there. We saw this last year with teams taking swings on athletic wings over centers in the first round.

NC State vs. Kansas St.: Elissa Cunane vs. Ayoka Lee

This would require Kansas St. beating a solid 8 seed in Washington St, but I am hopeful, as i would love to see this center matchup. The optimistic case for Cunane relies on her being able to hold up as a post defender, while using her face up skills at the next level. She is likely not strong, nor skilled enough to be a post player at the next level. But if she can use her shooting to force Kansas St. to adjust their defense and maybe bring Ayoka Lee out of the paint, that would show how she could be used in the W. And for Lee, this would be a test of her defense. Blocking shots near the basket when you are as big as she is is one thing, but defense, especially at the higher levels, is a lot more than that.

FGCU vs. Maryland: Kierstan Bell vs. Diamond Miller/Angel Reese

Questionable seeding from the NCAA committee has made the chances of seeing Bell and FGCU past the first round lower than it should be, but they have the talent to beat Virginia Tech. I will be rooting for it, because getting to see Kierstan Bell against two long athletes in Miller and Reese would be a perfect way to get to watch the potential top 5 pick in Bell. She has spent most of the past two years the biggest player on the court, but will have to transition to a hybrid 3/4 role at the next level. This would be a good way of seeing how that would look, at least on offense.

Virginia Tech is an interesting matchup for FGCU, but Bell may have to guard 6’6” Elizabeth Kitley. That is the kind of matchup an undersized mid-major is forced to deal with, but would not happen were Bell to find herself on the Indiana Fever. 

UConn vs. Sweet 16 and beyond: Evina Westbrook/Christyn Williams vs. the best

Westbrook is higher than her teammate Williams in plenty of draft boards and mock drafts, but I have them reversed myself. One reason is who has shown up in big games against the best opponents. Westbrook generally puts up better all around numbers, with more assists and rebounds than Williams, though this year Westbrook has slumped shooting from 3. But Westbrook’s best games tend to come in conference against over matched Big East opponents. 

For Westbrook to be a first round pick for me, I would like to see her have one of her strong 12 points/8 rebounds/ 8 assist games against an elite opponent and make herself actually felt. As a contrast, Williams has done that. Against Baylor last year Williams scored 21 points, got herself to the line for 6 free throws and contributed to UConn’s win. Westbrook wasn’t bad per se, including shooting 3-5 from 3, but was not able to contribute when UConn needed to the degree either Williams or Paige Bueckers as a freshman did.

2022 WNBA Draft Board 1.0

With a healthy number of conference games having been played, here is a snapshot of my draft board. As a reminder, I look at the top 10, as 10 is roughly how many players in any given W draft are likely to meaningfully contribute. The top 2 will not change their order on my board. The next two will almost certainly stay in the top 10, but may not stay 3 and 4. This draft will really get going once that third pick comes up with the Atlanta Dream.

  1. Rhyne Howard Wing 6’2” Kentucky

    Howard has by far the highest floor of any player in this draft. A 6’2” good athlete who before this year has shot in the highs 30s from 3 is going to find a place in the W. Every team could use a player like that. Her shot has been a bit down this year, but the body of work is such I bet her percentages will come up. Not to mention she will likely not be taking as many difficult double teamed pull up 2s in the more open W game. Especially since she will likely not end up on the Indiana Fever. 

    The reason some people have NaLyssa Smith over Howard is because of questions about if Howard can ever be the primary driver of offense on a good team. I think the chances are she becomes that are lower than other #1 picks. This year’s draft is not as strong at the top as the next two. But I think she can at least be the number 2 on offense. If all goes well, a 6’2” Jewell Loyd would be quite a player to get. 

Concerns about her motor and attitude are overblown to me. Much of the time when she does not have the ball it is because Kentucky is trying to leverage the attention she gets to open opportunities for others. Howard going 1 on 3 and demanding the ball might look better, but inefficient chucking is not going to help Howard drag her over matched team to wins in a tough conference. Her steal and block rate are the highest of her career. She is defensive rebounding as well as ever. Her value off ball should be a point in her favor, not a demerit.

  1. NaLyssa Smith Big 6’4” Baylor

    The very best outcome for Smith as a pro could absolutely be better than Howard. Smith has another gear athletically even compared to many players in the W. The flashes of a perimeter game are there, which could make her a matchup nightmare. A very optimistic comparison might be a taller, more explosive Napheesa Collier. However, the chance that she settles in as an energy big off the bench a la Monique Billings at the next level is why I have her second. While she shows more perimeter flashes than Billings did as a senior, they are not consistent enough to project with confidence forward. 33% from 3 is decent, but only on 1 attempt per game. 

    While it came with foul trouble risks, the fact that she was able to do a decent job guarding Ayoka Lee of Kansas State is a good sign. If Lee left this year she might be a top 5 pick in this year’s draft as a 6’6” strong low post scorer. If Smith can play at least some minutes at the 5, her speed and athleticism become even more valuable, and her lack of shooting less limiting.

  1. Ashley Joens Wing 6’ Iowa State

    Joens has two key things going for her as a player at the next level. Good size, decent athleticism makes it hopeful she can play on the wing, though she does play in the post a fair amount for Iowa St. She is also a decent 3 point shooter, at mid-30s for her career, on over 7 attempts per game as a senior.

    Reasons this may end up too high for Joens are that she may struggle to finish inside the 3 point line, as she relies on being bigger and stronger than her opponents. These advantages will not be there at the next level. Then again, it is easier to see how she can move to the outside than many other undersized fours. She plays in the paint because of the roster construction at Iowa St, but she shows the ability to do the things expected of a 3 at a reasonable level. While unlikely to be a defensive stopper, she does not seem overmatched at that end either.

  1. Kierstan Bell Wing 6’1” FGCU

If Bell had played more games against W level talent while at FGCU she could be third on this list without a doubt. Players with her combination of size and skill are the most valuable type of player in the pros. She does everything, with good rebounding, block, steal, scoring and assist rates. High turnover rate, but paradoxically that can be good if the player is otherwise effective as it can be cleaned up. Best case scenario might be Myisha Hines-Allen with better defense.

The major question surrounding scouting Bell is the weakness of her opposition. If she was consistently facing W size and length, how far would her excellent 2 point shooting drop from 65%, as she is shooting now? Her willingness to shoot from 3 is a positive, though it would be nice if a few more of them went in as she is under 30% on the year and low 30s for her college career.

Unfortunately for Bell and anyone hoping to watch her play against better competition, she hurt her knee and is out for a while, if not the whole rest of the year. Hopefully she is able to return for the NCAA tournament, her team makes it, and she gets a good matchup. Bell is the player on this list I have seen the least in the types of matchups I like, against other players who at least have a chance to play professionally, if not in the W.

  1. Shakira Austin Big 6’5” Ole Miss

    Austin looks the part of an excellent defensive prospect at either front court position. She has a good steal and block rate and she moves her feet well when switched onto guards. Her Ole Miss team thrives on defense with her as the anchor. During last year’s draft I overestimated the importance of such defensive ability to W teams with Natasha Mack, so it is possible I am doing the same this year.

    The difference between Mack and Austin is that it is easier to see how Austin can contribute on the offensive end. She can handle and face up in a way that Mack was not comfortable doing. Austin’s shooting numbers are not great, but her shot looks decent and may improve with time. For all her Ole Miss team helps her look good defensively, they struggle on offense and so Austin is often playing with zero spacing around her. Frankly, an only somewhat negative assist to turnover ratio in this case is impressive.

  1. Rae Burrell Wing 6’ Tennessee

    What is Burrell’s actual shooting ability? That is the big open question in regards to her prospects in the W. If she is closer to who she was as a junior, who shot 40% from 3 and 82% from the line, she deserves to be considered for a top 10 pick. If she is more like she was before that, 30% from 3 and 60% from the free throw line, she does not. Injuries have hampered her senior year and so far she is splitting the difference between those two shooting levels, shooting well from 3, 38%, but poorly from the free throw line 66%. 

Defensively Burrell is merely solid, not exceptional. She is not going to stick because she is hounding the opponent’s best perimeter player. A negative assist to turnover ratio is also not great, though not the killer it would be  for a guard. She is a player who is capable in every area, but if she turns out not to be a shooter, she very well may slide out of the top 10. She does benefit from the relative positional scarcity at wing vs. other positions.

  1. Destanni Henderson Guard 5’7” South Carolina

If I had finished writing this a month ago as I intended to, I would not have had Henderson in my top 10. My major concern with her is how effective she will be offensively at the next level. Dana Evans was much craftier at finishing in the paint and she really struggled in her rookie year getting anything to go in inside the arc. A solid floater would be a great addition for her.

    However, Henderson excels in so many other areas that she is at least a good candidate to be a backup point guard at the next level. Think of her as a lower ceiling pick than some I have after her, but more of a sure thing. She is a good passer, an excellent point guard defender, and a good 3 point shooter. Her speed will also serve her well as her W team will almost certainly have better spacing than her South Carolina teams.

  1. Jade Melbourne Guard 5’9” UC Capitals (Australia) 

    Last year, a young Australian guard was taken with the 8th pick in the draft and it did not go well during the season. However, the Shyla Heal experience is unlikely to repeat with Melbourne. The most notable difference is that Heal is a point guard, whereas Melbourne has spent her entire career as an off guard. The transition to the W is rough for any position, but is especially tough for point guards. And hopefully Melbourne will not be drafted by a team expecting her to immediately run the second unit.

Melbourne ideally will be who Chelsea Dungee was supposed to be when the Wings drafted her at 5. A good scoring off guard with athleticism. Especially promising for Melbourne is that her three point shot is starting to come around this year in the WNBL, as she pairs with Brittney Sykes. At only 20, Melbourne will be a bit of a longer term project. A good option for a team that is already good, but wants to keep one eye on the future like the Minnesota Lynx or Seattle Storm.

  1. Christyn Williams Guard 5’11” UConn

Williams has had a tough senior year, including covid issues. She is back playing, a hopefully good sign. But the athleticism and talent is undeniable and might get her drafted in the first round regardless of how she plays. A strong, powerful guard, she has shot over 50% from 2 for her career, an impressive feat for a (generously listed) 5’11” 2 guard. 

    Williams is an interesting case of being pretty good at the ancillary skills that separate prospects. Decent three point shooter, but not particularly good. Positive assist to turnover ratio, but barely. In her favor, she is not like Evina Westbrook, who tends to dominate the lesser competition UConn plays in conference and but not show up to the same degree against tougher opponents. 

    By the end of the first round, a bet on pedigree might be worth it. And while this is*not* a mock draft, another UConn player to Seattle would be fitting. 

  1. Nia Clouden Guard 5’8” Michigan St.

How real is a jump in shooting that happens in a player’s senior year? That is an important question for Clouden. She is shooting 41% as a senior from 3, after shooting 27% her sophomore year and 32 last year. The rise in free throw shooting is a good sign, as those going up in tandem can reflect real improvement. Clouden is a shifty and fast scoring guard. While she may not be the perfect lead guard, she has the size and athleticism to play off ball in the right matchups, so does offer some versatility off the bench.

Quick Notes on players who could be in the top 10 by my next update in no particular order:

Nyara Sabally: Just based on talent and production when healthy, Sabally would likely be the second big on this list for me after NaLyssa Smith. Unfortunately, she has dealt with knee injuries and has only recently been playing this year. If teams are confident in her health she could absolutely be a first round talent.

Veronica Burton: Superficially Burton looks good, with an ok three point shot, good assist numbers, and one of the best defenders in college. I still have questions about what she will do on offense at the next level, but she is #1 in players I need to watch more of this year.

Elissa Cunane: It’s possible I am missing on Cunane because I have seen her struggle in high profile matchups where it is unfair to expect her to dominate. I definitely think she has W potential, I’m just not sure she has the upside I’d hope for in a top 10 pick.  

Naz Hillmon: A’ja Wilson/ Ben Simmons-like with the early 3 point attempts and then not attempting them again. Alas, unlike Wilson or Simmons, Hillmon is not especially long nor effective defensively for her position. Hillmon is a good college player. I do not see it at the next level.

Players to Watch for the 2022 WNBA Draft

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.

  1. 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. 

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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. 

  1. 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%. 

What do the Aces do now?

Bill Laimbeer has won championships as a coach. But is has been 13 years since the Detroit Shock won their last championship. The Aces have not performed as well in the playoffs as their regular season record and net rating would indicate recently. Laimbeer has his work cut out for him. As a coach with a particular style who does not always make adjustments quickly, I have my doubts about his ability to lead the Aces back from down 2-1.

Basically nothing went well in game 3. Liz Cambage was the only player to be even somewhat efficient on offense and her one on one defense was ok Unfortunately for the Aces Cambage was outplayed by Griner and she is coming back from Covid-19 and can’t play heavy minutes. The rest of the team was a mess.

Going forward, the main question Laimbeer has to answer is what is the Aces are doing at the 3 and the 4. I mentioned Cambage playing ok at center. At guard, Riquna Williams, Chelsea Gray, and Kelsey Plum combined to go 7 for 26 overall, including 1 for 10 from 3. Not good. However, the Aces can hope on better shooting from those 3 without dramatic adjustments. What is happening with their small forwards and power forwards is another question.

The first thing to note is that the Aces really only have one player who fits the bill in what a modern 4 is expected to be able to do and that is Dearica Hamby. A’ja Wilson is one of the best players in the league, but she is a center on offense at this point in her career. She does not shoot 3s, nor is she a Griner level shooter from the midrange. Wilson has the skill and smarts to succeed against most teams at the 4, but here we are seeing the limits of that approach.

At the three, the team has gone with Jackie Young this year since Angel McCoughtry got hurt. Young had a good regular season, but this is looking like it will be the second straight post season where her inability and unwillingness to shoot from 3 might force Laimbeer to cut her minutes. She has had moments in transition, but in the half court the Aces need more than the occasional low percentage midrange 2. Especially if the Mercury are going to hide Diana Tauriasi on her.

Playing A’ja and Liz together is necessary given the construction of the Aces. So those minutes at the 4 are spoken for. And while Cambage is by no means a stretch 5, she is willing to spend some time on the perimeter and she requires attention so the fit can be managed between Wilson and Cambage. Well, at least for this series. The Aces have some decisions to make going forward. But that is for another day. The question becomes what happens with all other minutes at both the 3 and the 4. I am going to take them each separately.

At the 3:

Chelsea Gray should be the Aces starting small forward with Kelsey Plum moved into the starting lineup. While Gray isn’t likely to light up the Mercury from 3, she is at least somewhat respected out there. She is also more capable as a passer and can keep plays moving when the ball is swung to her. 

Gray struggled in Game 3 and has really only played well in Game 1, the third playoffs in a row she has underwhelmed. Still, she is a better option than Jackie Young. And with Plum able to take the primary play making and offensive creation, Gray should be better off as a secondary creator.

The other benefit to this move is that Kelsey Plum is the one Aces guard who can puncture the Mercury defense. Finishing at the rim against Griner is not going to be easy, but if other adjustments can bring Griner a few steps out onto the floor, Plum has the speed to get by Griner. Plum is also a good 3 point shooter and will be guarded off ball. With Riqna Williams and Plum playing, the Aces will approach actual spacing on the court.

Playing Williams, Gray and Plum also gives Diana Taurasi nowhere comfortable to hide out on defense. Whichever player she is guarding should be attacking her. Running off of screens if it is Williams, pick and roll or one on one attack if it is Plum or Gray.

If Gray is moved to the three, the Aces will have to work with her and Williams to clean up their off ball help. If you are going to double Griner with Brianna Turner’s defender, whoever is guarding Kia Nurse has to be ready to crash down. Nurse might beat you with 3s, as she shot 35% from 3 this year, but you have to give something up to the Mercury. Better Nurse 3s than Turner layups.

This play below shows how the Aces were likely trying to guard the Mercury. Too often when it was Brianna Turner in the game she found space for open layups. Jackie Young is abandoning a decent in 3 point shooter in Sophie Cunningham, but that is better than giving up a Kia Vaughn or Brianna Turner layup. Gray may not be quite as big nor as athletic as Young, but she can still play this role.

At the 4:

A’ja Wilson should be spending as much time at the 5 as possible. Kiah Stokes offers so little on offense and if the Aces plan on doubling Griner every possession anyways, what purpose is there for Stokes to be playing at the 5 over Wilson? Have A’ja guard Griner and Hamby next to her run to double. Laimbeer went the opposite with Hamby on Griner, but as hard as Hamby works that is quite the ask. This would also mean less time for Hamby at the 3. The three bigs lineup is too creaky with shooting to work against the Mercury.

Hamby is a good help defender and she can figure out where to be next as the Aces rotate better than the other options for the Aces. The limiting factor here is Hamby’s health. But if she is good to play 30+ minutes, she should at the 4. This was maybe the best defensive play of the game for the Aces with Hamby smartly timing her double on Griner and Chelsea Gray crashing down on Turner.

Wilson guarding Griner might lead to Wilson foul trouble, but that is a risk that is worth taking. Better than losing by 20. And then on offense, when Hamby is in the game, she should be spotting up at the 3 point line as much as she can if she is not actively involved in a play. Like this serves nothing. Why is she there? Also note how far away the Mercury defenders are from Young. Cunningham is hiding behind A’ja Wilson and forces Young into a tough long 2.

Anything the Aces can do to get Griner away from the paint they should be trying. Griner is willing to move her feet on the perimeter. She is nimble for a 6’9” player, but obviously she is less effective out there than she is camped in the paint using her wingspan to erase shots. This positioning from Stokes is not going to get it done.

Bill Laimbeer has had success in the regular season swimming against the 3 point shooting trend of modern basketball. But in the playoffs when the margins are thinner and teams scout better, adjustments must be made. Time to see what the Aces can do to stave off elimination.

Game 3 Adjustments for the Chicago Sky

A tied series entering game 3 is often the best game in a best of 5 series. Game 5s are great, but winning game 3 is such an advantage for the winning team. This is the first game that both teams have a real chance to adjust as well and pick at what they do well and other team struggles to do.

Going into game 3, the Sky are the team who will have to show they can beat the Sun. The Sky won game 1 in a double OT game, which can be chalked up to luck as either team could have won that game. Game 2 on the other hand was a more convincing win by the #1 seed Sun as they ran away with the game in the fourth quarter to win by 11. And it was a 15 point lead when garbage time began. 

Before getting into the adjustments the Sky can control, the main adjustment for the Sky to make will be to get some better shooting luck. In a make or miss sport like basketball, shooting luck decides quite a bit. In game 1 the Sky shot 36% from 3, a tick above their regular season mark of 34%. In Game 2, however, the Sky fell to 27% from 3. Allie Quigley went 1 for 5 and Courtney Vandersloot missed both her 3 point attempts. Pair this with the Sun hitting an unsustainable number of long 2s and the Sky faced an uphill battle.  Should either of those, and possibly both, of those factors normalize, the Sky should be in better shape. But here are two other ideas.

Tighten Rotations:

The Sky should consider relying less on their bench and tightening the rotation. James Wade has already begun the process, as Ruthy Hebard has only seen the court in garbage time. Next step will be to decide if Astou Ndour is really offering enough to play her over extending Stefanie Dolson and Azurá Stevens. While Ndour had good moments in game 1, I would like to see Wade rely on his best players over the course of the season instead of trying to guess which non-Candace Parker big has it going in the moment. 

Dana Evans may have reached the limits of her ability to contribute. I am still bullish on her future as a W player, but playing a rookie pg against Jasmine Thomas and Briann January in the playoffs is asking a lot. Wade should consider if he can stagger his minutes to play Lexie Brown with Candace Parker and have Parker initiate the offense. Lexie Brown is not a point guard but she can shoot off ball, at least in theory, though the results have not been there this season in a small number of attempts. She is definitely a much better defender than Evans.

Curt Miller has no trouble cutting his rotation as much as he can which Wade will need to match. Alyssa Thomas may not be able to play a full 40 minutes, and because of the rise of Brionna Jones she would not have to even if she could, but it is unlikely we see more than token minutes for Sun bench players except for Natisha Hiedeman and AT.

Pick and Roll coverage: More Drop Coverage

It is possible that the Sky can execute their coverage better that they have used most of the season, rather than changing it entirely. Just because something is not working does not mean a coach needs to change it. Better execution is possible. But in this case, I don’t think the coverage makes sense given the Sun’s strengths and weaknesses on offense.

The Sky were doing two things when defending the Sun in pick and roll defense worth reconsidering. They were fighting over the top of picks and bringing the big up to the ball handler and doubling the ball. Neither makes much sense to me given who the Sun have as ball handlers.

Fighting over picks when the other team has good 3 point shooters, particularly off the dribble, is necessary. The Aces are not going to start going under on Diana Taurasi pick and rolls, as they and anyone who has ever watched the Mercury know how poorly that can go. Even with going over on picks and sending the big to help, DT can still drop 37 on 13 shots. The Sun, on the other hand, do not have that kind of dangerous 3 point shooting, particularly off the bounce. 

DeWanna Bonner is unafraid to let it fly off the dribble, but she has shot below 30% from 3 for her career and worse on off the dribble 3s. Jasmine Thomas is a fine shooter with her feet set, but off the dribble she is not going to hurt you. Briann January is the best 3 point shooter of the bunch at 38% for her career, but on low volume. If the Sky go under on her January might hit a couple of 3s, but that is a trade off worth making to keep the Sun guards in front of the Sky defenders.

The other aspect is how the Sky can keep out of rotations against the Sun bigs. Alyssa Thomas in particular is at her best in the half court when she has a 4 on 3 advantage and can attack in space. This play is a good example. Candace actually stays further back than the Sky did for most of the game, but still ends up doubling January and eventually gives up a layup to Jonquel Jones.

Alyssa Thomas was effective at mixing up when she set a screen and when she slipped them. Slipping a screen is when the screen setter cuts to the basket without actually screening anyone. This pass after AT slipped the screen leads to a turnover, but if the pass connects, Alyssa Thoma has a wide open lane to the basket and multiple options to pass as the Sky rotate.

The Sky should consider at least mixing in some drop defense in the pick and roll. Here is an example of the kind of drop defense I mean. Even against Allie Quigley, the Aces have Kiah Stokes stay in the paint. Enjoy the quick yellow line showing just how far off Stokes is.

To be fair to James Wade, there are reasons he does not use drop defense like this. The Sky have bigs who can defend, but none are exactly the traditional rim protector who blocks shots like a Kiah Stokes. Parker is good at using verticality and her size at the rim, but it is possible she prefers this more active style of defense as well.

Drop defense like this is also not ideal against the best guards. It can give a dangerous attacking point guard a runway to beat even good rim protectors like Stokes at the basket. Skylar Diggins-Smith is particularly adept at this. The other is even with the defender fighting over the screen, it can allow for far too much space for good shooters. The Aces do not play this way against Diana Taurasi, needless to say.

However, the Sun do not really have a guard who is particularly adept at either attacking size at the rim or shooting 3s off the dribble. Certainly not to the degree they do bigs who thrive playing against rotations. Keeping the Sky bigs nearer to the paint and doing their best to defend pick and rolls with only 2 defenders will help. The Sky will have to watch for Jonquel Jones popping out to the three point line but that is not a concern with any of the other Sun bigs. 

At best the Sky should probably mix up their pick and roll defenses. The Sun found a comfort against the Sky’s defense that paired with the Sun’s defense is going to be hard for the Sky to overcome. Sky have work to do. This is when series are at their best in basketball. Adjustments come and the stakes only go up.

2021 WNBA Season Awards

The end of the 2021 season is upon us and that means awards for the 2021 season. I did not do every award possible, just a selection I thought worth noting. MVP, DPOY, ROY, MIP, and the All-WNBA teams. 


Jonquel Jones

One of two easy choices along with rookie of the year. Jonquel Jones started the year on fire from 3 and made her case as MVP front runner early. Her 3 point shooting did not stay at 50% but 37% on healthy volume from your 6’6” big is still incredible. Jonquel is also the best defender among the MVP candidates. Jonquel replaced an All-Star and top 15 player in Alyssa Thomas and helped drive the Sun to new heights and favorites for the championship. There is basically nothing at the 4 or the 5 that Jonquel can’t do.  One incredible stat to sum up her year is that from 2019 to 2021 her usage jumped from 22% to 27% and yet she set a career high in TS% this season.

Defensive Player of the Year

Jonquel Jones

Since bigs tend to have a larger impact on team defense I tend to think this award should go to a big over a wing. So apologies to Brittney Sykes who had a great year, but this came down to Sylvia Fowles, Jonquel Jones, or A’ja Wilson. Fowles was great near the basket and remained among the best centers at defending the pick and roll. Jones gets the edge for her versatility. Her ability to shift between functioning as the 4 or the 5 in different lineups was elite, though Wilson could also do that.

What set Jones apart from Wilson was just how great the Sun were as a defensive team. The gap in defensive rating between the Sun and the 2nd place Aces was the same as the gap between the Aces and the Mercury in 7th. Of course Jones was surrounded by strong defenders, but this Sun team had the same good defenders last season just with Alyssa Thomas and not Jones. The Sun in 2020 had a defensive rating of 99.5 and in 2021 91.7. I’m not saying Jones is that much better a defender than Thomas, confounding factors like most of a year of Briann January this year contributed, but Jones is deserving of the DPOY.

Rookie of the Year

Michaela Onyenwere

Onyenwere averaged the most minutes per game at 22.5 of any rookie. On a per minute basis her numbers were not that much better than Aari McDonald, but Onyenwere’s ability to be an ok starter as a rookie sets her apart. She came off the bench at the end of the season, but still contributed. Her main statistical advantage over McDonald was her true shooting, where she was at 54% and McDonald was at 50%. McDonald did have a higher usage rate, which tends to hurt efficiency, but Onyenwere still gets the edge for me.

Most Improved Player

Jonquel Jones

So if I had an actual vote I’d strongly consider Kelsey Plum. Plum was not nearly this good last we saw her play in 2019 and managed to play this well after coming off a serious injury. Marina Mabrey and Brionna Jones are hurt by the vagaries of this award, as in my view both of them were quite good in 2020. Jonquel Jones, on the other and, made a real leap. Differences at the highest heights of basketball are magnified as they are often the difference between a good team and a favorite for a championship. In 2019 Jones was one all-star among a strong squad that pushed the Mystics to 5 games. This year, on another good team, Jones was the undisputed star of the team. Her ability to generate more offense for herself. As stated in her MVP case, her usage jumped from 22% to 27% and yet she set a career high in TS%.

6th Women of the Year

Natisha Hiedeman

Kelsey Plum would likely be my choice if I had an actual vote, but I resent this award going to Bill Laimbeer players because he refuses to start his best players for no apparent reason. Laimbeer is a good coach, but this tendency irrationally irks me. 

I also get to highlight how good Natisha Hiedeman was. She was the best offensive guard for the Sun and a key part of them surviving when either Briann January or Jasmine Thomas were out. Hiedeman shot 40% from 3 on 7.2 attempts per 36 minutes. 40% from 2 was not great, but good enough. She showed she could run the Sun offense with a more than 2 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. As we move towards the playoffs it will be interesting to see if Curt Miller will turn to more Hiedeman instead of January if the Sun struggle to score. Hiedeman has been good enough to make it worth at least considering.

Brittney Griner

First team All-WNBA

Jonquel Jones

Breanna Stewart

Jewell Loyd

Skylar Diggins-Smith

Second team All-WNBA

Sylvia Fowles

Tina Charles

A’ja Wilson

Kayla McBride

Courtney Vandersloot

Quick thoughts on All-WNBA teams:

Sylvia Fowles vs. Brittney Griner was a coin flip for me. I think Griner was just a bit more responsible for her team’s success and as the best offensive center in basketball she did enough to earn the spot. Fowles requires her teammates to get her the ball closer to the basket and is a bit more dependent on the team around her than Griner. Then again, even in a year where Griner looked better defensively, Fowles is better. Tough choices. If I had an actual vote and the positions rules were strict I might have had trouble since sneaking Wilson in as a small forward is definitely cheating, but whatever. She was clearly deserving of a spot.

The hardest choice was for the non-Courtney Vandersloot guard spot on second team. I considered players who spent a lot of time at the 3 like Kaleah Copper. If Copper had been closer to the 35% from 3 of 2020 she likely would have gotten it, but 30% was not good enough. Originally I had Arike Ogunbowale, but her lack of defense and relatively poor efficiency, 51% true shooting, made me reconsider. Jasmine Thomas was as great on defense as normal, but other than hitting the spot up 3s did not do enough on offense. Ariel Atkins defended and shot well and showed some growth as an on ball shot creator, but did not get to the rim much and had an even assist to turnover ratio as she did not make plays for others at the rate of others contending for this spot.

In the end, the efficiency of Kayla McBride paired with her decent defense got the spot for me. McBride did benefit from having the lowest usage rate of the players considered, but even then she had a pretty good assist rate. The ability to be as effective off ball as she was is a skill in its own right as she played next to Layshia Clarendon and Aerial Powers, two guards better with the ball in their hands. 

Checking in on the 2021 WNBA Draft Class

This year’s rookie class has not made much of an impression yet on the WNBA. This was expected before the draft and has so far proven out. This is no grand statement on the overall state of young talent in basketball, just a quirk of birthdays. The best players in the class of 2021 could and did leave as juniors, Satou Sabally and Chennedy Carter. The best players in the class of 2022, NaLyssa Smith and Rhyne Howard, were not old enough to leave early. While the W should lower the age for players to join the W, there would still be drafts of differing quality.

Still there will be some players from this class who contribute in the W. Below I look at the players who have actually played and thus have given us a read on their games. I tend to think without strong evidence otherwise a player who has not earned playing time is simply not good enough to do so. More often than not as an outside observer trusting coaches whose livelihood is on the line makes sense. Questioning judgements on the margins is where the fun is but a player who never plays is generally not playing for good reasons.

Players can and do develop while not getting playing time, of course. Myisha Hines-Allen is a good example of a player who developed on the bench and overseas and turned out to be quite good, so there is hope for the rookies who have not played yet. More for the ones who are stuck behind good players as MHA was, than those like Kysre Gondrezick who can’t crack a rotation on a team going nowhere. To be fair maybe Gondrezick would have played had she not disappeared from the Fever after the Olympic break, but who knows.

Then some accountability at the end on a couple of players I was too high on in my draft board to see what can be learned for future drafts. All stats per Basketball Reference.

Michaela Onyenwere

The 6th pick and favorite for rookie of the year, she is the only rookie to get significant playing time throughout the entire season, even as she did not start the Liberty’s most recent game. My concerns going into the season were she was stuck between the 3 and 4, without the size to be a 4 nor the shooting or passing to play the 3. After a hot start from 3, her percentages have fallen, but she has been able to remain fairly productive on offense.

She is at 32% from 3 on 3.6 attempts per game, so not terrible and definitely promising given she hardly shot at all in college. Getting it up to 35% is definitely a possibility. Rounding out the rest of per perimeter skills is the next step. For example, she has nearly twice as many turnovers as assists

Defense has been a struggle at the 4 and even with the inevitable defensive improvements that young players make it is unlikely she will be a plus on that end at the 4, given her lack of height and length. Even with her explosive athleticism, she gets relatively few steals and blocks. But she is not a disaster either on defense. If she can improve her perimeter skills to play some 3 that would help her on defense as well. All in all, a promising rookie year and if we were to do a redraft she undoubtedly would go higher than 6, maybe as high as 2 or 3. 

Aari McDonald:

McDonald has had a solid rookie year at point guard, the hardest position on offense to learn in the pros. Her defense has been as advertised as a point guard defender. Something to watch will be if she can use her strength and speed to guard bigger guards. Her ability to guard point guards is valuable, but if she is only a one position defender, the impact will be somewhat limited. Being able to guard shooting guards will be especially helpful if she is next to Chennedy Carter, who has the tools to be a decent defender but has not been particularly good at that end yet.

On offense the story has been a lot more uneven for McDonald. 33% from 3 on 3 attempts per game is fine, if not the kind of shooting we saw in the NCAA tournament. Concerns that she was drafted high off a small stretch of hot shooting were not unwarranted, but so far her shooting from 3 has been good enough, if not to the level it was in that tournament run.  An assist turnover ratio of nearly 2 to 1 is good as well.

Where McDonald has lots of work to do is her ability to finish inside the arc. Having a 2 point percentage, 32%, that is lower than your 3 point percentage is not good. Her lack of touch on floaters and runners coming out of Arizona concerned me and has been an issue. To be a starter in the W, she will need to be able to figure out how to finish against W size and length. Kelsey Plum should be the role model. Plum was a more accomplished scorer coming into the W, but she also had to work to improve her finishes and McDonald can absolutely do the same.

The folks who had Aari McDonald as the better prospect than Dana Evans, like the Dream, are looking good. A lot of the Dream season has not gone to plan, but McDonald as the third pick has looked perfectly reasonable. Evans has been ok and I will get to her later, but McDonald has been better.

Charli Collier

Nothing that we have seen from Collier has convinced me that I was wrong to be skeptical of her as the number 1 pick in this draft. She can still be a solid W player in time. I had her fifth on my board so it is not like I expected her to be out of the league quickly. While I mentioned that rookies getting playing time correlates to their quality often, Collier is the exception. She seemed to get a lot of playing time as the #1 pick, even if the team was better with Bella Alarie, Izzy Harrison, and even Awak Kuier instead.

Her shooting on offense was always more theoretical than actual and so far has remained so. She has yet to take a 3 in the W and her ability to occasionally hit a midrange 2 is not going to make up for her middling finishing in the paint. She still has time to adjust to the size in the W, but Sylvia Fowles she likely is not in the paint. More likely to be Elizabeth Williams level around the rim.

However, unlike Elizabeth Williams, Collier has not been able to make much of an impact defensively. Defense, particularly defending in space, is the hardest thing for young bigs to learn and Collier will improve. But she is so out of position as a help defender and lacks the lateral speed to make up for it that the odds of her anchoring a top 4 defense seem long.

To get back to offense, passing for a center is not the most important skill, however for a number one pick with hopes of stardom, it does matter. Her lack of passing in college has improved minutely in the pros, but is still a concern. She has 6 assists on the season for a rate of .6 per 36 minutes. That is similar to the assist rates for both Williams and Fowles as rookies. Both of them made a real leap in their second year, so Collier’s passing will be something to watch in year 2.

Awak Kuier

Nothing I have seen has dissuaded me from the view from before the season that Awak’s ceiling is the highest of any of the players in this draft. Taken second by the Wings after her teammate Collier, Awak has earned more playing time than Collier as the season has gone on. While she is more flashes of potential than actual production at the moment, there are have been sufficient flashes to dream big going forward.

To compare her to her teammate Collier, Awak has more assists in half as many minutes. She has twice as many blocks and the same number of steals. She has struggled to score compared to Collier.

Her scoring has been an adventure, with atrocious shooting percentages from everywhere except the free throw line. The optimistic take is that her 3 point shot looks confident and finishing inside should come with added strength and experience. She has decent touch. She just needs to not be able to be knocked over by a strong breeze.

The biggest thing going for Awak is that she is still very young. She turned 20 a month ago. For perspective, she is 2 months older than Paige Bueckers and 3 months younger than Haley Jones. To already be able to play in the W with some success is a great sign for her going forward.

Revisiting my 2021 Draft Board:

Three players, Natasha Mack, Dana Evans, and Arella Guirantes, who I was high on went in the second round of the draft, so it is worth looking at how they have fared and what to takeaway from teams differing in their evaluations from me. I am basing this on what limited playing time these players have received and so understandably my perspective is inherently limited. But I still think it worth walking through.

Natasha Mack I had as the best center prospect in college. She went 16th to the Sky and is now out of the W after getting some looks from the Sky and the Lynx. She seems to have been hurt by one factor I discounted too much, her lack of offensive polish, and one factor I did not consider before the draft, the increased difficulty of non-star centers making teams. I wrote about the challenges of non-star centers earlier this season. I still think Mack has a chance to make it back into the league as she figures out how to turn her length and speed into consistent defensive impact, but she will also need some luck as her lack of offensive feel will make her fit tricky.

Dana Evans I had top 5 and she went 12th to the Wings. She was then traded to the Sky. While I was likely a bit too high on her, as stated before McDonald has shown herself to be the better prospect so far in the W, I was closer with her than either Mack or Guirantes. In many ways her rookie year has looked like McDonald’s, but with more extremes. Her 3 point shooting has been better than McDonald’s and a legitimate asset for the Sky at 41% on the season. She can actually dribble and pass in the W, no guarantee given some of the other choices the Sky have used as backup point guard. On the other hand she has struggled even more than McDonald inside the arc with a ghastly 23% from 2. Her shooting may cool off a bit from 3, but she has enough craft I think she can get that 2 point percentage to at least respectable for a backup.

Arella Guirantes’ draft position differed the most between my board and the draft itself as I had her as a top 5 pick and she ended up going to the Sparks with the 22nd pick. On the one hand she has not done that much with her time on the Sparks but the fact that as 22nd pick she is still on the Sparks and receiving playing time means she is doing something right. Stephanie Watts was selected 10th by the Sparks, then was cut by the Sky after a trade, and has not been heard from since. The issue for Guirantes in the W is her lack of athleticism. She struggles to create separation on offense and is vulnerable to being blown by on defense. I thought she had the skill, strength, and length to overcome that. Defensively she has not been a disaster, but offensively it has not worked so far. Shooting 27% from the field is not going to get it done. In particular looking to shoot 3s quicker and not stop the ball and let the defense recover would be one adjustment for her as she adapts from college star to W role player.