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%. 

2021 Final WNBA Draft Board

As before, for my draft board I focus on ten players I feel have the best chance of making a substantial contribution to the WNBA. Why 10? From 2007-2017, that is the average number of players from those draft classes who played at least 15 minutes per game for 3 seasons. For a team with a top 10 first round draft pick, it is a reasonable hope that they will reach that bar. 

This is a ranking of how good these players will be roughly in their age 25 season. This is particularly worth noting when comparing someone like Shyla Heal, who will not be 23 until 2024, and Aari McDonald, who will be 23 this year. 

I will use what I think the players’ most likely best outcome to put the players in tiers. My draft philosophy is that teams should draft first for talent, but if a team tiers a draft and there are similar options available, then taking fit into account makes sense. This is not a mock draft so team needs have no bearing on my order.

First Team All WNBA potential

  1. Awak Kuier F/C  6’4”  Virtus Eirene Raguse 

Since putting the Finnish Kuier as my #1 overall prospect in January, Kuier showed at the qualifications for Eurobasket why I, and to be clear lots of others for longer than me, have been high on her. Kuier has all the attributes necessary to potentially be a top 5 player in the WNBA. While that is not the most likely outcome, it is a testament to just how skilled she is. She can provide rim protection like a center, but has the foot speed to defend on the perimeter. She can shoot 3s and is a good passer for a young big. A bit wild shooting off the dribble, but shows flashes of potential there as well.

Her main issue right now is lack of strength and youth. While her playing so well at 19 is a great sign for the future, it does mean that she is less likely to step in right away and contribute than her peers who are anywhere from 3 to 4 years older. Her lack of strength will likely lead to foul trouble as will her youth. It also means that she will likely mostly play the 4. Eventually she should be able to at least play high leverage minutes at the 5 and provide a match up nightmare, but that will be unlikely as a rookie.

Defensive Player of the Year potential

  1. Natasha Mack 6’4″ Oklahoma State

Another player who played well to end the year and solidify her place in the top of the draft. Much was made of Mack’s shot blocking at over 4 a game. But if anything, her steal rate at 2 steals per game was even more impressive. Blocks are not a great measure of defensive ability, but her stock rate, steals + blocks, is outrageous. Here is her compared to Collier and the college numbers for a few other bigs in the W.

Offensively it will be an adjustment for her to have to shift from someone who can take as many shots as they want to someone who will be relied on to set solid screens and dive to the rim. But her speed and decent passing ability will be an asset as a roll player in the pick and roll. Think a better more explosive Elizabeth Williams as a possible outcome.

Starter on playoff team potential:

  1. Arella Guirantes G/F 5’11 Rutgers

Guirantes will benefit from being the second or third creator on a team. It is possible her strength and savvy will allow her to be a primary scoring option at the next level, but she will no longer have the same edge in strength she did against younger college opponents. She lacks the burst to really puncture defenses. Her pull up game is good, but she relied on it heavily in part because she struggled to make it all the way to the rim.

While not a primary wing scoring option, she has all the tools to be a 3 and d plus wing, someone who can knock down open 3s, run a functional pick and roll, and defend other wings. As a secondary creator who can guard tough opponents, she can be really good.

Solid regular season starter potential

  1. Dana Evans G 5’6” Louisville

A cold shooting stretch towards the end of the season brought Evans’ 3 point percentage down to 35% from the high 30s it had been. While a mild concern, her track record the prior two years, where she was at 39% and 43% is why I am optimistic about her shooting. She will also likely not be asked to take such difficult attempt as the main offensive threat in the W, which should help her shooting numbers. Her ability to get into the paint is also valuable and should translate to the W.

Evans is merely a good athlete, not a great one, so her shot does need to be good to have success. She competes defensively but is a bit on the small side, so another way in which her presence as a starter in the W will be dependent on her being able to score. 

  1. Charli Collier C 6’5” Texas

Every write up of Charli Collier after the NCAA tournament but before the upcoming draft has followed the same pattern. Acknowledged that Collier struggled when facing WNBA level talent in the front court, but pointing to how well she played when she was significantly bigger than her opponents. Now in Collier’s favor it was clear that while Vic Schaefer may have designed an offense effective enough to pull off a couple of upsets in the tournament, it was not designed to highlight Collier’s offensive game. 

On the flip side though, nothing I saw fully assuaged the concerns about her ability to be good enough on offense when facing WNBA level centers to make up for her defensive struggles, particularly defending in space. To recycle a line I used in this piece comparing Mack and Collier, using a #1 draft pick on a player with the distinct feel of Alaina Coates but who can occasionally hit a 3 and never ever passes, is a risky move. 

Solid backup/ spot starter potential

  1. Aari McDonald G 5’6” Arizona

Based on McDonald’s NCAA tournament performance, she looks like a top 3 pick in this draft. Someone who could start on a team competing deep into the playoffs. Shooting over 40% from 3 on a difficult diet of step back 3s, she could then use her explosiveness to get anywhere she wanted. However, WNBA teams ought to be wary of relying on how a player plays in a handful of games in March versus the entirety of their body of work. 

McDonald is not a 40+% shooter from 3. She is likely somewhere between the 34% from 3 shooter she ended the year and the 27% she shot her junior year. Her upside, if she can actually get her shot to go in enough to force teams to guard her at the 3 point line in the more wide open WNBA is so tantalizing a 6th pick is worth it. But downside risk exists that she tops out at a change of pace backup guard who can not score enough in the half court to be more. Her relative lack of touch on floaters and midrange shots is almost as concerning as her 3 point shooting. And at 5’6” her defense has utility, but she isn’t guarding 3 positions in the W.

  1. Renna Davis F 6’2” Tennessee

While Davis and McDonald are completely different players, they share the fact that their WNBA ceilings will be dictated by their 3 point shooting. Davis is tall and long enough to potentially play some small ball 5. She also has quick feet and can hold her own guarding quicker guards. She may not be big enough to battle the Liz Cambage, but will be able to guard almost any other player.

But her lack of shooting will make it hard to play her in a playoff setting. She does not yet have the ball handling or passing to make up for a lack of shooting the way Alyssa Thomas does.

  1. Shyla Heal G 5’6” Townsend Fire

Of the players in this draft, Kuier has faced the highest level of competition, going against Natasha Howard in a recent game. After her, the Australian Heal is probably next. For anyone curious in watching her play, her games with the Townsend Fire are available on the FIBA youtube channel and quite fun. Heal is a decent athlete who is a good passe and a confident shooter. She shot in the low 30s from 3, but I am confident that with time and better shot selection as she gains experience more of her shots will go in.

While comparing her to her fellow Aussie Leilani Mitchell is maybe too easy, it is also fairly accurate. If Heal can develop her shooting like Mitchell, she could be a starter in the W.

  1. Jasmine Walker F 6’2” Alabama

Walker’s WNBA future rests on two things. She is 6’’2” and shot 40% from 3 on 7 attempts from game even though the opponent knew she was going to shoot every time she got the ball. Bridget Carleton type contributor would be the best case, a low usage wing who can slot in and play off of more ball dominant players. Will need to focus on her defense, as she may struggle to defend quicker wings and guards.

  1. Kysre Gondrezick G 5’9” West Virginia

Gondrezick is the player I am most out on a limb on. Other people have her going in the third round. But solid shooting guards with well rounded games can be tough to find. She is the only one really available in this year’s draft. She is unlikely to be an Arike Ogunbowale ball dominant guard, but she can hit open shots and is a decent defender. Not exceptional in any one part of the game, but is solid in every area.

Quick thoughts on a few other players who have a shot at the top 10:

Michaela Onyenwere: The one player who was on my draft board in January but is now not. This is not because of how she played since then. It is more based on my growing more concerned about the limitations I mentioned at the time. She ended the season at 33% from 3, which is ok, but she still has work to do to show she can play the 3 full time at the next level.

Chelsea Dungee: A very effective college player at drawing fouls and shot well from 3, but I’m not convinced that she can do enough to make it. Nearly twice as many turnovers per game as assists, in a system at Arkansas designed for guards to put up gaudy numbers, is not good. 

Kiana Williams: Really struggles to get in the paint and while she competes hard on defense, is slight and will struggle against bigger guards and wings. In particular on offense, if her step back is not going in, she does not really have another move. And unlike other players on teams with no shooting, Stanford played with good spacing and so the paint was open, she just could not get there.

Draft Prospects to Watch in the 2021 NCAAW Tournament

With the upcoming tournament, it is a great time to watch some players who could be playing in the WNBA in the next few years. Rather than solely focus on players eligible for this year’s draft, I am going to take a slightly different tack and focus on two players from each class who it is worth watching. The relative strength of different draft classes plays a role in team building, as a first round pick in 2022 might be worth more than one in 2023 and so forth. 2021 is a weak draft, particularly with Satou Sabally and Chennedy Carter already in the W. But there are players in each class worth paying attention to. 

The goal is to focus on players who there are questions about and who do not get a lot of attention, so apologies to Rhyne Howard, Paige Bueckers, and Aliyah Boston, but I am trying to spread the attention around. Other than Evina Westbrook, who I know is eligible this year, I am including players in their draft class if they stay until their senior year. 

2021 Draft:

Jasmine Walker F Alabama

Walker was the last spot on my draft board and is the player most likely to fall out of the top 10. Her main skill that will get her drafted is her shooting. Shooting is only becoming more valuable in the WNBA and a player who takes over 7 threes a game and makes 40% of them has value. 

While I would not have traded the #1 pick for Katie Lou Samuelson, there’s a reason Seattle did it. Walker is a similar level shooter and better rebounder. If Alabama can beat UNC, a second round matchup with Maryland would be an excellent test of Walker’s all around game. Alabama would also need her to shoot until her arms fell off to keep up with Maryland’s high powered offense.

Evina Westbrook G UConn

Westbrook is only a junior, but she is draft eligible this year, so I am going to include her here. Westbrook on the right night looks like a surefire WNBA prospect. While she has slipped to 31% from 3, she has shot better in prior years and has a well rounded game, with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals per game.

The issue for her has been showing up in the biggest games against the best talent. For UConn to win the championship they will likely need at least one other player to show up on the offensive end and be able to score against a set defense. Paige Bueckers is unable to do it all herself. Westbrook in theory has the size and skill, but has not shown it this year. 

A good tournament could vault her into the first round, and with a much stronger class coming out next year, it would make sense for her to at least consider leaving, like Megan Walker did last year.

2022 Draft

NaLyssa Smith  F Baylor

There is no question if Smith is a WNBA level talent. The question becomes where she fits in the first round. As high as 2, right after Rhyne Howard? Or more towards the middle? Going for Smith is she may be the most explosive athlete in all of college basketball, with a developing skill level to match. The player she is today is very good, but it’s who she might be in three or four years that would get her drafted second overall.

The flip side of so much potential is that it is unclear what her position will be in the WNBA. A 6’2” forward who does not shoot 3s, at least not yet, who does not playmake for others, nor blocks many shots, might be a tricky fit at the next level. Keeping an eye on how she matches up when/if she goes against players who can at least almost match her in size and athleticism will be instructive. As would any hints at developing shooting range, even if only from long 2. 81% from the free throw line as a junior is a very good sign.

Rae Burrell G Tennessee

While Rennia Davis will get the attention as a likely first round pick in this draft from Tennessee, Burrell also deserves attention as a potential WNBA player. The big part of her game that she could improve on, and Tennessee could use from her, is her playmaking. She has a good handle, and looks like she knows what to do, but a negative assist to turnover ratio is not a good sign. 

Her shooting, on the other hand, is a good sign. She has improved from every area of the floor each year at Tennessee, and assuming that is real, should be able to give her a chance to make the end of the first round in next year’s draft. Wings who defend and shoot 3s are among the hardest position to come by in the W. 

2023 Draft

Kierstan Bell G 

Probably the player I am most excited to watch. FGCU’s matchup with Michigan will be the first time Bell has played a Power 5 team this year.  She is someone who overwhelms mid-major opponents with her size and athleticism. How will she match up with a team with much better size? A 35% shooter from 3, she is clearly more than just size and athleticism, but this will be a good test to see where she should be considered going forward.

Charisma Osborne

While Michaela Onyenwere has been the engine of UCLA this season, Osborne is clearly the team’s second best player. At 5’9” she is borderline between the one and the two. There is a good chance she ends up the best of both worlds, someone who can run point when needed, but also shoots well enough from 3 to play off ball. 36% from 2 is concerning, so her finishing in the paint will be something to watch.

2024 Draft

Cameron Brink C Stanford

A thought experiment I like to consider is where would various players be drafted if every player in college basketball could be drafted. For Brink, the question is other than Aliyah Boston, how many other centers in college basketball would you definitely take over Brink? It took her less than half the season to beat out Fran Belibi for the starting center spot, no small feat.

Brink can shoot 3s, pass from the high post, defend down low, and move her feet on the perimeter. Her major weaknesses are the most fixable for young bigs, a lack of strength and sky foul rate. The lack of strength partially explains the foul rate. Stanford has good centers behind Brink in both Belibi and Ashton Prechtel, but for Stanford to in the championship, they will need Brink to bring her best.

Diamond Johnson PG Rutgers

Two other freshman point guards who are knock down shooters get all the attention, but Johnson at 45% from 3 on 6 attempts per game is a heck of a shooter already. Two questions to watch for her going forward. Why is she only averaging 2.5 assists per game? Yes the team  runs a lot of their offense through senior Arella Guirantes, but it is still something to watch. And at 56% from 2 she seems to be able to follow in Crystal Dangerfield’s steps of small guards who can still finish in the paint, but worth keeping an eye on.

The Potential of Rennia Davis’s and What to do With a Wing Who Can’t (yet) Shoot?

The 2020 draft is a weak one. The next three after 2021 should all include players who have superstar potential, depending on early opt outs, but with Satou Sabally and Chennedy Carter already in the W, 2021 does not have such top end talent. With the draft short on potential best player on a team in the WNBA finals, outside of maybe Awak Kuier, the next step for teams is finding players who can fit around their stars to help them reach the finals.

Rennia Davis, a 6’2” wing for Tennessee Lady Volunteers, is a long athlete who can guard multiple positions. Tennessee has been able to use her to guard any position 1-4. She rebounds well, better than some centers, on both the defensive and offensive glass. Part of how Tennessee upset South Carolina in one of their meetings was Davis is the rare wing who can play at the 4 against the front line of South Carolina and hold her own. 

Her two main limitations, shooting and ball handling, keep her from likely being a top 3 pick in this upcoming draft. She is a career 32% shooter from 3 who has trended downward since her sophomore year and is at 27% this season. She is the third option when it comes to initiating offense on the wing for Tennessee, and her assist to turnover rate is close to 1 to 1 as a senior. She has improved her assist to turnover rate ever year at Tennessee, so continued improvement is possible, but it is a weakness for now at the next level.

It is possible that Davis can improve her 3 point shooting. Her shot is not broken, with decent footwork and no obvious hitches or other issues. She shows good touch around the rim. She’s an 84% free throw shooter, and free throw shooting is a better predictor of shooting ability than threes. 

But some players who shoot three throws well do not figure it out from 3. Tiffany Mitchell of the Indiana Fever is a prime example. She is at 27% from three for her career while shooting 90% from the free throw line over five seasons.

But lack of shooting does not mean Davis can not be helpful to a team in the right situation. For a team who drafts Rennia Davis, one way to take advantage of the things she does do well is to use her as a small ball center. While this would likely only be effective in certain situations, as she is likely not quite big enough to defend the biggest centers like Liz Cambage, even with help, Davis is a strong, long, athlete who rebounds well.

Take the Dallas Wings for instance, if Dallas were to use either the fifth or seventh pick in the upcoming draft on her. A lineup of Satou Sabally, Kayla Thornton, Rennia Davis, Arike Ogunbowale and another guard, Marina Mabrey or Ty Harris, would be a switchable lineup with shooting at 4 positions.

Davis’ lack of shooting and ball handling would be less of an issue given the alternatives around her. Dallas already experimented with Sabally and Thornton at the 4 and the 5. Adding Rennia Davis’ length, defensive savvy, and rebounding could improve such an approach.

Thornton, Davis, and Sabally can all switch onto smaller players on defense, and fly around the court providing help. None of the players are likely to provide much rim protection outside of Sabally a bit, it could still be an effective combination in the right match up. 

The flip side is that if a team like the Indiana Fever at 4 ended up with Davis, things could be much more difficult. A team who has taken centers in two straight drafts would likely pigeon hole Davis into the small forward role. Lauren Cox can nominally play power forward, but is unlikely to be her best position long term. While Davis’ defense would be valuable there, the lack of shooting on a team planning on playing Danielle Robinson at the point guard and two centers up front would be unlikely to work. 

For Davis to succeed, either a team will need to be creative in using her and/or she will need to improve her shot. Both are possible, but neither guaranteed.

Center Draft Prospects: Can They Defend?

On Wednesday, Charli Collier and Natasha Mack, two probable first round picks in the upcoming WNBA draft, should both declare, faced off. In my draft board for the 2021 draft, I put Mack above Collier, with Mack 2 and Collier 3. I am an outlier in this, with a more typical board looking like this one from Ben Dull of Winsidr, who has Collier 2 and Mack 10. The main reason I am higher on Mack than Collier is the defensive potential of Mack, coupled with concerns about Collier’s defense.

One way of looking at a player’s defensive potential for the next level is looking at their steal and block rates. While in the WNBA, block rate is not a particularly good measure of defense, it is a useful indicator at the college level of a player’s athleticism, necessary for success at the next level.

Steals are a valuable indicator, particularly for players who gets them without gambling unnecessarily. Combined in the stocks column, they give a good indication of a player’s potential on defense. Here are Mack and Collier’s numbers, with some current WNBA centers’ senior season stats included for comparison.

Charli Collier.61.01.6
Natasha Mack1.94.16
Alaina Coates1.11.42.5
Jonquel Jones1.03.34.3
LaToya Sanders1.42.74.1
Brionna Jones1.91.63.5
Natasha Howard2.12.34.4

I included a cross section of WNBA centers, of varying levels. Sanders, Howard, and Jonquel Jones have all shown themselves good enough to play center on championship level defenses. Bri Jones played well in 2020, though long term is likely a good backup center, and Coates, the 2nd pick in the 2017 draft, will be lucky to be in the league this upcoming season.

Mack has the highest stocks combination, with an absurd 6. Collier has the lowest at 1.6, by a decent margin. For all of Collier’s gifts as an offensive player to matter, she needs to be able to stay on the floor on the defensive end. 

Mack does not just block shots by dint of being really tall, a la Brittney Griner. Mack is not particularly tall for a center at 6’4” and quite a few of her blocks are on opposing players shooting jump shots, and flying in as a help defender.

This play against Texas is a good example of Mack’s athleticism and ability to help as a defender. This is common for Oklahoma State, where they have Mack guard both forwards, trusting her to be able to guard both with her speed and instincts.

Mack’s defensive technique needs refinement, but it is impressive how effective she is now. A WNBA team may need to demonstrate some patience with her, but she has the potential to be a defensive player of the year caliber defender in time. 

In contrast, the downside risk with Collier is that she simply will not be able to hang in the WNBA defensively, much less become a positive presence as one would expect from a top 2 pick. Collier has a lot of work to do to not share the fate of Alaina Coates and Teaira McCowan, two other high draft picks who have had their WNBA careers stalled because of their defensive limitations.

Collier’s relatively few blocks tend to come when an opposing player drives directly at her. Collier struggles when guarding on the perimeter, or in defending screens. This play shows the struggles Collier has guarding on the perimeter. Taylen Collins beats Collier off the dribble, and while Collins has a bright future, she is a freshman still figuring out college basketball.

Young bigs who make it to the WNBA typically struggle on defense, and even the best take time to learn the game. In particular, defending in space on the pick and roll is something that is among the biggest changes from college to the pros. A WNBA big has far more responsibilities in defending in the pick and roll, and far less opportunity to post up, than they do in college. 

The demands that bigs be able to guard in space increase each year as well, as more teams play with 4 or even 5 shooters at a time, with guards who are comfortable shooting off the dribble. The lack of spacing in a WNBA game from 2015 is jarring with the lack of spacing. It’s important for WNBA teams to consider what a center in 2025 might be expected to be able to do to stay on the court.

Charli Collier is a talented, hard working player, but a WNBA team that drafts her needs to be confident they are not getting an Alaina Coates who can occasionally shoot 3s. Even in a weak draft, there are other choices.  Natasha Mack has been able to put up incredible numbers, even without much high level experience. With continued coaching, and her own drive to succeed, Mack’s ceiling is sky high.

2021 WNBA Draft Board 1.0

My draft board is going to focus on the ten players I think have the best chance to contribute in the WNBA. Why 10? That is roughly how many players contribute meaningfully in the WNBA out of a given draft class.

To get a sense of how many players in a given draft contribute in the WNBA, I looked at how many players drafted from 2007-2016 averaged 15 minutes per game for 3 seasons. I was generous with a couple of players from the 2016 class, who it is reasonable to assume will hit that marker over the coming years, like Julie Allemand. This worked out to 10 players per draft class.

10 is the average, and it varies by class, from a high of 14 in the deep 2008 draft to a low of 7 in the shallower 2012 draft. So far, the 2021 draft is looking more likely to be on the weaker side, more 2012 than 2008. The better players in the 2021 class already graduated in Satou Sabally and Chennedy Carter. The better players from the 2022 class are not eligible to be drafted, namely Rhyne Howard.

Also important to note that every player in college basketball can return for another year, so none of these players are guaranteed to even be in this draft. I am including every player who could be eligible for the draft. All stats as of 1/18/21.

  1. Awak Kuier / Forward / 6’4” / Passalacqua Ragusa

Shooting Splits: 49/38/67

The Finnish forward is currently playing, and playing fairly well, in the top Italian division as 19 year old. She may take a little longer to develop than some of the other players on this list, as she is younger than most of them, her ceiling is the highest. She is the most likely to reach all-WNBA level.


Very mobile. Kuier is 6’4” with long arms which she uses well to challenge players at the rim and has the ability to defend in space. She has seen more on ball screens than a big playing in the NCAA and has shown the ability to defend.

Good passer. In games with the senior Finnish team, their most successful offensive plays were with her passing from the high post. 

Shooting: Kuier’s 38% from 3 in Italy is likely higher than her true ability, given her more pedestrian numbers from the free throw line, but she can shoot.  Much better shooter with her feet set.  Not a shooter off the dribble, though she has the confidence to try.


Lack of strength: She has the frame to get stronger, and it should come with age, but she really struggles to finish inside against stronger players and gets knocked out of position fairly easily when trying to rebound.

Decision making on the move: A good passer when standing still and surveying, she can run into issues in when to pass or look to score when on the move. Fixable with more high level experience.

  1. Natasha Mack / 6’4” / Forward / OK State 

Shooting Splits: 56/na/63

A player who was playing at the junior college 2 years ago, Mack is a relatively unheralded player, but has been playing extremely well this year. She has clearly defined skills that can translate to the next level. Will likely not have the offensive creation to be a star, but she should fit around other ball dominant players well. 


Athleticism: She leaps off the screen when one watches her and how fast she is. Can provide a rare combination of rim protection and defending in space. Shades of Natasha Howard, but taller, on defense.

Rebounding, both offensive and defensive. A good rebounder, in particular she should be able to use her athleticism and nose for the ball to punish teams that try to put a smaller player on her on the offensive glass. May not develop into a big who can punish smaller players in the post, but keeping her off the offensive glass with a guard will be tough.


Feel for the game on offense. This may already be going away, as she has a positive assist to turnover ratio, but Mack was playing at a junior college two years ago, and the transition to the pros might be rough on the offensive end. Should be able to finish plays as the roller, but still a question if she can make plays on the short roll.

Punishing switches. An acceptable post player at the college level, would offer more versatility if she shows that she can punish teams for defending her with a smaller player.

  1. Charli Collier / 6’5’ / Center / Texas 

Shooting splits: 56/33/82

Collier is the consensus number 1 pick on most other draft boards. In a vacuum, however, I might have her even lower lower than this. But other folks may be seeing things I am missing, so three it is. I will have more to say about Collier, and the challenge of scouting bigs, in the future.


Shooting: Good shooter and not just for a center. 33% from 3 is not spectacular, but has a good looking shot and is over 80% from 3, so should be fine there. She should benefit from coaching at the next level that encourage their bigs to shoot if they are good at it. The ability to pick and pop with confidence will be valuable.  

Posting up smaller players. She should be able to use her size to make it hard for teams to switch smaller players onto her, and she should face single coverage in the spaced out WNBA game, versus the constant triple teams she sees at Texas.

Rebounding: She is a good rebounder, both on offense and defense. Uses her long arms well and really pursues the ball.


Defending in space: She combines limited lateral quickness with also getting lost off ball too easily. Teams have had success back cutting her, and she reaches often, which puts her in foul trouble.

Passing: For a player who is consistently double and triple teamed, it is hard to believe that she has only 4 assists total on the season. 4 assists over 12 games is impressive, and not in a good way. Centers do not need to be exceptional passers, but for a top draft pick, that is really bad.

  1. Arella Guirantes / 5’11” / Wing / Rutgers

Shooting splits: 40/39/90

Guirantes is the player I have the least feel for in this group. Given the difficulties of watching women’s college basketball, I have seen her play the least on this list. In particular, I’m not sure what to make of her subpar two point percentage so far this season. She is shooting 40% from 2, in the 32nd percentile per Herhoopstats. How much of that is her carrying a team with limited offensive talent around her and how much is on her, is something I will be paying attention to as we go forward.


Shooting, particularly off ball. Guirantes is a 40% 3 point shooter and a 90% free throw shooter this year. In a role where she is not tasked with most of the shot creation, she should be able to improve her efficiency and be valuable. 

Off ball defense: While not the best athlete guarding on ball, she uses her long arms well to be disruptive, particularly off ball. She is averaging an impressive 3.1 steals and 2.2 blocks per game this year.


Finishing at the rim. She is a crafty player who uses her size and strength to attack, but it is concerning that she needs to use so much guile against other college defenders. May struggle to finish against wnba size and length.

Lateral quickness: May be a one or two position defender. May not have the lateral quickness to guard quicker, smaller guards. She also does not have the bulk to really guard up a position, though her intelligence and long arms may help there.

  1. Dana Evans 5’6″ / Guard / Louisville

Shooting Splits: 54/40/90

While I am high on Evans, it is important to note that she is in a better situation than some of her peers. Evans is surrounded by talented shot makers and ball handlers, which put her in position to succeed. She can turn it on and carry Louisville, but generally does not have to the way Aari McDonald does.


Shooting: Evans has shot 38% or better from 3 in each of her last three years. One aspect of her shooting to keep an eye on as the season progresses is her shooting off the dribble. If she shows the ability to shoot off the dribble, and force teams to not go under on the pick and roll, that would be big.

Scoring inside: She has made strides scoring inside the arc, hitting 55% from 2 this year. She shows craft and ability to score at the rim, but it is something to keep an eye on as she goes against bigger and more talented bigs as the college season stumbles along.

Passing: A good passer, if not an exceptional passer. While a score first guard, she can pass enough.


Size: At only 5’6”, she will struggle to guard bigger guards in certain situations. But she competes defensively and should not be a huge liability. Offense is more important for point guards, anyways. 

Finishing: Her 53% from 2 point range is a large jump from prior years. If she keeps that up, it will be a good sign, but she will have to prove she can finish at the next level.

6. Michaela Onyenwere / 5’11 / Wing / UCLA

Shooting Splits: 47/28/82

The UCLA wing has been successful playing as a small ball four in the college game, but the transition to the perimeter and the wing might be a challenge. Still, she offers enough upside to be worthy of a gamble if a team thinks they can help her continue to develop her shooting and handle.


Transition scoring: Onyenwere is likely the best pure athlete in this draft, with the possible exception of Mack. She is hard to stop in transition and that should translate to the next level.  

Scoring against mismatches: She should be able to bully smaller players. Teams will have to put at least a wing with decent size on her, or she will go through them to score. 


Defense: For all her athletic gifts, they do not always translate into defense. At 5’11” and seemingly without exceptional length, she does not block many shots or get many steals. 

Halfcourt offense: A 5’11” forward whose only half court offensive move is to post up and shoot short fade away has work to do to play in the WNBA. Teams will not run their offense through her, and it becomes unclear what her role is off ball. Has worked to improve her 3 point shot, but is not a particularly good at it yet.

7. Aari McDonald / 5’6″ / Guard / Arizona

Another player, along with Collier, that I am lower on than others. Explosive guard who competes hard, but lacks offensive polish. Definitely a player who could make me look foolish, as she may be able to take advantage of the increased spacing at the next level to live at the rim, even as a point guard who has a shaky 3 point shot. 


Defense: While only 5’6”, so she is limited in how versatile a defender she can be, she is an excellent on ball defender and could likely guard quite a few shooting guards, given her strength and competitiveness.

Transition: A blur in transition, she puts pressure on the opposing team and can either finish or make the right pass.  


Shooting: McDonald thrives in transition on offense, but struggles more in the half court. Does not have blazing straight line speed or the level of craft that Jordin Canada for instance has to make up for a lack of shooting. And its not just shooting from 3. Lacks touch on midrange shots and floaters.

8. Rennia Davis / 6’2″ / Wing / Tennessee

Shooting Splits: 56/23/74

Rennia Davis looks like a prototypical wing in the modern WNBA, but does not show it often at Tennessee. For a top prospect, she is unusual in that she is third in usage on her team, and behind 2 other wings who Tennessee runs their offense through.


Size: At 6’2”, she is good at using her size to move her feet on defense and force opponents to take tough shots. She is also willing to crash the offensive glass and score over smaller players. 

Rebounding: Rebounds like a 4 and better than some 5s.


Handle and shooting: Low usage would be less of an issue if she could shoot. She is shooting 23% from 3 on the year. She was in the low 30s before this year, and will likely need to be in the mid-30s to really be playable. She does not have a tight enough handle to attack off the dribble either, so would need to improve there to be a secondary creator.

9. Shyla Heal / 5’6″ / Guard / Townsville Fire

Shooting Splits: 43/31/86

Heal starred in the WNBL in Australia for the Townsville Fire at only 19. The Fire had a successful season, losing in the finals to the Liz Cambage and Leilani Mitchell led Southside Flyers. 


Scoring: Heal is a crafty scorer who has a good handle and is good at getting into the lane.

Passing: While a bit wild with the ball, as to be expected with a young point guard, she showed the ability to make all the passes expected of a point guard.


Athleticism: Might not have the athleticism to be a starting point guard for a playoff team, unless her skill level rises. Only 31% from 3, but 86% from free throw, is good, but not enough to make up for decent, but not great, athleticism.

10. Jasmine Walker / 6’2″ / Wing / Alabama

Shooting Splits: 44/39/79


Being tall and shooting: Walker is a versatile shooter. She can shoot off of screens, shoots even when heavily contested. She is shooting 39% from 3 on 8 attempts per game. She is in the 99th percentile in attempts per game in college basketball and 82% in accuracy, and she is a 6’2”. 


Athleticism: She is an ok athlete, but nothing special. She also is not particularly strong. This may cause issues on defense. May not be strong enough to defend 4s, but too slow to guard 3s. She does compete on defense. 

Playmaking: An assist to turnover ratio well below 1 is not good. If she gets the ball, she is most likely shooting. To be fair to her, Alabama does not surround her with many other offensive options, as the rest of the team struggles to score outside of the paint. Still, she is likely strictly a floor spacer, at least early in her career.

Players to watch for who did not make the cut:

Kysre Grondezick- West Virginia: Guard. Solid at all the things a shooting guard needs to do, but not exceptional at anything.

Shakira Austin – Ole Miss: Center. Oozing with talent, but is somewhat inconsistent in actually producing.

Evina Westbrook – UCONN: Big point guard. Still regaining her athleticism, has good numbers across the board, but can disappear for long stretches.

Abolish the WNBA draft. At least the third round.

Sports drafts restrict the labor rights of athletes in ways that no other endeavor in professional life does, as Kevin Arnovitz has written about for ESPN. When a software engineer graduates, they are not forced to work for Facebook, though they would prefer to work at Google or another of the frightful five.

Only in sports does a worker have to work somewhere regardless of how incompetent or dysfunctional a given workplace is. Sabrina Ionescue lucked out with a new ownership group in New York, instead of James Dolan, the worst owner in professional basketball.

However, Satou Sabally and Bella Alarie may very well have chosen to play elsewhere had they been given the choice. Having two stars, Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins, in two years force their way out and a coach who is currently named in a lawsuit around a relationship with a former player, does not inspire confidence.

Maybe a player is very political and they would prefer not to play for the Atlanta Dream, with an owner who is a conservative politician accused of engaging in insider trading while ignoring the early days of a pandemic.

To be clear, none of these examples are digs at players currently playing for their teams. Atlanta is likely to be my #1 League Pass team, but it would be better for players to have options. And it would not hurt interest in the league. A three hour event on ESPN including Sabrina Ionescue announcing the team she has chosen to sign with would be incredibly compelling. 

The salary cap would still exist, (abolishing that is a topic for another day) such that it’s not likely Ionescue would be signing with the Mystics if a WNBA team had to bid closer to what she she would be worth, not holding down her pay through a draft. Though really, how many people would complain at getting to see Ionescue and Elena Delle Donne play together. I certainly wouldn’t.

But the chances of the WNBA abandoning the draft entirely is unlikely. However abolishing the third round, something the NBA does not have, seems far more plausible. 

How many third round picks are expected to make their team’s rosters this year? Mikayla Pivec has a chance with Atlanta. Any others? What is the purpose of having a round of a draft that ties a player to a particular team, but does not give the player even a 50% chance that the player will play for that team?

Over the past two years, not a single third round pick is with the team that picked them. In each draft three players got cups of coffee with the team that drafted them in the third round. 29 minutes total for players drafted in 2018 and 96 minutes in 2019, by my count. Temi Fagbenle was a third round pick in 2016 and has had a good WNBA career, but likely she would have anyways had she signed with Minnesota as a free agent.

With no third round, players who were picked in the third round would have options on where to sign training camp deals. Juicy Lundrum has real talent and a team that was light on guards might give her a serious look, but what are the odds she actually makes the Connecticut Sun? A team that just made the finals is not likely to take a third round guard.

The WNBA should reconsider tying up a player’s labor rights for minimal benefit even to the teams, who simply bring the players in only to cut them. Making the WNBA is hard enough as it is. Tying up a player’s choice in the third round should end.