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%. 

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.

PlayerStealsBlocksStocks
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.

Strengths:

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.

Weaknesses:

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. 

Strengths:

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.

Weaknesses:

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.

Strengths:

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.

Weaknesses:

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.

Strengths:

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.

Weaknesses:

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.

Strengths:

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.

Weaknesses:

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.

Strengths:

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. 

Weaknesses: 

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. 

Strengths:

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.  

Weaknesses:

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.

Strengths:

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.

Weaknesses: 

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. 

Strengths:

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.

Weaknesses:

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

Strengths:

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”. 

Weaknesses:

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.