2022 WNBA Mock Draft 1.0: How Lottery Shocker Impacts Top Prospects

Jackie Powell@@classicjpowContributor IDecember 20, 2021

NaLyssa Smith might be the most pro-ready player in the 2022 WNBA draft class.
NaLyssa Smith might be the most pro-ready player in the 2022 WNBA draft class.Jessica Hill/Associated Press

The Ping-pong balls have dropped, and the official order of the 2022 WNBA draft has been set. With the highest odds to get the No. 1 pick, the Indiana Fever got the second overall pick, and with the lowest odds to get the No. 1 pick, the Dallas Wings got the fourth. 

It was the Washington Mystics who shocked the world. After two seasons of COVID-19 opt outs and a load of injuries, Washington will pick first after having the second lowest odds to receive the first pick. And finally the rebuilding Atlanta Dream will have the third overall pick. 

To be eligible for the draft, prospects coming from American colleges and universities must be at least 22 years old by the end of the calendar year of the draft year. Players are also eligible if their class graduates from a four-year college or university within three months of the draft date. 

This is our first of many WNBA mock drafts here at B/R. As we get closer to the end of the college season and eventually NCAA tournament time, we'll reveal an updated draft board along with insights from WNBA talent evaluators. We'll begin with the lottery picks and finish with the third round. 

Round 1: Picks 1-12

1. Washington Mystics: NaLyssa Smith (Baylor, Forward, Senior)

NaLyssa Smith might be the most pro-ready player in this draft class. With a more modern offense implemented by first-year head coach Nicki Collen, multiple WNBA talent evaluators have told B/R they believe she has the faculties that will allow her to immediately contribute at the professional level. At 6'4" she has the quickness and agility to score while being guarded by multiple defenders, escaping them with her intentional footwork and post moves.

The first professional comparison that comes to mind is New York Liberty power forward Natasha Howard. While Smith is most comfortable on the block and in the paint, she has a mid-range pull-up jumper and has begun to find her shot on the perimeter, shooting 33.3 percent from three on 12 total attempts. 

Smith's unique skill set is made for the modern game, which favors posts who can play and guard multiple positions. When needed, Smith can also handle the ball and take it down in transition. Smith leads the country in rebounds per game with 13.3 and ranks sixth in total win shares with 4.5, per Her Hoops Stats.

The Mystics will be looking for a versatile post who can complement the depth they have around the perimeter. With Elena Delle Donne and Erica McCall as the only post players signed on for the 2022 season, and under $500,000 left in their salary cap to work with, Smith’s arrival in Washington amid any sort of trade seems imminent. 


2. Indiana Fever: Rhyne Howard (Kentucky, Guard/Wing, Senior)

Sean Rayford/Associated Press

Rhyne Howard has continued to prove she's an elite scorer and a willing defender with the potential to emerge as a two-way player at the professional level. Per Synergy Sports, she's scoring 1.019 points per possession, which places the senior in the 92nd percentile. At 6'2" Howard is able to drive on smaller guards and leverage her length when unleashing her jumper.

While Howard has averaged 18.3 points per game this season, her lowest average since putting up 16.4 per game as a freshman, she's distributing the ball at the highest rate of her career and averaging 4.1 assists per game. Howard's steals and blocks per game have steadily increased since her first college season. 

But a common discourse around lottery picks is whether they can be a player that a franchise can build around, which of course begs the question: Is Howard that player? A WNBA talent evaluator noted that during her junior season, Howard went on auto pilot, showing indifference and not performing like the best player on the court in high-pressure situations.

The Indiana Fever are in desperate need of a dynamic scorer who can take some of the load off Kelsey Mitchell and Howard is a player who can push the pace alongside Danielle Robinson, one of the quickest guards in the league. 


3. Atlanta Dream: Ayoka Lee (Kansas State, Center, Junior)

Ayoka Lee could be the most dominant player in this draft. While she does have another year of eligibility as a junior, her numbers so far this season prove she's ready for the pros. She's third in the country in points per game with 23.8 and has the most win shares (5.6), per Her Hoops Stats.

Lee's stat line on December 11 against South Dakota State put her in elite company. She scored 38 points, hauled down 14 rebounds and registered six blocks, something only Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne accomplished in college. While the WNBA values prospects who are versatile and have multiple skill sets, the league still places a heavy price tag on a player with size. At 6'6", what makes Lee's talent undeniable is how quickly she can counter a double-team after she receives the ball on a post entry pass. 

The Atlanta Dream could use talent at every position, but currently lack a dominant post scorer. With stretch bigs Cheyenne Parker and Tiana Hawkins currently signed on for 2022, I see GM Dan Padover opting for a more traditional back to the basket player. 


4. Dallas Wings: Kierstan Bell (Florida Gulf Coast University, Guard, Junior)

Kierstan Bell is currently the top scorer in the country. But besides averaging 26.1 points per game against what some say is less skilled competition compared to whom other WNBA prospects play against, Bell is a really skilled on- and off-ball screener and a crafty back-cutter. She uses her size and strength at 6'1" to muscle her way through the lane.

The way Bell plays is reminiscent of how Layshia Clarendon has found their success in the W. Bell can direct traffic and communicates well with her teammates when she's both on and off the ball.  

Sure, the Wings have a dynamic scorer already in Arike Ogunbowale, but 1) there's always a possibility Ogunbowale gets traded during free agency and 2) the Wings don't have a player on their roster with Bell's unique skill set, which is all the more reason to select her. 


5. New York Liberty: Emily Engstler (Louisville, Forward, Senior)

Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press

If the New York Liberty didn't make the playoffs in 2021, they'd be in the lottery and in the running for NaLyssa Smith, a player whose evolving game would fit the way they play awfully well. But they did. With the fifth pick, I'd imagine they'd go for the best player available who possesses the skills their style of play requires: athleticism, versatility, a high basketball IQ and the ability to stretch the floor.

Not to mention, the Liberty love players who come from Louisville, as they drafted Asia Durr in 2019 and then Jazmine Jones and Kylee Shook in 2020. 

Emily Engstler has the size to play the type of role Rebecca Allen, Jocelyn Willoughby and Michaela Onyenwere are expected to play in the Liberty's five-out offense. Since transferring from Syracuse prior to this season, Engstler has averaged 9.9 points and 8.8 rebounds in 23 minutes per game.

She's also averaging 1.4 assists per game and has shot 12-of-23 from three-point range (52.2 percent). All the ingredients of a New York player. Fun fact: She was also born there. A New Yorker through and through. 

6. Dallas Wings: Elissa Cunane (NC State, Center, Senior)

Elissa Cunane has dominated the ACC with her spin moves and baby hook shot when she can take smaller players on the block. At 6'5", she's comfortable in a two-person pick-and-roll game and is a career 40.9 percent shooter from beyond the arc. The next step for Cunane will be taking her size, ability to run the floor and nice-looking shot and applying those skills to some new tricks. Success in the W is dependent on how hard draftees are willing to work in the pursuit to expand their game. 

For bigs in particular, the learning curve is steeper. Cunane's success at the pro level will be incumbent on if she's drafted by a franchise that has adequate resources in player development. Do the Wings even need another young post player? As of now they don’t. But if the Wings trade a player like Bella Alaire for some veteran leadership, depending on what type of veteran leader they land in return, they might need a player like Cunane to fill that void. 

7. Chicago Sky: Ashley Joens (Iowa State, Wing, Senior)

The Chicago Sky won their 2021 championship with versatility at all positions, and if they are going to run it back, depth is advantageous. That's what Ashley Joens can provide. Allie Quigley is getting older, and Kahleah Copper is going to need a backup who can give her a breather. While it's uncertain if Diamond DeShields is returning to Chicago, Joens' game combines some of the attributes of Quigley and Copper, allowing her to be plugged in and played at multiple positions. 

At 6'1" Joens, a three-way scorer, is a career 35.6 percent three-point shooter and has averaged over 20 points since her sophomore year. She can successfully challenge smaller wings and guards on the block and understands how to move off the ball to get to her spots, something Courtney Vanderlsoot will love. 


8. Minnesota Lynx: Shakira Austin (Ole Miss, Center, Senior)

The Lynx have a lot up in the air when it comes to their posts. Is Sylvia Fowles returning? Will Natalie Achonwa bounce back after a lackluster first year in Minnesota? Will Damiris Dantas be ready to go after suffering a Lisfranc injury in late August? Does Napheesa Collier, who's expecting, even see the floor in 2022? 

Shakira Austin possesses qualities of all of the above. At 6'5", she can bring the ball up the floor, hit a mid-range jumper, drain a three and take her opponents off the dribble. While I noted previously that her numbers have declined from last season, WNBA talent evaluators won't balk at a post player with this much potential and skill.


9. Seattle Storm: Evina Westbrook (Connecticut, Guard, Redshirt Senior)

Noah K. Murray/Associated Press

UConn's strong presence in Seattle may continue to get stronger. With both Jewell Loyd and Jordin Canada beginning 2022 as free agents, and Sue Bird still not sure of her plans just yet, Seattle is going to need a guard—one who can finish through contact at the rim, shoot the three at a clip in the 30s and possesses playmaking tendencies. Statistically, as of now, Evina Westbrook checks off each box. And her performance against UCLA on December 11, when she scored 17 points, racked up seven assists and hauled down seven boards, is a sample of who Westbrook has the potential to be. 

Without Paige Bueckers for at least two months, Westbrook has an opportunity to showcase her broad skill set and ceiling as a 6'0" guard. Former Husky Napheesa Collier was at UConn on Friday serving as a practice player. When Westbrook was asked about her reaction to seeing Collier, she noted that she said to the former UConn great: “See you in the W next year."


10. Indiana Fever: Nia Clouden (Michigan State, Guard, Senior) 

Nia Clouden might be the least known and most underrated prospect listed in my first round. But the Indiana Fever should be pleased if they get to walk away from Round 1 with not only their lottery pick but with Clouden as well. Michigan State's leading scorer has put up 21.8 points per game this season and shot 41.7 percent from three-point range, an element she didn't always have in her game. 

Clouden's offensive repertoire is defined by impressive footwork, a Kahleah Copper-esque lethal first step on drives through the lane, a fluid mid-range pull-up jump shot and an ability to create scoring opportunities without much space.


11. Las Vegas Aces: Naz Hillmon (Michigan, Forward, Senior) 

Naz Hillmon is exactly the back-to-the-basket post player who would thrive in a Bill Laimbeer offense. With Liz Cambage's return to Vegas still up in the air, Laimbeer is going to need a strong post with an exemplary motor but also a post who's willing to distribute. 

That's what the Aces would get in Hillmon. While she's averaging 20.7 points and 8.5 rebounds this season, her assist rate is most impressive. She's averaging 2.3 assists per game, the most since her sophomore year when she averaged 2.4 per contest. Why does this matter? While A'ja Wilson has begun to establish herself as a point forward, she'll have a very willing high-low partner in Hillmon. 


12. Connecticut Sun: Veronica Burton (Northwestern, Guard, Senior)

The Sun should be going for a dynamic offensive guard in free agency. This means Briann January most likely won't return. But the Sun still desire the qualities she possesses  at a lesser price. They could draft a less expensive piece in Veronica Burton who could grow into January's three-and-D role and even beyond. 

Statistically, Burton has had her best season so far. She's scoring 16.2 points, dishing out 4.9 assists and bringing down 5.2 boards per game this year for Northwestern. Her offensive production is characterized by an ability to drive through the lane with acceleration, a catch-and-shoot and a step-back three-point shot and a willingness to give up the ball for a better shot. 

Burton ranks second in the nation with 5.2  win shares, per Her Hoop Stats. But getting back to her defensive prowess, Burton is a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. 


Round 2: Picks 13-24

13. Minnesota Lynx: Bethy Mununga (University of South Florida, Forward, Senior) 

In her two seasons with USF, Bethy Mununga has put up 9.4 points per game. But her ability to rebound will translate best to the pro level. This season, she's averaged 12.9 rebounds per game, 34 percent of which have come on the offensive glass. Something that Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve values most in her posts is their willingness to rebound the ball. She'll get that in Mununga. 


14. Atlanta Dream: Destanni Henderson (South Carolina, Guard, Senior)

If the Atlanta Dream truly want to start over, it might be best to draft a newer young point guard in Destanni Henderson, moving on from Chennedy Carter. While she's not as dynamic of a slasher as Carter, Henderson has experience leading a team with some of the best players in the country (Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke) and excels creating plays in transition. This season, Henderson has shot 50 percent from three in eight games. 


15. Los Angeles Sparks: Christyn Williams (Connecticut, Guard, Senior)

The Sparks are in desperate need of scoring talent. While Williams has battled inconsistent shooting during her years in Storrs, where she shines is in her ability to play downhill and on the break. The Sparks, a defensive-minded team, would find some benefit in drafting a player who plays her best in transition. 


16. Los Angeles Sparks: Rae Burrell (Tennessee, Wing, Senior )

This season Burrell has played in only one game. She's been sidelined since the Vols' first game of the season on Nov. 10. While head coach Kelli Harper expressed that her star doesn't have an ACL injury, all she has been able to say is that Burrell is out indefinitely. The uncertainty in her current health is what has her listed as being picked midway into the second round rather than early second or late first. 

But rather than discuss what we don't know about Burrell currently, here's what we do know about Burrell when she is healthy. She's a 6'1" wing player who put up 16.8 points per game last season and shot 40.2 percent from three. Burrell also has a really smooth mid-range game that  utilizes her quickness and elevation to come off screens.


17. Seattle Storm: Lexie Hull (Stanford, Wing, Senior)

What makes Lexie Hull attractive to any WNBA team is her versatility and hustle. While her scoring output has gone down from 11.6 points per game in 2020-21 to 9.9 this season and her attempts from three have shrunk, Hull's made up for it in her ability to facilitate at a higher rate. This season she has dished out 2.2 assists per game, the highest average in her career at Stanford. Hull has also become more active on the boards this season, averaging 6.3 per game, also the highest rate of her career. 


18. Seattle Storm: Dorka Juhasz (Connecticut, Forward, Graduate Transfer)

Something is going to have to give with the Seattle Storm. If Sue Bird returns and the Storm crunch the numbers to keep both Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd, Mercedes Russell may sign elsewhere. If that's the case, Seattle can add post depth to complement Ezi Magbegor with versatile 6'5" forward Dorka Juhasz if she decides to declare for the draft. Juhasz was a double-double machine during her three years at Ohio State and has recently begun to find her stride on the Huskies after putting up a 16-point, 16-rebound double-double against UCLA


19. Los Angeles Sparks: Taylor Robertson (Oklahoma, Guard, Senior)

The Sparks need someone with a consistent offensive skill. Los Angeles shot 33.5 percent from three in 2021, the fourth-worst in the WNBA. In every year she’s played at Oklahoma, Taylor Robertson has shot over 42 percent from three. In her first three seasons she took over 200 three-pointers. There’s no denying she’s a high volume three-point shot maker who’s on one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country. 


20. Phoenix Mercury:  Mya Hollingshed (Colorado, Small Forward/ Wing, Fifth-Year Senior)

The Mercury need to get deeper at small forward, and the more athletic the better. Mya Hollingshed seems like the perfect fit if the Mercury can't land Leonna Odom in a trade this winter. While Hollingshed can score at all three levels, what could get her a spot on the Mercury's roster is her length. At 6'3", Hollingshed has a wingspan that allows her to crash the boards and block and alter shots.


21. Seattle Storm: Kianna Smith (Louisville, Guard, Redshirt Senior)

At Louisville, Smith has provided a scoring punch by flashing her ability to get downhill to the basket and her smooth shooting stroke that allows her to knock down open threes on drive-and-kick actions. As the primary 2-guard for the Cardinals after the departure of Dana Evans, Smith has shot an impressive 46 percent from the three-point line and has scored 12.6 points per game. 


22. Minnesota Lynx: Jade Melbourne (Australia, Guard, International Prospect)

While all signs are pointing toward the Lynx re-signing point guard Layshia Clarendon, who will continue to mentor 2020's rookie of the year in Crystal Dangerfield, Minnesota could use another ball handler. At 5'10", Melbourne can function either on or off the ball, finding open teammates, penetrating the lane off the dribble or receiving the ball and shooting corner threes. The quickness of her catch-and-shoot release resembles Sami Whitcomb, another Australian combo guard. 


23. Las Vegas Aces: Olivia Nelson-Ododa (Connecticut, Forward, Redshirt Senior)

Olivia Nelson-Ododa has shown this season that when she's engaged on defense, her size and length can really disrupt opponents. With Paige Buckers out for the UConn Huskies, primary ball-handler Evina Westbrook has gone to Nelson-Ododa inside. While she sometimes hesitates too much in the post on catches, she has proven an ability to read defenses effectively on the pick-and-roll.


24. Connecticut Sun: Monika Czinano (Iowa, Forward/Center, Senior)

Monika Czinano is the type of post player that can thrive in Curt Miller's system. If the Sun need to make some room in their salary cap for a desirable free agent and end up trading Most Improved Player Brionna Jones, an efficient post player like Czinano might find some success in training camp. Last season, Czinano led the country in field goal percentage (66.8). 


Round 3: Picks 25-36

25. Indiana Fever: Grace Berger (Indiana, Guard, Senior)

26. Phoenix Mercury: Anastasia Hayes (Mississippi State, Guard, Red Shirt Senior)

27. Los Angeles Sparks: Lorela Cubaj (Georgia Tech, Forward, Fifth Year)

28. Minnesota Lynx: Katie Benzen (Maryland, Guard, Senior)

29. New York Liberty: Sika Kone (Mali, Forward/ Center, International prospect)

30. Dallas Wings:  Leigha Brown (Michigan, Guard, Senior) 

31. Dallas Wings: Que Morrison (Georgia, Guard, Graduate Student)

32. Phoenix Mercury: Queen Egbo (Baylor, Forward, Senior)

33. Seattle Storm: CeCe Hooks (Ohio University, Guard, Senior)

34. Indiana Fever: Jenna Staiti (Georgia, Center, Graduate Student) 

35. Las Vegas Aces: Serena Kessler (France, Guard, International Prospect)

36. Connecticut Sun: Jordan Lewis (Baylor, Guard, Graduate Student)