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2022 WNBA Mock Draft: Pre-March Madness Predictions

Jackie Powell@@classicjpowContributor IMarch 16, 2022

There seems to be little doubt Rhyne Howard will be the top pick in the 2022 WNBA draft, especially after her performance in the SEC tournament.
There seems to be little doubt Rhyne Howard will be the top pick in the 2022 WNBA draft, especially after her performance in the SEC tournament.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

With the first games of the 2022 NCAA women's basketball tournament tipping off this week, it's time to evaluate the best WNBA prospects. The draft is set to air Monday, April 11, exactly eight days following the national championship game in Minneapolis. Prospects must decide their intentions by March 28, unless their teams have advanced to the Elite Eight or Final Four, in which case they have two days to decide after their final game.

Our second WNBA mock draft comes after multiple trades were made since the league's free-agency signing period began in February. For reference, here's our first mock draft from December.

One team to watch: the Indiana Fever, who have a new GM in veteran coach and talent evaluator Lin Dunn. Dunn has begun the Fever's rebuilding process in earnest after former general manager Tamika Catchings stepped down.

As of now, the Fever have seven total draft picks, including four in the first round. Indiana's strategy is similar to what the New York Liberty and Dallas Wings have implemented in recent years: aggregate young talent and build a core group that can be developed together.

WNBA Mock Draft 2.0 will reflect the needs of the teams drafting and the best players projected to be available. League talent evaluators have been consulted in the making of this prediction.

       

Round 1: Picks 1-12

1. Washington Mystics: Rhyne Howard (Kentucky, Guard/Wing, Senior)

Howard's performance in the SEC tournament was impressive. In the four games Kentucky played in Nashville, she averaged 22 points per game, shot 48.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from three. In their dramatic win over Tennessee, Howard flirted with a triple-double with 24 points on 12 shots, seven assists and nine boards.

The Washington Mystics appear to be clearing their roster for Howard. They waived sharpshooting guard/wing Sydney Wiese at the end of last month, opening up cap space and a glaring need at small forward to back up the more defensively minded Alysha Clark.

Howard's consistency, motor and competitive spirit are still question marks. How much of an issue will this be for Mike Thibault and his coaching staff? The Mystics are known for developing players and have a reputation for teaching young players professionalism. Surrounding Howard with veteran leaders in Natasha Cloud, Elena Delle Donne and Clark might bode well for a player who needs some positive role models.

      

2. Indiana Fever: NaLyssa Smith (Baylor, Forward, Senior)

Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

Winning now isn't necessarily the plan for the Indiana Fever. Their plan is to draft the best talent available, and that will likely be Smith.

Trading Teiera McCowan was perhaps a sign from Dunn that it's time for Kelsey Mitchell to define their identity, and Smith's skill set fits best into a run-and-gun offense rather than one that moves a bit slower on the block.

Smith has flown under the radar in the national college Player of the Year discussion behind top POY hopefuls Aliyah Boston and Caitlin Clark. But she currently ranks second in the nation to Boston with 12.3 win shares (a metric that approximates the number of wins a player produces for their team during the season), per Her Hoops Stats, and she has 24 double-doubles in 33 games played. In her team's loss in the Big 12 championship to Texas, she finished with a 21-10 double-double despite foul trouble and an injury scare.

Fever head coach Marianne Stanley will need to address their goals for Smith and how they may complement or contradict Smith's ambitions. On a team like Indiana, Smith will get considerably more opportunities to play. But will a team like Indiana have the player development infrastructure in place necessary to take advantage of Smith's athleticism and length?

      

3. Atlanta Dream: Shakira Austin (Ole Miss, Center/Power Forward, Senior)

Austin has a high ceiling, but who does she want to be? Will the team that drafts her have the resources ready to help her get there? If she goes third to Atlanta, she's bound to have a franchise behind her that believes in investing in player development. Atlanta's GM Dan Padover mentioned it himself last month.

Talent evaluators would be shocked if Austin isn't chosen before the fifth pick. Austin can play the 4 or the 5 but can put the ball on the floor and find her spots more like a guard rather than a big. She changes speed well to get downhill and blow by her defenders. She can score from the high elbow, the mid-range and has a spin move that can work in the paint. She can establish position on the block, though that's not a common facet of her game. Austin's shot selection is a bit more unpredictable than Smith's.

She plays hard and would be a nice fit with the Dream's developing culture, led by new head coach Tanisha Wright. In addition to her talent and skill level, Austin is bound to contribute positively to team culture, something the Dream are desperately pursuing with every new player they acquire. One talent evaluator remarked specifically about how much Austin cares deeply about her teammates and those around her.

       

4. Indiana Fever: Nyara Sabally (Oregon, Center/Forward, Redshirt Junior)

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Back in December, Sabally was battling a knee injury and it was unclear if she would opt to stay at Oregon another season to develop and show talent evaluators a more complete body of work. But around the league, Sabally is highly respected as a top prospect ready for the next level.

Sabally has a pro frame at 6'5", can take up a lot of space in the paint and is athletic for her size. The German native more of a traditional post player with strong finishing skills on the block. She's super physical, but she can also stretch and shoot from beyond the arc when needed. She's also a willing passer, a key for W talent evaluators.

Right now, Sabally has the skills to function as a dependable backup big and has the potential to be an impact player.

Will some front offices be a bit wary of her medical history? It's possible. Knee injuries have plagued her entire career at Oregon. She missed both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons because of knee issues in addition to the time she's missed this season.

      

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

Amid New York's various shakeups—hiring a new head coach in Sandy Brondello, its offseason acquisition of Stefanie Dolson, that meeting in L.A. with Breanna Stewart and re-signing Rebecca Allen—I'm stubborn to change my pick at five from Engstler.

Why? New York's general manager is still Jonathan Kolb, who prefers drafting versatile players with potential on both ends of the ball. That's Engstler, one of the more defensively minded players in this draft who plays with an undoubtable amount of toughness and grit. While New York could use more size in addition to Dolson, Engstler might be the most serviceable player available for its style of play.

Part of her collegiate story was the amount of work she did to drop nearly 40 pounds before her junior season at Syracuse. That's consistent with the type of player that New York has across its roster, including Sami Whitcomb, Betnijah Laney and Natasha Howard, who all are known as some of the most tireless workers around the league. While Engstler has length and is a skilled defender, what lies ahead will be dependent on how quickly she can adapt to guarding the more dominant 4s in this league such as A'ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart.

      

6. Indiana Fever: Ashley Joens (Iowa State, Wing, Senior)

With the modern game dependent on having players with Joens' skill set and size, the Fever would be foolish to not fill a glaring hole on their roster. Victoria Vivians is the only player on Indiana's roster that right now is most comfortable playing on the wing. Joens is a multidimensional scorer and is currently shooting threes at a clip of 37.5 percent this season, a career best.

However, some concern about her game includes how she drives through the lane with her head down. At the pro level, her athleticism or lack thereof might be challenged. A 43.9 percent two-point field-goal percentage is also a bit concerning.

      

7. Dallas Wings: Kierstan Bell (Florida Gulf Coast, Guard/Forward, Junior)

Bell's draft stock has taken a hit since a midseason injury (which she has returned from) and a decline in her overall field-goal percentage. Her looks haven't been as good as they were a season ago now that defenses are zeroing in on FGCU's best player.

For Bell, transitioning to the size and physicality of the W will be tough. She's used to playing the 5 at times for Eagles, which won't happen in the WNBA. Instead, she'll have to leverage her scoring ability, athleticism, off-ball movement and screen-setting.

She'll provide some versatility to the Wings, which is much needed after trading for Teaira McCowan. Bell could play at the 4 if the Wings opt to go a bit smaller, but can she guard the larger and more dominant power forwards in the league? It's always a question for tweeners, but that doesn't mean Bell won't find success. Michaela Onyenwere heard similar doubts but won the 2021 Rookie of the Year award anyways.

      

8. Minnesota Lynx: Elissa Cunane (NC State, Center, Senior)

Lynn Hey/Associated Press

Before Sylvia Fowles officially retires at the end of the 2022 season, the Lynx will begin the post-Fowles era search with little hope of finding a one-for-one replacement. Fowles is one of the best centers of all time, but Minnesota will have to start somewhere.

Cunane is a 6'5" center but struggles with physicality. She excels in one-on-one mismatches, but put a double-team on her or watch her matchups against ACC rivals in Virginia Tech's Elizabeth Kitley or Georgia Tech's Nerea Hermosa and it's another story.

But Cunane has proved that she has an outside shot, which, according to one talent evaluator, could improve if her release point is altered. Right now she's a 44.8 percent three-point shooter, impressive for a center. But she's only shot 29 of them from beyond the arc this season and 31 and 38 in her previous two seasons. What would happen if she took 50 more attempts?

      

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

The Sparks may have Katie Lou Samuelson now, but they need more than just one multilevel scoring wing. Enter Burrell, who has a combination of length and athleticism that most wings in this draft class don't have.

While her numbers overall have declined from her junior season, Burrell has scored in double digits in 15 of her 18 games since her knee injury. Drafting her allows for the Sparks to have two perimeter players who complement each other. Burrell is a slasher who defends best on the ball. Samuelson functions best off the ball on offense and has developed into a solid help defender.

      

10. Indiana Fever: Christyn Williams (Connecticut, Guard, Senior)

Indiana's goal in this first round should be trying to find talented players at different positions. So what's left for Lin Dunn? A guard, that's what. Indiana probably won't need a lead guard but rather one who can run in concert off the ball with Danielle Robinson and Kelsey Mitchell. Enter Williams, who is coming off her Most Outstanding Player award at the Big East Tournament.

While she struggled earlier this season finding her jumper, Williams pivoted to impacting the game with more consistent defense, hopping into passing lanes and outrunning her opponents in transition. Eventually she found her three-point shot and finished the regular season and the Big East tournament shooting over 37 percent from three-point range, the highest rate of her career.

If Indiana wants to play faster than it has played since Teaira McCowan was drafted, Williams' athleticism and ability to play and score downhill will be welcomed.

      

11. Las Vegas Aces: Evina Westbrook (UConn, Combo Wing, Redshirt Senior)

The Aces have a glaring hole in their roster, and no, it's not necessarily in the post following the departure of Liz Cambage. While recent signings Kalani Brown and Theresa Plaisance provide some assistance and relief to A'ja Wilson, Vegas needs a backup for Jackie Young. With Dearica Hamby most likely starting at the 4 alongside Wilson in a Becky Hammon system, the Aces are lacking on the wing.

Westbrook could be a natural backup for Young, as she can create, score from all three levels and defend multiple positions. While her split stats year to year have shown a slight decrease in production, Westbrook can handle adversity and does whatever is best for her team. In the span of less than two months this past season, she shifted from lead ball-handler to first player off the bench.

      

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

The Sun did exactly what they needed to in free agency by signing a dynamic scorer and closer in Courtney Williams. But they lost defensive-minded veteran guard Briann January.

Burton is a three-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and is a finalist for the Naismith DPOY alongside the best defenders in the country in Aliyah Boston, Cameron Brink and Lorela Cubaj. Burton is the type of player who fills up the stat sheet, but her current downfall is her shot selection inside the arc. One WNBA talent evaluator believes that if she can buy into focusing on her outside shot, she might find more success at the pro level.

If the Sun need a backup guard who can play both on and off the ball, get the team into the offense and play impassioned defense, Connecticut and Curt Miller have found their match in Burton.

       

Round 2: Picks 13-24

13. Minnesota Lynx: Olivia Nelson-Ododa (UConn, Forward, Senior)

Talent evaluators look for year-over-year improvement. That's good news for Nelson-Ododa, who has upped her field-goal percentage every season to 61.9 percent this year.

In a year when UConn's best player Paige Bueckers was sidelined with an injury, Nelson-Ododa became the Huskies' defensive anchor and a quasi-point forward. The 6'5" senior proved that she can finish on the pick-and-roll and run the floor. One talent evaluator cautioned that she will have to dedicate time to getting stronger to guard the W's physical posts.

      

14. Atlanta Dream: Naz Hillmon (Michigan, Forward, Senior)

Hillmon established herself as one of the best posts in the country this season, but her style isn't easily transferable to the WNBA. If she were drafted 10 years ago, her stock might be higher. But with more of an emphasis on shooting and spacing, her value is up for debate.

But Atlanta can be patient with Hillman and foster her perimeter game. Call it the Alysha Clark template.

       

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

Henderson has been up and down this year for South Carolina, the best team in the country. Her scoring production, efficiency, rebounding and creation impact have all dropped off.

Could this be a function of fewer minutes on a team with a lot of talent? It's possible, but Henderson is still playing a hair over 30 minutes per game. Her turnovers per game have decreased from 2.8 to 2.1, but she has only gone four games without turning the ball over. And in conjunction with Zia Cooke's inconsistent performances, Henderson's single-digit scoring outputs in the SEC tournament don't help her case to be drafted in the first round.

      

16. Los Angeles Sparks: Joanne Allen-Taylor (Texas, Guard, Senior)

My surprise pick of this draft is Allen-Taylor, who scored 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting in the Longhorns' win over Baylor in the Big 12 championship on Sunday.

As the third-leading scorer this season for the Longhorns, Allen-Taylor has established herself as a gritty off-ball guard who values the defensive end. Lauded as an energy player, Allen-Taylor's playing style will be welcomed by an organization that appreciates defense as much as the Sparks.

She has proved that she's more than capable of making the right reads and creating for her teammates. While she can score at all three levels, her clip from beyond the arc will need to improve.

      

17. Seattle Storm: Nia Clouden (Michigan State, Guard, Senior)

Clouden could be the steal of the draft. Although her 5'8" height is a slight concern, she's taller than former Storm guard Jordin Canada and is more skilled offensively. At Michigan State, Clouden has established herself as a dynamic scorer who can also see the floor and make plays. 

One talent evaluator described her game as shifty, capable of shot creation and trusty ball-handling. She'd be great for when Jewell Loyd needs a breather, assuming Clouden has an opportunity to beat out veteran Epiphanny Prince in training camp.

      

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

The Storm lost an off-ball wing when they traded Katie Lou Samuelson and the No. 9 pick in the 2022 draft for Gabby Williams, and they might look for wing depth. The question for Hull is how she'll handle the physicality of the W.

She has a high basketball IQ, which helped the Cardinal transition into life without starting point guard Kiana Williams. She also is a proven winner who contributes positively to team culture. For now, she's probably not athletic enough to beat out veteran WNBA players at training camp.

       

19. Los Angeles Sparks: Sika Kone (Mali, Forward/ Center, International Prospect)

Kone is a prospect who at 19 years old still has time to develop. WNBA talent evaluators had an opportunity to see her during a World Cup qualifying competition in Belgrade. She scored 26 points on 10 shots without missing along with nine boards and five steals in a loss to France.

Against Nigeria a few days later, Kone finished with a 14-13 double-double. With athleticism that's reminiscent of Natasha Howard, she has a ton of potential at 6'3" and has skills that could translate at the professional level. She can run the floor quite well, and defensively she's aware of her length and uses her wingspan to get into passing lanes and contest passes. While the Mali national team relies upon her as a back-to-the-basket post, acquiring an outside shot is something that can be taught.

     

20. Indiana Fever: Lorela Cubaj (Georgia Tech, Forward, Fifth-Year Senior)

To some talent evaluators, Cubaj might be a risk with her inconsistencies on the offensive end. But with the Fever clearly aiming to have a more defensive identity moving forward, GM Lin Dunn should take that risk.

Amid all of the doubt around her game, Cubaj has multiple transferable skills defensively and in her ability to handle the ball and distribute in transition. Similarly to Olivia Nelson-Ododa, Cubaj's potential to facilitate at a high level should be of interest to coaches and general managers.

     

21. Seattle Storm: Mya Hollingshed (Colorado, Small Forward, Fifth-Year Senior)

Hollingshed should intrigue talent evaluators with her athleticism and versatility. She moves well on the defensive end, hard-hedging perimeter attackers with quick recoveries to the paint.

She improved her three-point shooting from 28.2 percent last year to 39.8 percent. Her volume also increased from 71 attempted threes last season to 128 this season.

     

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

The Lynx need a point guard in their system who's a bit taller than 2020 Rookie of the Year and backup guard Crystal Dangerfield. At 19, Melbourne could be a player whose rights Minnesota holds onto while she continues to develop in Australia. The Lynx will need the depth in the near future.

      

23. Las Vegas Aces: Aijha Blackwell (Missouri, Guard/ Forward, Junior)

The Aces need a wing desperately, and Blackwell can score from all three levels and has the athleticism to take bigs and other wings off the dribble. She demonstrated her arsenal against Baylor on Dec. 4 when she finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds on 8-of-14 shooting.

     

24. Connecticut Sun: Aisha Sheppard (Virginia Tech, Guard, Graduate Student)

Sheppard can create offense from beyond the arc, in the lane and in transition. At 5'9", she gets elevation on her shot and on her drives to the basket, and she can distribute when needed.

The Sun's training camp will be quite competitive for guards. If they draft Veronica Burton in the first round, it might be difficult for Sheppard to find a spot, considering Connecticut can only carry 11 players on roster this season.

       

Round 3: Picks 25-36

25. Indiana Fever: Dre'una Edwards (Kentucky, Forward, Redshirt Junior) 

26. Phoenix Mercury: Maya Dodson (Notre Dame, Forward, Graduate Student)

27. Los Angeles Sparks: Taylor Mikesell (Ohio State, Guard, Senior)

28. Minnesota Lynx: Victaria Saxton (South Carolina, Forward, Senior)

29. New York Liberty: Serena Kessler (France, Guard, International Prospect)

30. Dallas Wings: Kayla Wells (Texas A&M, Guard, Graduate Student)

31. Dallas Wings: Khayla Pointer (LSU, Guard, Graduate Student)

32. Phoenix Mercury: Jenna Staiti (Georgia, Center, Graduate Student)

33. Seattle Storm: Jordan Lewis (Baylor, Guard, Graduate Student)

34. Indiana Fever: Kianna Smith (Louisville, Guard, Redshirt Senior)

35. Las Vegas Aces: Leigha Brown (Michigan, Guard, Senior)

36. Connecticut Sun: Reka Dombai (Hungary, Guard, International Prospect). 

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