WNBA Draft 2022: Start Time, Schedule, Round 1 Order and Mock Predictions

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2022

WNBA Draft 2022: Start Time, Schedule, Round 1 Order and Mock Predictions

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    After spending a few years in the wilderness, the Atlanta Dream put themselves on a path back to relevancy ahead of the 2022 WNBA draft.

    The Dream acquired the No. 1 overall pick from the Washington Mystics in a deal that saw Washington move back two spots to No. 3. In a draft wherein two players have separated themselves from the pack, it is clear that Atlanta is looking at Kentucky's Rhyne Howard or Baylor's NaLyssa Smith.

    Washington created some intrigue as well, with many fans wondering which player left head coach Mike Thibault feeling comfortable enough to trade back.

    All eyes are on the Dream and Mystics heading into the draft, which will begin Monday at 7 p.m. ET and be broadcast on ESPN.

    Here's a look ahead to the event.

2022 Mock Draft: 1st Round

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    1. Atlanta Dream: Rhyne Howard, G, Kentucky

    2. Indiana Fever: NaLyssa Smith, F, Baylor

    3. Washington Mystics: Shakira Austin, C, Ole Miss

    4. Indiana Fever (via Sparks): Kierstan Bell, G, Florida Gulf Coast

    5. New York Liberty: Emily Engstler, F, Louisville

    6. Indiana Fever (via Wings): Elissa Cunane, C, North Carolina State

    7. Dallas Wings (via Sky): Nyara Sabally, F, Oregon

    8. Minnesota Lynx (via Mercury): Sika Kone, F, Mali

    9. Los Angeles Sparks (via Storm): Rae Burrell, G, Tennessee

    10. Indiana Fever (via Lynx): Destanni Henderson, G, South Carolina

    11. Las Vegas Aces: Nia Clouden, G, Michigan State

    12. Connecticut Sun: Veronica Burton, G, Northwestern

Will Howard or Smith Be 1st off the Board?

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    Howard is more of a pure scorer, averaging 20-plus points in three of her four years with the Wildcats. As a senior, she poured in 20.5 points per game and shot 44.1 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from beyond the arc.

    The 6'2" guard also averaged 7.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists, so she brings more than her scoring ability to the table.

    Smith is more of an archetypal 4 and averaged a double-double (22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds). The 6'4" forward was a force on the boards, ranking 32nd in Division I in defensive rebounding rate (26.1 percent) and 50th in total rebounding rate (19.2 percent), according to Her Hoop Stats.

    There may not be much drama when it comes to Atlanta's decision. Spencer Nusbaum of The Next reported Howard is emerging as the presumptive choice.

    Only four players are under contract through the 2023 season, so the roster is a bit of a blank slate for general manager Dan Padover.

    Targeting Howard would make sense after Atlanta traded Chennedy Carter to the Los Angeles Sparks, thus removing a player who was seemingly going to be the franchise's long-term lead scorer.

Indiana Can't Possibly Mess This Up, Right?

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    Over the past three years, the Indiana Fever have used top-five picks on Kysre Gondrezick, Lauren Cox and Teaira McCowan. Not one of the three is still with the team.

    With McCowan, Indiana at least managed to use the 6'7" center as part of a trade to get the Nos. 4 and 6 overall picks this year and a 2023 first-rounder. Gondrezick and Cox were released outright, and they collectively played only 44 games for the organization.

    A new voice is now guiding the front office. Franchise legend Tamika Catchings resigned as vice president of basketball operations and general manager in February, with Lin Dunn occupying the GM role on an interim basis.

    With four top-10 picks at their disposal, Dunn and head coach Marianne Stanley can atone for Indiana's past mistakes and lay the foundation for a team that can contend in a few years.

    Figuring out what to do at No. 2 should be pretty straightforward, as they should wind up with whomever the Mystics don't take between Howard and Smith. The hard part will come next.

    The further down the first round you get, the less likely you are to find a true foundational star. But successful franchises not only identify undervalued assets but also develop them them into key pieces of the rotation. Those are two areas where the Fever have fallen woefully short recently.

What Does Thibault Have Up His Sleeve?

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    The Mystics have missed the playoffs just twice since Thibault arrived in 2013. Because they haven't been a fixture in the early stages of the first round, it's tough to gauge what the franchise's priorities are and what profile the front office is looking for in a player.

    In 2018, some thought Washington reached a bit when it selected Ariel Atkins with the seventh overall pick. Atkins averaged 11.3 points and 2.1 assists as a rookie and reached her first All-Star Game in 2021.

    That year, Thibault wasn't afraid to take a perceived risk on a player he valued, and he was vindicated. Does he do something similar Monday?

    Shakira Austin is the consensus favorite at No. 3. The Ole Miss center averaged 15.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks en route to earning first-team All-SEC honors in 2021-22. She would fit on a team that watched 2019 WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman sign with the Chicago Sky in February.

    But don't rule out an unexpected selection such as Nyara Sabally, Kierstan Bell or Elissa Cunane. Maybe Washington wants to venture well outside the box and go with Malian center Sika Kone with an eye toward the long term.

How Much Did the NCAA Tournament Affect Draft Boards?

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    Aliyah Boston was clearly the best player on the floor, but South Carolina's national championship win over Connecticut doesn't come without the contributions of Destanni Henderson. The 5'7" guard finished with 26 points, four assists and three steals in a 64-49 victory.

    Henderson might have played her way into the first round through her performance in the NCAA tournament, which contrasted with that of Huskies star Christyn Williams.

    Williams went 1-of-7 from the field for two points against the Gamecocks after struggling (3-of-13 for 10 points) in the national semifinals against Stanford. As much as WNBA evaluators won't want to base their assessments of a player on the tournament alone, Henderson might have vaulted herself ahead of Williams.

    Emily Engstler, meanwhile, was a beneficiary of Louisville's run to the Final Four.

    "She's another player that the tournament has helped her stock," one WNBA general manager said to The Athletic's Chantel Jennings. "High energy, passionate about the game, values defense and rebounding, spreads the floor for them. She has a high basketball IQ."

    Engstler, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds in a Sweet 16 win over Tennessee and nearly dropped a double-double (18 points, nine rebounds) in the Final Four against South Carolina, might have guaranteed herself a top-five selection.