2022 WNBA Mock Draft: Analyzing Elite Prospects and Hidden Gems

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIApril 8, 2022

2022 WNBA Mock Draft: Analyzing Elite Prospects and Hidden Gems

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The 2022 WNBA draft is set to take place Monday in New York City, but the Washington Mystics are no longer the first team on the clock.

    On Wednesday, the Mystics traded the No. 1 overall pick in the draft to the Atlanta Dream, which sent the No. 14 overall selection to Washington. The Mystics also acquired the right to swap 2023 first-round picks with the Los Angeles Sparks in the deal.

    This will be only the second time the Dream have had the first pick in the draft, as they also had it in 2009 when they selected Angel McCoughtry. Atlanta will look to build around whomever it takes this time, as the team is coming off an 8-24 season and has missed the playoffs each of the past three years.

    Heading into the WNBA draft, here's a mock for how the first round could unfold, followed by a closer look at some of the elite prospects and hidden gems in this year's class.

1st-Round Mock Draft

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    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: Kierstan Bell, G, Florida Gulf Coast

    5. New York Liberty: Nyara Sabally, F/C, Oregon

    6. Indiana Fever: Emily Engstler, F, Louisville

    7. Dallas Wings: Rae Burrell, G/F, Tennessee

    8. Minnesota Lynx: Sika Kone, F/C, Mali

    9. Los Angeles Sparks: Christyn Williams, G, UConn

    10. Indiana Fever: Destanni Henderson, G, South Carolina

    11. Las Vegas Aces: Elissa Cunane, C, NC State

    12. Connecticut Sun: Evina Westbrook, G, UConn

Top Prospects

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Rhyne Howard, G, Kentucky

    It's highly likely Rhyne Howard will be heading to Atlanta, as the Dream should take the 6'2" guard with the No. 1 overall pick.

    The 21-year-old had a terrific four-year career at Kentucky, where she twice earned SEC Player of the Year honors (2019-20 and 2020-21) and was named a unanimous first-team All-American this past season.

    Howard has averaged more than 20 points per game in each of the past three seasons for the Wildcats, and she'll look to carry that offensive prowess over to the WNBA. She also had 284 career three-pointers at Kentucky, so she's going to be difficult to guard on the perimeter.

    If the Dream pass over Howard for somebody else, don't expect her to stay on the board for long. It's clear she has the talent to excel at the next level.

                  

    NaLyssa Smith, F, Baylor

    NaLyssa Smith is likely the only other player Atlanta is considering at No. 1 overall. She's a different type of player than Howard, as the former Baylor standout is a dominant forward. She averaged 22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds in 35 games for the Bears this past season.

    Throughout her four-year career at Baylor, the 21-year-old continually improved. If that extends in the NBA, then she could develop into one of the top forwards in the league in the years to come.

    Not only does Smith have a strong post game, but she's also a great defender. That's another reason why she'll likely be one of the first two players selected in this year's draft. And it should help her enjoy immediate success with her new team.

Hidden Gems

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Hannah Sjerven, F/C, South Dakota

    Hannah Sjerven greatly improved her WNBA draft stock during the women's NCAA tournament, as she helped power South Dakota to the Sweet 16 as a No. 10 seed.

    And even though the Coyotes faced some tough competition, that didn't stop the 6'2" center from having several strong showings.

    While going up against Ole Miss, Baylor and Michigan—each of which has a strong post game of its own—Sjerven averaged 17.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in the trio of tournament games. She finished her senior season averaging 15.1 points and 7.7 rebounds in 35 games.

    There's a strong possibility the Rogers, Minnesota native won't get taken in the first round of the draft. But that just means somebody later on will be getting a hidden gem, as she has already proved she can excel against tough competition, which she may do again in the WNBA.

                

    Nia Clouden, G, Michigan State

    Nia Clouden could get drafted late in Round 1, or she may not come off the board until the second round. Either way, she may be getting a bit underrated as she prepares to begin her professional career.

    Over her first three seasons, the former Michigan State player was a strong scorer for Spartans. But she took her game to another level in 2021-22, averaging a career-high 20 points in 30 games while also setting personal bests in three-point percentage (39.6) and free-throw percentage (88.5).

    Wherever Clouden ends up, she'll bring an offensive boost to that team. And don't be surprised if the 5'8" guard keeps refining her skills and becomes one of the steals of the draft.

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