2022 WNBA Mock Draft 2.0: Atlanta Dream Trade For No. 1 Pick
The Atlanta Dream traded for the No. 1 pick as the Washington Mystics move back. How does the deal affect the WNBA Draft on Monday?
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The Washington Mystics completely altered the WNBA draft by trading the No. 1 overall pick to the Atlanta Dream for No. 3, No. 14, and the right to swap picks with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2023. Richard Cohen has your full analysis of that trade here. The Indiana Fever also made a deal in early March. They moved Teaira McCowan and No. 7 to the Dallas Wings for No. 4, No. 6, and a future first.
While these trades do not change my assessment of the players, they do change the calculus for each team. This draft isn’t bursting with potential stars, such that teams can completely disregard on-court fit. Rather, the draft features a couple of potential superstars, some players with star potential that need lots of development, and a bevy of very useful role players. Teams will assess how the players in those last two groups fit into their long-term plans, which is why the mock draft doesn’t necessarily match my big board. Let’s mock!
Note: This is just my opinion and doesn’t reflect the opinions of the entire HHS staff. Also Mock Draft 1.0 is a bit more detailed on each prospect because I figure that most people reading this are more familiar with the top players than they were in late February.
1. Atlanta Dream: NaLyssa Smith, Baylor
Big Board Rank: 1b
Previous Mock Draft Position: 2
The Dream moving up to No. 1 was kind of a no-brainer for what they gave up. The 14th pick in this year’s draft is unlikely to make an impact on the next great Atlanta Dream team. They gave up a bit of upside by giving Washington swap rights to Los Angeles’s 2023 pick. But Atlanta’s own pick in 2023 is much more valuable and they’ll still have two first rounders either way.
Smith overtakes Rhyne Howard in Mock Draft 2.0 because Howard’s higher floor and positional versatility isn’t as attractive to rebuilding Atlanta as it was to hopeful contender Washington. Atlanta can build around Smith whereas Washington probably wanted someone to fit in.
Smith’s mix of size and athleticism gives her a slightly higher ceiling. Developing a three point shot is not out of the question for her. Even if she doesn’t develop that, her face-up game, play-finishing, and passing ability could produce a star. Smith’s defense may be a work in progress, but she also has the tools to be a plus-defender.
2. Indiana Fever: Rhyne Howard, Kentucky
Big Board Rank: 1a
Previous Mock Draft Position: 1
The Fever are sitting pretty with the second pick. Howard and Smith are both excellent prospects and Indiana can just take whichever one doesn’t go first. Howard can play every position except center. While she didn’t take a massive leap forward in her senior season, Howard should have put to bed the concerns about her motor by leading Kentucky (with a fairly weak supporting cast) to the dang SEC championship over mighty South Carolina.
The question for Howard is how much higher is her ceiling and how a team can help her develop. Playing around professionals may push her game to another level, as she has shown the ability to get better as competition gets better. Indiana seems to be turning over a new leaf with interim GM Lin Dunn in charge, but their recent history of developing draft picks does not inspire confidence. Luckily, Howard can likely be a pretty good WNBA player right now. She may be the piece that Indiana builds around or she can fit in around a franchise cornerstone that the Fever find in the future.
3. Washington Mystics: Shakira Austin, Ole Miss
Big Board Rank: 3
Previous Mock Draft Position: 3
Mike Thibault usually shocks folks with his picks. This year, he decided to do it early by moving back two spots from No. 1. Kareem Copeland of the Washington Post reported that Thibault did not move out of the top 3 and took a lesser return to ensure that he could draft one of the top 3 prospects. We’ve long assumed that Austin would be the third pick, so it stands to reason that Washington views her in the same tier of prospect as Smith and Howard.
Austin may need some more development than those two, but she absolutely has the tools to be the center of the future in DC. She is comfortable attacking and shooting from the elbows. Her stroke is smooth so it’s easy to imagine her taking threes in a few years. At 6’5”, she could be a good rim protector with the ability to switch down the road.
There’s a path to her being an Elena Delle Donne-esque player. I doubt that she (like 99.9999% of basketball players) will ever get close to EDD’s level, but she could at least fit into EDD’s role for this team in the future.
4. Indiana Fever: Nyara Sabally, Oregon
Big Board Rank: 5
Previous Mock Draft Position: 5
The Fever moved up to No. 4 because they need lottery tickets. Sabally is the biggest lottery ticket in this draft. Her potential is ludicrous as a 6’5” bruising center who can run the floor, drive to the basket, create shots for others, and may be able to shoot from the outside. There are multiple paths to her being a star in the WNBA and even more paths to her being a very useful WNBA player.
There is also a path to her not contributing at all due to her injuries. Sabally has torn her right ACL twice and missed 8 games this year due to knee issues as well as being limited in practice. Her injury history might scare off a lot of teams. But, Indiana can take on risk because their rebuild is just starting in earnest and Sabally’s ceiling is so high that she’s worth it.
5. New York Liberty: Nia Clouden, Michigan State
Big Board: 4
Previous Mock Draft Position: 4
New York could aim for a need on this team or just swing for the fences on potential without regard to position. I could see any of the players at 5, 6, or 7 in this mock draft going to New York.
Clouden is my pick here because she fits into New York’s present and future (and because I may be the President of Clouden’s fan club). She can hit from anywhere and find her own shot with ease. Clouden is very poised and has improved every aspect of her game this season. She needs to work on her defensive recognition a lot, but she works hard on that end and has the tools to be an adequate defender.
She reminds me a bit of Kelsey Plum, despite a thinner resume. Clouden could give New York a different look at guard than their current options and keep the team’s offense afloat when Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney sit.
6. Indiana Fever: Kierstan Bell, FGCU
Big Board: 7
Previous Mock Draft Position: 7
Another lottery ticket for Indiana. Bell has star potential because her skill set is unique and she’s so much fun. She’s a 6’1” point forward who is liable to pull up from anywhere and creates looks for her teammates. Bell is a walking mismatch and she played in a five-out system at FGCU, which prepares her for the future of the WNBA.
If her three point percentage was higher, she might be in the mix with Smith, Howard, and Austin. That being said, questions about her defense and the potential that she’s a tweener who might struggle to play either forward position may keep her in the late first round. Indiana should swing for the fences again, though. Bell could be much more valuable if the WNBA follows the NBA’s path to fully five-out basketball.
7. Dallas Wings: Emily Engstler, Louisville
Big Board: 6
Previous Mock Draft Position: N/A
Roster Note: Even with Bella Alarie not playing this season, this pick will need to beat out one current Dallas player to make the roster.
Engstler missed the cut in my last mock draft mainly because of her abysmal free throw shooting and because I thought she would have to transition to small forward from power forward (one of the hardest things to do in the WNBA). But I was just wrong.
Engstler does so much great stuff on the basketball court. She creates defensive chaos at multiple positions. Her ability to, at least, stay upright against bigs in March was eye-opening for her potential at power forward. Engstler’s passing was also sublime in March and she is shooting 37% from three in the past two seasons.
19/27 (70%) from the line in the tournament doesn’t wash away her career free throw percentage of 62%. Also, she may not actually be able to play at the three in the WNBA. But the skill set at her size is tough to find. Engstler is the type of player that championship teams have. Dallas could use a swiss army knife as they try to find what works around Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally.
8. Minnesota Lynx: Elissa Cunane, NC State
Big Board: 11
Previous Mock Draft Position: 10
Roster Note: The Lynx only have enough cap space to keep one of Bridget Carleton, Rachel Banham, Jessica Shepard, Natasha Mack, Yvonne Turner, and this selection so this pick has an uphill battle to make the roster.
Cunane is a polarizing prospect. Some, including most NC State fans, swear that she’s a star in the making. While, many others (likely including the person reading a newsletter with the word “stats” in its name) think she is a plodding center whom the league has passed by. She’s probably somewhere in between those two poles and her destiny will likely be defined by her environment to a larger extent than other first-rounders.
That being said, you can’t teach 6’5”! Cunane has got the bones of a center that can play in this league because she can move decently well for her size and she’s willing to shoot from the perimeter. Her defense needs a lot of work if she’s going to be playing anything other than drop coverage at the next level.
As mentioned, Minnesota may not have a spot for this pick. But getting a look at Cunane would be beneficial to see if she could be a fill-in for Sylvia Fowles or even help replace Fowles in the future.
9. Los Angeles Sparks: Christyn Williams, UConn
Big Board: 13
Previous Mock Draft Position: N/A
Roster Note: This pick will have to fight for a spot with Lexie Brown, Arella Guirantes, Jasmine Walker, Lauren Cox, and Te’a Cooper. Only three of those five players can make the roster. *A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that only one of those five players can make it*
Considering this pick will likely be competing with wings for a roster spot and Los Angeles’s crowded front court, Derek Fisher is likely targeting a wing and he should probably look for one that can shoot threes. I had Evina Westbrook slotted here in the last mock draft because she seems like the type of player that Fisher has valued with the Sparks.
However, Williams makes a bit more sense after this season. She’s a bit shorter than her UConn teammate and has less positional versatility because she’s a straight two-guard. But she’s much stronger and showed the ability to scale up her production more. At 5’11”, she still has enough height to balance LA’s smaller backcourt. Most importantly, Williams is more ready to contribute than the other two-guards left.
10. Indiana Fever: Destanni Henderson, South Carolina
Big Board: 9
Previous Mock Draft Position: N/A
Roster Note: Are the Indiana Fever really going to roll with 4 first-round picks on the roster? This may be a nice spot for a trade.
Henderson’s magical championship game and her play in the tournament certainly helped her draft stock. Her ability to finish through traffic despite her size (5’7”) was eye-opening and she showed that she can run an offense all year. Her counting stats did fall off a bit from her junior year, but her efficiency remained steady. She finished the year shooting 39.9% on threes and provided some excellent defense for the Gamecocks. Speedy point guards who can run an offense, shoot threes, and play defense are hard to come by, so Indiana should grab Henderson even if her size limits her upside a bit.
11. Las Vegas Aces: Aisha Sheppard, Virginia Tech
Big Board: 12
Previous Mock Draft Position: N/A
I’m going to be honest: I have no clue what to do with this pick. The Aces could use another wing, but they would ideally find a veteran who can contribute on a championship team immediately. It seems unlikely that they will find that on the market right now, but it seems even more unlikely that they find that with the 11th pick in this year’s draft. Maybe they completely ignore positions and look for a developmental player.
I went the other direction and tried to fill the need with this pick. My choices came down to Veronica Burton and Sheppard. Sheppard gets the nod because she’s more of an off-ball threat than Burton. Sheppard may not have the highest ceiling due to her being 24 years old. But I think her age and maturity make her more attractive to a contending team. Also, Sheppard can shoot the lights out (38.7% on 7.5 threes in 2021-22).
12. Connecticut Sun: Naz Hillmon, Michigan
Big Board: 8
Previous Mock Draft Position: 6
Roster note: Connecticut would need to cut one of Kaila Charles, Natisha Hiedeman, or DiJonai Carrington to have enough cap space to afford this pick.
Hillmon is another polarizing prospect and a player that may not fit into the modern WNBA. She’s an undersized post player who basically only operated with her back to the basket at Michigan. While she was amazing in her role, she will need to radically change her game to play outside of the low block.
That being said, Hillmon could totally do it. Every WNBA talent evaluator, basketball coach and college commentator brings up her work ethic and motor when talking about her. She already has shown the ability to be a connector on offense, set great screens, and not get killed on the perimeter defensively.
Unfortunately, Hillmon faces an uphill battle to even make the Sun’s roster as they compete for a title. I like the idea of her as the power forward next to Jonquel Jones as the center in some lineups. If Hillmon gets a chance, she may surprise her doubters.
Teams without first round pick
Seattle Storm: 17th
Phoenix Mercury: 26th
Chicago Sky: No picks
Players who fell out from 1.0
Evina Westbrook, UConn
Ashley Joens: Staying at Iowa State.
Lorela Cubaj, Georgia Tech
Sika Kone, Mali
Guess what, folks? We’ll be talking about actual draft results when we speak next! The WNBA Draft, live from New York, will be on April 11th at 7 pm on ESPN. I’ll be there in person so make sure to follow @herhoopstats across social media to keep up with everything we’re doing there!