2023 WNBA Mock Draft Mach 1: Indiana Wins The Aliyah Boston Lottery
Indiana FINALLY got the draft's biggest prize and it may turn around the franchise
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The most shocking result of the WNBA season may have been the most likely outcome of the 2022 WNBA Draft Lottery. The Indiana Fever won fewer than 10 games in five of the last six years. They had the best chance to win the draft lottery in two of the last four drawings. It felt natural that their luck would fail again when the best prospect in years, Aliyah Boston, was slated to go pro. Yet, the Fever finally got that elusive number one pick on Friday.
Boston makes one piece of this mock draft very obvious. As long as she goes pro, she will be the number one overall pick. The rest of the draft is much more opaque. Mike Thibault said as much after the draft lottery. The players selected from pick two onwards in my mock drafts will likely all change at one point or another throughout this NCAA season.
I’ll be selecting players as if I was the GM of the team using my own big board. It’s “who I would draft,” rather than “who I think they would draft” based on what we know about the players and teams right now. The whole process is complicated by free agency happening before the draft. It’s hard to project what a team needs will be once all of the free agency dust settles. I only took into account roster information we can reasonably rely upon, such as “Rhyne Howard will be on the Atlanta Dream” and “Napheesa Collier will play for the Minnesota Lynx.” With all that said, here’s Mock Draft Mach One.
1. Indiana Fever: Aliyah Boston, South Carolina
Here’s your franchise changer, Indiana. Last season, Boston won all three major player of the year awards and the NCAA Tournament's most outstanding player. Only three other players have done that since the Wooden Award came to the women’s game in 2004: Breanna Stewart (thrice, 2014-16), Brittney Griner (2012), and Candace Parker (2008).
She will be most valuable on defense immediately. She’s an elite rim protector and the main contributor to South Carolina's ranking as the nation’s best defense at the rim last season. According to Synergy Sports, opponents shot a shockingly low 29.4% at the rim with Boston as their primary defender. Take that stat with a grain of salt due to Synergy’s manual tracking, but oh my goodness. She can be an interior anchor of a WNBA defense right now. Offensively, Boston does most of her damage off post-ups and putbacks. It’s quite a lot of damage, as she’s elite in both categories. At the next level, she may need to develop a bit more range and improve her perimeter skills. I’d bet that Boston will figure out any hurdles thrown her way.
2. Minnesota Lynx: Haley Jones, Stanford
Jones’s skillset is fascinating. Tara Vanderveer has compared her to Magic Johnson, and that comparison has some legs. She’s a point forward with great passing instincts. Her value will come from her playmaking, mismatch creation, and (hopefully) ability to guard every position on the floor. However, she will need to develop her jump shot at the next level. While her restricted area shooting was elite, she struggled to hit shots from everywhere else on the floor. She is a great athlete, but she’s not such an unstoppable force that she can get away without a jump shot like Alyssa Thomas can. She willingly takes threes and will hopefully improve in her second year as Stanford’s primary creator.
Jones has been tabbed as the second overall pick behind Boston for a couple of years. But Minnesota may go a different way at number two. Jones’s skillset may not necessarily mesh with Napheesa Collier’s, considering they play the same position. But they’re both very talented players who could probably figure out how to make it work. Minnesota needs a high-upside piece and Jones has the second-highest upside of any player in this draft.
3. Atlanta Dream: Diamond Miller, Maryland
Miller’s sophomore season buoys her up into the lottery. She averaged 17.3 points per game while shooting 57% on twos, 35.5% on threes, and 79.3% from the line. She’s the exact type of player that should thrive in today’s WNBA with 5-out offenses. Her length and speed allow her to play a lot of defensive coverages, at least in theory. However, Miller’s shooting percentages fell off a cliff last season. She struggled with injuries throughout the year and looked off for most of it. Her ultimate draft position will rest on her health and shooting this season.
Still, her skill set is tantalizing and Atlanta is still collecting players with high upsides. She could slot in next to Rhyne Howard and create a super-rangy wing duo in the long term. Because Atlanta is still rebuilding, she would not be pushed to contribute immediately. It seems like a pretty good marriage if things go right for Miller this year.
4. Washington Mystics (from LA via ATL): Jacy Sheldon, Ohio State
Washington’s hope of pulling off the biggest heist in WNBA history by trading for two number-one overall picks in back-to-back seasons is dead. They actually fell one spot from their pre-lottery position in the 2022 edition. However, the pick can still yield a very good player whether through the selection or a trade.
Assuming Washington keeps the pick, Sheldon would make an excellent addition to their backcourt. She can play either guard spot. Her best skill is getting to and finishing at the rim. She shot 67.6% on an impressive 5.5 attempts in the restricted area in 2021-22, according to CBB Analytics. She also shot well from three, on catch-and-shoot opportunities, off the dribble, and from the line last season. Sheldon should be a pest defensively, even if she might struggle on the ball early on. She’s the type of guard that Mike Thibault has molded before. But if another team really covets her or another prospect at this pick, don’t be surprised if the Mystics trade for a veteran.
5. Chicago Sky (from PHX): Rickea Jackson, Tennessee
The Sky have the most undecided roster in the first round. Kahleah Copper is the only player on a veteran contract on the team’s 2023 cap sheet right now. Chicago’s future is very murky with Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Emma Meesseman, Azurá Stevens, and Rebekah Gardner on the free agent market.
With that in mind, we’re going with an upside play for the Sky. Jackson’s length makes her a great helpside defender. She sends shots flying into the stands fairly often. She’s really solid attacking closeouts and finishing at the rim. Jackson needs to improve her shooting, but her free throw percentage jumped up last season, which is a great sign. She is very raw and I think she will have a long runway to being ready. However, the patience and risk may be worth the reward if Jackson’s physical tools pan out.
6. New York Liberty: Charisma Osborne, UCLA
The Liberty made the playoffs for a second-straight season and Sabrina Ionescu took a big leap forward onto the All-WNBA Second Team. But 2022 left us with many questions about New York due to injuries. They’ll look to address most of those issues in free agency if recent history is any indication. With this pick, the Liberty are looking for a long-term fit around Ionescu regardless of position.
Osborne fits the bill. She’s a combo guard with good strength, speed, and shiftiness. She gets to the rim and finishes at an elite level, which should increase New York’s disappointing rim pressure. She needs to cut fat out of her game like some tough dribble jumpers and long twos. For that reason, Osborne projects as a secondary ball-handler and off-ball threat at the next level. Her defense is also a question mark. She gets caught not paying attention at times and isn’t disruptive. But there’s a good defender in Osborne if a team has patience with her.
7. Indiana Fever (from DAL): Ashley Joens, Iowa State
If the Fever keep this pick on the roster, she would be the seventh draft pick from the past two seasons on the team, including the 2023 number one pick. They will have an interesting decision in terms of going for fit around the young pieces or pure upside. Right now, there’s not a high upside option available at this pick, so Indiana goes with a player that should fit on most teams.
Joens is a bit polarizing, in part, because of her role with Iowa State. She’s the primary option on the team who’s best as an off-ball threat. She ranked in the 97th percentile nationally for catch-and-shoot opportunities, according to Synergy Sports. Her 37.6% three-point percentage on 7.1 attempts from deep a game puts her in elite company. However, Joens’s three-point shooting is the only skill that projects to transfer to the WNBA. Defensively, she’s not super athletic and needs a lot of refinement. She probably won’t ever be a great defender, but she could be good enough to be a net positive with her shooting.
8. Atlanta Dream (from WAS): Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech
I’m guessing some of you will bristle at the idea of spending a first-round pick on a traditional center that is not Aliyah Boston. Yet, you still can’t teach someone to be 6-foot-6 despite all of our technological advancements. Kitley is not only tall but comfortable with the ball in her hands. Her best skill is the most important offensive skill for centers: finishing around the rim. Kitley hit 78% of her shots in the restricted area last season, according to CBB Analytics. For context, Aliyah Boston made 67.8% of her rim attempts. Kitley didn’t take as many as Boston did, but still, her rim finishing is impressive. She also can stretch out and shoot from around 18 feet. The concerns for Kitley are her defense at the rim and if she can hang athletically in the modern WNBA. Atlanta doesn’t have a young project at center and Kitley’s size makes her worth the investment here.
9. Seattle Storm: Aijha Blackwell, Baylor
This pick will change a few times before the actual draft, because Seattle’s situation is so unsettled. Only Jewell Loyd and Mercedes Russell are under contract for next season. If Breanna Stewart returns, Seattle will likely look to trade this pick for a veteran who increases their 2023 championship odds. If Stewart bolts in free agency, the Storm may enter a rebuilding period and look for upside.
For now, Seattle goes with the upside pick in Blackwell. She faces one of the toughest tasks in the WNBA. At 6-foot tall, she will have to evolve from being a post-focused power forward to a perimeter-focused small forward. Very few players have successfully made that transition, but the list includes valuable pieces such as Alysha Clark, Betnijah Laney, and Nia Coffey. Other players taken before this pick have to do the same, but they have all marquee perimeter skills to hang their hats on. Blackwell still has to prove herself in that regard. She’ll have a chance to do that at Baylor this season.
10. Connecticut Sun: Abby Meyers, Maryland
Here’s where the mock draft really gets hairy for me. I felt confident in the top nine, then flip-flopped between 10-15 players for these last three spots. I anticipate a lot of movement in mock drafts for these picks, especially with the Sun in a state of flux. Stephanie White takes over for Curt Miller as the head coach, but the roster will change in some form with Bri Jones on the free agency market. Perhaps the Sun could pull off a sign-and-trade and move up in this draft.
Meyers gets the nod from me because her game should look even better at the next level if she can hold up athletically. She’s the type of player who can score double-digit points without dribbling and helps keep an offense moving. Her shooting numbers went through the roof last season at Princeton. She will have to prove that those numbers are real and that she can play at the top levels of college basketball this season.
11. Dallas Wings (from CHI via IND): Madi Williams, Oklahoma
Dallas is in a similar boat to Connecticut with a new coach and a potentially in-flux roster. There have been grumblings about Allisha Gray wanting out and two key pieces from last year, Marina Mabrey and Teaira McCowan, are free agents. The team has so many young players but not a lot of them on the wing.
Williams provides them with a different look and a player who could grow into whatever role is available on the roster if she pans out. She’s another player making the four-to-three transition. But she plays in a very wide-open system at Oklahoma and has played on the perimeter often. Similar to Blackwell, she lacks a marquee perimeter skill, but also trails Blackwell in the athleticism department. Still, Williams has a tantalizing skill set and frame for the next level.
12. Minnesota Lynx (from LV): Maddy Siegrist, Villanova
With two ball-dominant bigs taking up most possessions, Minnesota will need wings who can shoot and drive off them. Bridget Carleton is a great fit for that role, but she’s also a restricted free agent who may not be around next season. Siegrist can fit into that mold. She’s not quite the 3-point shooter that Carleton was in college. But she’s great at shooting open catch-and-shoot threes, which is the most important skill for the job. I have questions about how much Siegrist can compete defensively in the pros. But as one of college basketball’s best scorers, she can put the ball in the basket and that may be enough.