The 2022 WNBA Draft is in the books, and as with any other draft, there’s plenty to discuss. This season, the turnaround time between the draft (April 11) and the start of training camp (April 17) is astoundingly short, so with under a week to gather our thoughts before the action begins, let’s go over each WNBA team’s draft and try to decipher the respective strategies.
Picks: G/F Rhyne Howard (No. 1), C Naz Hillmon (No. 15)
The Dream made waves when they traded for the top overall pick just days prior to the draft, sending the No. 3 and No. 14 picks to Washington. Atlanta had clearly zeroed in on Howard and believes that she’s the right player to build around; the 6’2 wing earned a laundry list of accolades during her collegiate career at Kentucky, including several All-American honors and three SEC Player of the Year awards, and is the type of player who can both lead a team in scoring and maximize the talents of her teammates in the pick and roll.
Hillmon, on the other hand, slid a bit relative to her own collegiate prestige. Fortunately for the 2021 Big Ten Player of the Year, Atlanta’s roster is one that she can realistically make, with the Dream having little invested in frontcourt players beyond Cheyenne Parker and Monique Billings. Hillmon will need to prove that her paint-bound game will translate against professional competition, but she should have ample opportunity to do that in Atlanta.
Nothing to see here. Chicago traded all of its 2022 draft picks in advance, most notably sending its first-round pick (No. 7) to Indiana (which was later sent to Dallas) in an early-February trade that brought Julie Allemand to the Sky and sent Diamond DeShields to Phoenix.
Picks: G Nia Clouden (No. 12), G Jordan Lewis (No. 24), G Kiara Smith (No. 36)
If there was any doubt remaining as to where the Sun were looking to improve this offseason, it’s now clear as day. Connecticut acquired three more lead guards in the draft, adding them to a suddenly-crowded backcourt that includes free agency signees Yvonne Anderson and Taj Cole.
Of the Sun’s three draftees, Clouden will have the best chance at making the final roster, ideally serving as a score-first point guard who can make plays and shoot the basketball in bench lineups. Connecticut lacked such a player in the 2021 playoffs, a weakness that was severely exposed in its semifinals loss to Chicago. Lewis is no slouch, either, though she’s more of a drive-and-kick type of guard who will likely be bound exclusively to the point guard position. Smith suffered a knee injury near the end of her career as a Florida Gator and will likely be treated as a “stash” pick as a result.
Picks: G Veronica Burton (No. 7), G/F Jasmine Dickey (No. 30), C Jazz Bond (No. 31)
Not a very exciting draft for Dallas? Maybe, but the Wings didn’t have much to do. They’re bringing back nearly their entire roster from last season, with the acquisition of center Teaira McCowan from the Fever their only meaningful transaction.
That doesn’t mean the Wings can’t get better, though, and they saw an opportunity to shore up their point-of-attack defense with Burton. The point guard position wasn’t a strength for Dallas last season, and with both Tyasha Harris and Moriah Jefferson (as explained by Her Hoop Stats’ Richard Cohen) relatively expendable, there’s an opportunity for the three-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year to make an impact sooner rather than later. Dickey and Bond, while dominant for Delaware and North Florida, respectively, seem unlikely to make the final roster, with the Wings more or less set at their positions.
Picks: F NaLyssa Smith (No. 2), F Emily Engstler (No. 4), G/F Lexie Hull (No. 6), C Queen Egbo (No. 10), G Destanni Henderson (No. 20), C Ameshya Williams-Holliday (No. 25), G Ali Patberg (No. 34)
Indiana entered the draft with the most to do of any WNBA team, owning seven draft picks after finishing with the league’s worst record (6-26) in 2021.
The Fever selected who most believed to be the best player available with their first pick; Smith is a highly physical and athletic play finisher who Indiana hopes will become a player the franchise can build around. After that, the Fever leaned all the way into a defense-first draft strategy, choosing the class’ most disruptive defender in Engstler, a stout perimeter defender in Hull and a long and active, albeit offensively raw, center in Egbo.
The latter two picks surprised many viewers, and for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016, it would have been fair to expect the Fever to simply select the best player available at each juncture. Their work isn’t done yet, either; Indiana currently has 22 players listed on its roster. With training camp sure to have battles at every position, the Fever will nevertheless be one of the more interesting teams to follow at the 2022 WNBA season progresses, if for no reason other than watching all of their youngsters develop.
Las Vegas Aces
Picks: F Mya Hollingshed (No. 8), F Kierstan Bell (No. 11), G Khayla Pointer (No. 13), G Aisha Sheppard (No. 23), C Faustine Aifuwa (No. 35)
The Aces acquired the No. 8 and No. 13 overall picks right before the draft in a trade with Minnesota, bringing with them the potential to fill out a somewhat-bare training camp roster with an array of young talent that complements their current core of players.
Hollingshed was one of the surprises of the first round, but her pro-level skill (3-point shooting from the forward position) is one that, in theory, will benefit Las Vegas right away. Bell and Sheppard, too, were both prolific 3-point shooters in college, Bell coming from an FGCU program where midrange jumpers are strongly eschewed and Sheppard bringing with her a jumpshot versatility rivaled by few players in the class. All three picks make a good deal of sense for a team that ranked dead last in the WNBA in 3-point rate last season.
It’s Pointer, though, who may need to grow into a new role with the Aces. Las Vegas has plenty of playmaking in its backcourt with Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum, and the team brought back fan favorite Sydney Colson to back them up. It’s anyone’s guess as to what the Aces will look like in 2023, though; if Pointer sticks around, she may end up inheriting a spot in the rotation by default.
Los Angeles Sparks
Picks: G/F Rae Burrell (No. 9), G/F Kianna Smith (No. 16), C Olivia Nelson-Ododa (No. 19), F Amy Atwell (No. 27)
In contrast to their most recent free agency period, the Sparks didn’t make much noise in the draft, choosing players who could be described as quietly effective. Los Angeles didn’t need much in either its frontcourt or backcourt, so using picks on Burrell and Smith makes sense; both players are wings who are at least 6’0 and have reliable outside jumpshots. For a team that loaded up on playmaking at the guard position in free agency, adding Chennedy Carter and Jordin Canada, such off-ball threats will balance the Sparks offense.
Nelson-Ododa is also an ideal complementary player. An outstanding passing center, she doesn’t need to shoot the ball to impact a game, and has the length to be a disruptive defender in a Sparks system that forced turnovers at a higher rate than any other team in 2021.
Picks: F Kayla Jones (No. 22), C Hannah Sjerven (No. 28)
The Lynx made their intentions clear the day before the draft, trading both the No. 8 and No. 13 picks to Las Vegas in exchange for future draft capital. Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve was brutally honest in her comments, essentially conceding that whoever she drafted in 2022 was not going to make Minnesota’s final roster due to salary cap constraints.
That being said, there are worse players to have in one’s training camp than Jones and Sjerven. Jones, in particular, is a versatile, 6’1 combo forward who defends multiple positions and plays well off of others — the exact type of player who coaches want to push their veterans. Sjerven falls into the same category, having most recently held her own against other big-name draftees in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
New York Liberty
Picks: C Nyara Sabally (No. 5), F/C Lorela Cubaj (No. 18; via Seattle), C Sika Koné (No. 29)
New York’s frontcourt overhaul continues as it adds a trio of bigs through the draft. The Liberty already have a lot invested in Natasha Howard and Stefanie Dolson, but their depth up front was definitely lacking, and their 2022 draft strategy all but confirms they saw that as a weakness.
Sabally is the biggest name of the bunch, and she also has the highest ceiling. At 6’5, she can handle the basketball better than most players her size; her collegiate career was marred by injury, but if those injuries are behind her, she’ll give the Liberty another multi-dimensional big. Cubaj, too, has several facets to her game, specifically on the defensive end of the floor. Koné was projected by many to be a first-round draft pick; as an international player, if she chooses not to come over this season, New York will have gotten terrific value by stashing her.
Picks: C Maya Dodson (No. 26), F/C Macee Williams (No. 32)
With their earliest pick coming in the third round, the Mercury didn’t have many avenues to improve through the draft, but Brittney Griner’s ongoing detainment in Russia and the overall murky nature of her case narrowed their options down significantly when it came time to choose a player — Phoenix needed a center.
The 6’3 Dodson blocked a whopping 91 shots (No. 6 among all Division I players) as a grad student at Notre Dame, while the 6’2 Williams won an incredible fourth Horizon League Player of the Year award at IUPUI. We’ll see which player the Mercury roll with when the season begins; Kristine Anigwe presents most of the training camp competition at the position.
Picks: C Elissa Cunane (No. 17), G Evina Westbrook (No. 21), G Jade Melbourne (No. 33)
Although they didn’t pick until the mid-second round, the Storm had one of the more interesting drafts of the league’s 12 teams. They didn’t immediately address their need for a point guard of the future — with both Sue Bird and Briann January retiring after the 2022 WNBA season, Seattle needs a plan there — though the 19-year old Melbourne has a chance at becoming a WNBA-level point guard in the future, should her rise in the ranks of Australia’s national team continue.
For 2022, though, we’ll see which of Seattle’s picks, if any, make an impact. Cunane has significant competition in the frontcourt in Jantel Lavender, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Ezi Magbegor; perhaps the Storm are banking on Magbegor and Stephanie Talbot to miss part of the season as Australia prepares for the 2022 FIBA World Cup. If that’s the case, Cunane and Westbrook will both have a much easier time making Seattle’s roster.
Picks: C Shakira Austin (No. 3), G Christyn Williams (No. 14)
In trading the No. 1 overall pick to Atlanta for No. 3 and No. 14, the Mystics opted for draft depth over star power. Head coach and general manager Mike Thibault must have really liked what he saw in Austin, and it’s hard to blame him; the 6’5 center is just scratching the surface of her potential as an offense player, and she’ll have much more room to operate in Washington than she did in college at Ole Miss.
Williams, meanwhile, fits the classic Thibault mold: a steady guard who defends well and has few holes in her offensive game, even if none of her strengths stand out. She’ll face stiff competition from Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Lee-seul Kang on the perimeter, though if the Mystics’ moves up to this point are of any indication, Thibault will be more than content to let the rest of his training camp pieces fall where they may.