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WNBA Draft preview: Connecticut Sun can add depth for now, later

Connecticut owns the last picks of the first (12), second (24) and third rounds (36), giving the franchise three opportunities to add players who potentially could earn a roster spot and supplement the Sun’s core of six All-Stars.

Connecticut Sun v Washington Mystics
Natisha Hiedeman (#2) and DiJonai Carrington (#21) embody the Connecticut Sun’s success with later draft picks.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

After notching the best record in the 2021 WNBA season, the Connecticut Sun are slotted for the final draft pick in the first (12), second (24) and third (36) rounds.

The three picks represent potential roster bonuses for the Sun. Ahead of the 2022 season, Connecticut is once again all in on the chase for the franchise’s first championship, bringing Courtney Williams back to Uncasville on a bargain one-year deal to give the Sun a core of six players who have earned All-Star honors. As such, who they select in the draft likely will not swing their season.

Yet, this does not mean that these selections will be insignificant or irrelevant. With a top-heavy and expensive roster, finding young, cheap off-the-bench contributors is an important roster building strategy. The Sun have succeed in doing just this in recent years.

Although selected by the Minnesota Lynx in the second round of the 2019 WNBA Draft, the Sun would (twice) grab Natisha Hiedeman off the waiver wire during the 2019 season. By 2021, she had emerged as a quality sixth woman for the Sun. They did the same with the still-raw-but-promising Beatrice Mompremier, originally a 2020 second-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Sparks. In the 2021 WNBA Draft, Connecticut used their own second-round selection to nab DiJonai Carrington, who intrigued when given opportunity in her rookie season before showing out during the inaugural Athletes Unlimited season.

In short, the Sun, even while lacking premium draft picks, not only have successfully identified WNBA-caliber contributors but also have awarded valuable roster spots to such players.

With three or four roster spots up for grabs entering training camp, the draft is an opportunity for Connecticut to improve their depth for the upcoming season, or future seasons.

Picks: 12, 24, 36

In recent years, the WNBA Draft has confounded, consistently defying the mock drafts of those, like our Eric Nemchock, tasked with predicting how things will unfold. If a talented player or two again threatens to slip into the second round, the Sun, with the final selection of the first round, can (and should) swoop in, willingly taking a swing on a player with high upside, injury concerns or fit questions.

Nemchock targets Sika Kone, a 19-year-old, 6’3 center from Mali who has played professionally in Spain, for Connecticut, suggesting the Sun could “stash” her abroad for the 2022 season. Not in need of an immediate contributor, Kone entices as an addition to future Sun squads.

Alternatively, Connecticut could use the first-round selection on a college star who remains on the board. Although it is widely presumed that her postseason performance boosted her draft stock, Emily Engstler would be an interesting get for Connecticut. The do-it-all forward for Louisville has the makings of mini Alyssa Thomas. Having Engstler, already a better shooter than Thomas and her torn labrums, serve as an understudy of “The Engine” could equip Connecticut for the present and future.

A prospect more likely to still be on the board for the Sun is Oregon’s Nyara Sabally. While a first-round talent, a concerning injury history could cause general managers to pass on the younger Sabally. The Sun, however, are in position to gamble, possibly using her rookie year to establish a pre-hab and rehab program that could better position her for a long and productive WNBA career.

A final intriguing option for the 12th pick is Naz Hillmon. One of the best college basketball players over the past two seasons, Hillmon’s means of success at Michigan raises questions about her WNBA viability. An efficient offensive menace from the low post, Hillmon is only 6’2, suggesting her game will not easily translate to the taller, longer and more athletic professional level.

However, if any coach could make Hillmon work in the W, it is Curt Miller. Over the past few seasons, as the Sun missed multiple key contributors due to absences and injuries, Miller shifted his schemes, adapting to his available personnel. And though it is unlikely he would organize rotations around a rookie, pairing Hillmon with Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner could maximize her offensive strengths, as Jones and Bonner both can operate from the perimeter, and minimize her defensive weaknesses, since the 6’6 Jones and 6’4 Bonner have the length to cover for Hillmon.

For their second and third round selections, the Sun would be wise to look for shooting and/or scoring depth from the guard and/or wing positions. Depending on how the draft shakes out, scoring guard options could include Michigan State’s Nia Clouden, LSU’s Khayla Pointer or Florida’s Kiki Smith. In terms of shooters, Virginia Tech’s Aisha Sheppard (as mocked by Nemchock), Stanford’s Lexie Hull or Maryland’s Kaite Benzan (as also mocked by Nemchock) are possibilities.