First off, congratulations to all 36 players selected in the 2023 WNBA Draft! Earning the opportunity to become part of the exclusive 144(ish) club is an achievement worth celebrating, regardless of what happens next.
The future of the league is here we’re an hour and a half away from the #WNBADraft pic.twitter.com/gRtsn8zupk— WNBA (@WNBA) April 10, 2023
This exercise, however, will center the 12 teams doing the drafting. From a talented pool of players, which teams made the sharpest — or, at least what we perceive to be the sharpest — selections, both for 2023 and beyond?
Teams that used their selections to articulate a clear vision for their franchise — whether through the addition of shooting, versatility, smarts, athleticism or some combination of these traits — will receive strong scores in this evaluation, which will be graded according to the following scale:
A: Draft decisions enhance the team’s strategic and stylistic vision
B: Draft decisions support the team’s strategic and stylistic vision.
C: Draft decisions somewhat align with and/or do not substantially impact a team’s strategic and stylistic vision.
D: Draft decisions raise questions about a team’s strategic and stylistic vision.
Let’s get to the grades, beginning with the Indiana Fever:
Indiana Fever: A
Aliyah Boston (1), Grace Berger (7), Taylor Mikesell (13), LaDazhia Williams (17), Victaria Saxton (25),
For the first time in franchise history, the Fever scored the first pick in a WNBA draft. It came at a good time, allowing them to add unquestioned No. 1 pick Aliyah Boston. Although Boston’s ability to blossom into an offensive superstar can be debated, the impact she will have in Indy due to her defensive solidity, as well as her winning intangibles, is not in doubt. As new head coach Christie Sides said of Boston, “She’s not only the full package of being a great player but just a great person and is going to be a great person with this franchise.”
The Fever, however, earn an A not for making the easy decision to draft Boston, but because of how their subsequent selections show a consistent team-building vision that, prior to the return of Lin Dunn as GM, was non-existent.
Recalling last year’s draft, Dunn targeted more 3-point shooting with Mikesell and experienced, winning collegians with physical profiles that suggested they can hang in the W with Williams and Saxton.
And by plucking Berger with the seventh pick, the Fever were not just grabbing the homestate gal, even though this spot was higher than she was slated in most projections. Berger’s strength and sturdiness can enhance Indy on both ends. Offensively, she brings reliable secondary ball handling and tough, mid-range shotmaking. She will be able to take advantage of the opportunities opened by the attention Kelsey Mitchell attracts. Defensively, Berger should be able to hold her own.
Minnesota Lynx: A+
Diamond Miller (2), Maïa Hirsch (12), Dorka Juhász (16), Brea Beal (24), Taylor Soule (27)
Similar to Indiana, Minnesota receives a high mark not for making the obvious pick in Miller but due to the rest of their draft.
Cheryl Reeve and company’s choices reflect the emerging, post-Sylvia Fowles identity of the franchise. Rather than seeking to replace Fowles (an impossible task) with a traditional, dominant big, the Lynx opted for modern bigs. The youthful Hirsch represents an upside swing on a player who possesses defensive versatility; the more seasoned Juhász offers passing chops and shooting potential.
Minnesota then took advantage of two of the night’s most surprising fallers. Clearly, WNBA decision-makers are skeptical of Beal, believing that her offensive limitations overwhelm her demonstrable defensive abilities. Yet, it seems smart to bet that, in fact, Beal’s defense is just that good and that her shooting stroke can improve enough to make her viable on offense. Like Beal, Soule is a strong, multi-positional defender who also has shown the strength needed to succeed in the W.
Dallas Wings: D
Maddy Siegrist (3), Stephanie Soares (4), Lou Lopez-Senechal (5), Abby Meyers (11), Ashley Joens (19), Paige Robinson (31)
In Dallas, the more things change, the more they stay the same. So, there’s a lot to say about what the Wings did and where they might be going.
On the surface, the Wings’ draft priority was clear: shooting! Siegrist, Lopez-Senechal, Meyers and Joens all are plus shooters with the ability to create space for the isolation adventures of Arike Ogunbowale and the post play of Natasha Howard and Teaira McCowan. Siegrist scored at all three levels at Villanova. Lopez-Senechal and Meyers showed comfort bombing from behind the arc. While Joens has expanded her range, she remains more comfortable in the mid-range.
However, due to roster constraints, it is hard to imagine more than two of these players making the final 12. One of those spots is almost guaranteed to Siegrist. Yet, for all of her scoring talents, it is worth asking if she is the best fit. Siegrist is accustomed to operating with the ball in her hands, whereas Lopez-Senechal and Meyers profile as easier fits around the expected high-usage trio of Ogunbowale, Howard and McCowan. The bigger questions about Siegrist pop up on the other end of the floor. New head coach Latricia Trammell is defensive-minded. When speaking anonymously to The Athletic, a number of WNBA executives raised questions about Siegrist’s athleticism, positing her lack of foot speed will make her a defensive liability.
More optimistic estimations of Siegrist’s WNBA viability still suggest her adaptation to the league could take several seasons. But, Dallas has not demonstrated much patience in regard to player development in recent years. The 2023 draft was the third time in the last four drafts that the Wings have had multiple first-round picks. Of those draftees, almost half are no longer on the roster. Two of them — top two 2021 draftees Charli Collier and Awak Kuier — have been pushed down the bigs hierarchy by McCowan and Howard.
Further muddling things, Dallas traded a 2024 second-round and 2025 first-round pick for Stephanie Soares, originally selected by the Mystics with the fourth pick. If she successfully recovers from an ACL injury that will keep her off the court in 2023, Soares projects a near-perfect modern big, with defensive mobility and offensive stretchability. Yet, as noted, Dallas’ big rotation is already overcrowded, and, in terms of Collier and Kuier, underdeveloped.
Washington Mystics: B+
Elena Tsineke (20), Txell Alarcón (32)
Washington’s grade is as much about who they did not add, rather than who they did. This assessment is not intended to dismiss Tsineke or Alarcón. Tsineke is the archetype of a modern point guard — comfortable operating in the pick-and-roll and capable as a 3-point shooter — who could find her niche with the Mystics (or somewhere else in the W) as a backup point guard. The 19-year-old Alarcón is a worthwhile future gamble who will spend the next year (or more) developing in her native Spain.
Washington chose not to keep their fourth overall selection, instead sending Stephanie Soares to Dallas for a pair of picks in what are predicted to be two loaded drafts. In 2024, the Mystics will own the Wings second-round pick. In 2025, DC will have Atlanta’s first-round pick. With no glaring needs for 2023, converting a top pick in a weaker draft into two future opportunities in stronger drafts is a smart bit of business by the Thibaults.
Atlanta Dream: A-
Haley Jones (6), Laeticia Amihere (8), Leigha Brown (15)
On draft night, Atlanta introduced a vision of versatility, snagging three players with good size, ball-handling chops, multi-positional potential and defensive determination in Jones, Amihere and Brown. GM Dan Padover described Jones as “elite” and “a versatile guard,” Amihere as “a unique talent with endless potential” and Brown as “an ultra-competitor who can play multiple positions.”
Rather than addressing their size deficit with traditional bigs, Atlanta appears to be building an über-modern roster. Head coach Tanisha Wright can deploy a number of lineups with similarly sized, highly-skilled players, where everyone on the floor can grab-and-go to ignite fast breaks, handle the ball and make plays in the half court and dial it up on defense as part of an aggressive unit.
Seattle Storm: B
Jordan Horston (9), Madi Williams (18), Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu (21), Jade Loville (33)
While what identity emerges in Seattle in the Jewell Loyd era remains murky, the Storm may have snagged a couple of present and future contributors with their draft selections.
Widely projected to go in the lottery, Horston fell to Seattle at ninth. Because of her offensive inconsistencies and inefficiencies, it is understandable that a number of organizations were hesitant to use a high first-round pick on her. However, she is an excellent value at ninth, as her elite athleticism could allow her to approach stardom.
Williams will arrive with Seattle with similar potential as another high-level athlete who has improved her offensive efficiency.
However, it is curious that the Storm did not take another high-upside swing with their 21st selection. Rather, they chose a player in Fankam Mendjiadeu who plays a position, center, at which Seattle seems set. Why not target another plus athlete at the forward/wing position? For instance, Taylor Soule, who profiles as possessing the physicality required to succeed in the W.
Los Angeles Sparks: B+
Zia Cooke (10), Shaneice Swain (14), Monika Czinano (26)
Although a vet-laden team built for a return to the playoffs, the Sparks’ roster presents some questions that could destabilize their ambitions. In particular, their primary ball handlers do not inspire complete confidence. Jasmine Thomas is coming off an ACL injury. Jordin Canada has yet to establish herself as starting caliber, largely due to shooting shortcomings. Layshia Clarendon presents a combination of these challenges, as the unthreatening shooter could not catch on with a roster last season due to the effects of lingering injury.
In a weak point guard draft, LA did well to grab Cooke with the tenth pick. Not a traditional point guard, Cooke demonstrated improved decision-making in her senior season. She also is an effective driver and above-average 3-point shooter, suggesting she can slot in at shooting guard. New head coach Curt Miller should value her defense as well.
Since the Sparks are in need of more shooting due to the unexpected losses of Stephanie Talbot and Katie Lou Samuelson, the sharpshooting Swain has the potential to work her way into the rotation as a rookie. And while it will be surprising if Czinano makes the final roster, watching her test her no-dribble post moves against the likes of Nneka Ogwumike and Azurá Stevens in training camp would be fun!
Connecticut Sun: C-
Alexis Morris (22), Ashten Prechtel (34)
Getting Morris with the 22nd pick was a great value play for the Sun, as the newly-minted national champ has the skills and spirit to carve out a career as backup point guard. Yet, it is odd that Connecticut elected to go with a small guard, as the team acquired Ty Harris and re-signed Natisha Hiedeman this offseason. They also invested last season’s first-round pick in Nia Clouden. The likes of Kayana Traylor, Brea Beal or Taylor Soule seem better suited to add advantages to the Sun roster.
Likewise, plucking Prechtel was somewhat puzzling, even though she offers the kind of spacing from the big positions that Connecticut lacks. Alyssa Thomas, Brionna Jones and Olivia Nelson-Ododa form a high-quality big rotation that should soak up a majority of minutes, suggesting, if she makes the final roster, Prechtel will see scant action.
Chicago Sky: B
Kayana Traylor (23), Kseniya Malashka (35)
Without a first-round pick, the Sky had little opportunity to make a difference with this draft. But by grabbing Traylor at the end of the second round, Chicago made the most of its situation.
Experienced fitting in around higher-usage players at Virginia Tech, Traylor can slide into a similar role for a Sky team with a trio of perimeter players who like to operate with the ball in Kahleah Copper, Marina Mabrey and Courtney Williams. As head coach and GM James Wade said of Traylor, “She doesn’t waste possessions with bad shot selection. She’s either at the rim or relocating for threes, which we really liked.”
Phoenix Mercury: D+
Destiny Harden (28), Kadi Sissoko (29)
This grade is not a detriment to Harden or Sissoko; it instead is a product of Phoenix’s circumstances. Over the last few years, the Mercury brass have chosen to double and triple down on building a championship contender before Diana Taurasi (eventually?) retires.
In an effort to add vets presumably more prepared to contribute, Phoenix has raided its cupboard of future draft picks, leaving them with just a pair of third-round selections in 2023. It’s rare for third-rounders to make rosters; if they do, it tends to happen at a second or third stop. Maybe Harden, who demonstrated clutchness and toughness during Miami’s tourney run, can defy expectations, but history suggests otherwise.
New York Liberty: C
Okako Adika (30)
The process of constructing a super team, along with a number of pre-existing, promising young players, rendered this year’s draft rather irrelevant for the Liberty. However, Adika’s combination of great shooting with good size does intrigue.
Las Vegas Aces: C
Brittany Davis (36)
Like their super team sisters in NYC, the Aces, after years of accumulating No. 1 picks, have shifted their team-building strategy away from the draft. Yet, even as Vegas presently has prioritized surrounding their star core with experienced, championship-chasing vets, it is important to begin to cultivate younger, future contributors. Davis, who likely will be in competition with last year’s draftees for an end-of-the-roster spot, could be one such player, offering off-the-bench scoring punch.