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September 28, 2023

The biggest questions heading into the WNBA draft

By SYDNEE CHANG | February 27, 2022



Chang deliberates over the top picks for the 2022 WNBA draft.

The 2022 Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) draft is approaching in April, and teams are preparing for what is sure to be an eventful draft day full of talented prospects. Here are four big questions leading up to the draft.

Will the first pick go to NaLyssa Smith or Rhyne Howard?

Coming off a year led by the league’s leading scorer Tina Charles, the Washington Mystics defied the odds to get the top pick of the 2022 WNBA draft. With the persistent injuries of two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne, the Mystics fell to a record of 12-20, ranking just above the Los Angeles Sparks, the Atlanta Dream and the Indiana Fever. 

Now that Charles has moved on to the Phoenix Mercury and the Mystics have signed free-agent center Elizabeth Williams and Japanese Olympian Rui Machida, head coach Mike Thibault is looking for a new kind of structure reminiscent of the championship-winning team he coached in 2019. 

The top-two prospects of the 2022 draft class are Baylor University forward NaLyssa Smith and University of Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard. Smith, who averaged 21.3 points and 11 rebounds in her final season at Baylor, will bring a massive post presence to any team she plays for. Under a new coach in her final year at Baylor, Smith was able to expand her skillset outside the post and find more freedom in a new type of offense her senior year. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches, Smith dominates the glass, and if she continues to improve her three-point shooting, will be a legitimate scorer for the Mystics. 

On the other hand, Howard has been a prolific three-point shooter on the Kentucky women’s basketball team, and at 6 feet 2 inches, she has proven to be able to score from anywhere on the court. Howard has also demonstrated an adept ability to learn as a playmaker, growing from a 16.8% assist rate to a 23% assist rate while also increasing her assist-to-turnover ratio from 0.96 to 1.78 in her first three seasons of collegiate basketball. If she can continue improving her playmaking skills, Howard will be a serious threat for the Mystics.

How will the Indiana Fever capitalize on their three top-10 picks?

The Indiana Fever has had a record of 40-116 in the past five seasons. Under General Manager (GM) Tamika Catchings, the Fever has been unable to make returns from several years of lottery picks. In the 2021 draft, Kysre Gondrezick, who many mock drafts projected as a second- or third-round pick, was drafted fourth overall by the Indiana Fever. In the 2020 draft, Lauren Cox was drafted third overall. Gondrezick and Cox were both waived after only playing 19 and 25 games for the team, respectively.

While Catchings was an integral part of the Fever’s success during her 15-year career with the team, even leading them to their first championship in 2012, it is clear that her step down from GM on Feb. 14 was only for the best. Under interim GM Lin Dunn, the Indiana Fever hopes to start gaining ground again with this year’s second, seventh and 10th picks.

With a record of 6-26 in the 2021-22 season, the Indiana Fever lacked any impactful shooting presence. With only their leading scorer, Kelsey Mitchell, taking the burden of three-pointers at a 33.5% shooting average, no one else on the Fever could consistently make a shot. Drafting players like Howard, who averaged a three-point percentage of 37.5% on 2.5 makes per game throughout her collegiate career, and the University of Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson, who averaged 44.2% on 3.8 makes per game, could be a step toward improvement for this Indiana team.

Which prospect could be the steal of the draft?

25-6-6 to go along with eight steals was the stat line that Northwestern University’s Veronica Burton put up on Jan. 6 in a win against a University of Iowa team led by sophomore Caitlin Clark and senior Monika Czinano. And even this was topped when Burton achieved a stat line of 13-14-4 and nine steals in a recent game against the University of Illinois. Burton has been deemed a steal machine, averaging 3.4 steals per game throughout her career and 4.2 steals in her senior season at Northwestern.

This defense-minded point guard is the backbone to Northwestern’s success, leading the team to a 78-38 record throughout her collegiate career. Not only has she been named the two-time Big 10 defensive player of the year (with the likely possibility of a third), she can also score (17.8 points per game from 2021-22) and pass (6.6 assists per game from 2021-22). ESPN currently values Burton at an 11th pick while some mock drafts even put her in the second round. Whichever team ends up picking her up will likely be getting the steal of the 2022 draft. 

Who are the top international prospects in this draft?

Sika Koné is a Malian basketball player currently playing for the Spanish Endesa women’s league. The 6-foot-3-inch forward brings a presence on the boards (averaging 12 rebounds per game) and has had professional experience since 2019. Koné was also a big contributor to bringing the Mali national team to their first appearance at the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Under-19 World Cup semifinals, the first African team to do so. 

Jade Melbourne is an Australian player currently playing in the Women’s National Basketball League for the University of Canberra Capitals. After opting out of college to play professionally, Melbourne was given an opportunity to develop her game against more senior players. Melbourne could fit into the WNBA as an effective scoring option off the bench.

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