WNBA Mock Draft 2022: Rhyne Howard or NaLyssa Smith at No. 1?

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Our WNBA Mock Draft takes a look at a talented crop of prospects and a draft order that has been dramatically remade by a number of trades.

We’re less than a week away from the 2022 WNBA Draft. The Atlanta Dream hold the No. 1 pick for this year’s draft after a trade with the Mystics on Wednesday, while the Indiana Fever currently have three of the first six picks.

The WNBA Draft always feels more random than other professional sports drafts, partially because there’s just not enough publicly available data for fans and analysts to get the kind of read on how players stack up that you get in other leagues.

Still, we have some idea of which players are good through a combination of the eye test and the college basketball data available from places like Her Hoop Stats and CBB Analytics. So, let’s mock draft. (And please note, this is meant to be a predictive mock draft, not a “who would you take” mock draft. There are certain players that I’m lower on than I think teams will be, but I’m still putting them in the first round because I think they’ll be drafted there.)

WNBA Mock Draft: First-round picks

Pick 1: Atlanta Dream — Rhyne Howard

Wednesday’s trade makes it much more likely that NaLyssa Smith winds up as the No. 1 overall pick over Rhyne Howard, but I’m going to stick with projecting Howard here, as the Dream have needs on the wing and in the frontcourt and I tend to assume in situations like that, positional scarcity will lead to the wing being taken. Howard is someone who can create at the 3. There’s some complaint about her numbers not improving over the last two seasons, but part of that is because her usage rate dropped because she was playing with a better supporting cast. She’s shot at least 37.3 percent from deep in each of her seasons and ranked in the 92nd percentile in assists per game this year despite not being a point guard. Howard’s a great fit in Washington.

Pick 2: Indiana Fever — NaLyssa Smith

The Fever need literally everything, so it’s a good thing they have so many picks. Smith finished ninth in the country in points per game and 11th in rebounds per game. She’s impossible to stop in transition and can score at the bucket while also extending her game to the mid-range and beyond. Her athleticism really pops on tape. I know there’s some concern that she’s not big enough to play much of the 5, but she can be an elite 4 who can give some small-ball 5 minutes. I’m also encouraged by how she was able to take on a larger role this past season in a more modern offensive system and the results were improved numbers across the board for her.

Pick 3: Washington Mystics — Shakira Austin

To me, there’s a clear top two in this draft, then a clear No. 3, and then beyond that things get murky. Austin is that No. 3. She didn’t get to the rim as much as you might want a top interior prospect to do — just 22.6 percent of her attempts were at the rim — but she’s able to score in the paint and in the mid-range. But where Austin really stands out is on defense. Per CBB Analytics, she ranks in the 70th percentile in steal rate and 97th in block rate. She also manages to be active defensively without fouling, as her PF Efficiency is in the 97th percentile. Maybe she won’t do much offensively to start off, but the Mystics can’t pass up on the clear No. 3 player, even if the fit here isn’t ideal.

Pick 4: Indiana Fever — Kiersten Bell

Alright, now onto the “there’s really just one big tier of players for the rest of the first round” section. I could see the Fever going a ton of directions here, with any of the first round options that’ll be listed below being in play. I lean Bell here though because after taking Smith, it makes sense to go with a wing here. Bell scored 23.5 points per game for Florida Gulf Coast this past season and shot 63.4 percent inside the arc. She also attempted 9.4 3s per game, though only made 28.8 percent of them. There will be plenty of chances to shoot in Indiana this season. Can she adjust to the jump in competition level?

Pick 5: New York Liberty — Emily Engstler

Engstler might be the biggest riser for me over the last month or so. The 6-foot-1 forward can do a little of everything on the basketball court and fits nicely as a 3-and-D piece for the Liberty. I don’t think she has the same ceiling as some of the players who are still on the board, but New York needs shooting to help the Sabrina Ionescu/Betnijah Laney pairing out.

Pick 6: Indiana Fever — Nia Clouden

Indiana has a big. They have a wing. Now, let’s give them a guard! Clouden would make a nice offensive backcourt pairing with Kelsey Mitchell, taking some pressure off Mitchell and allowing both to be relatively efficient. She’s undersized, but we’ve seen undersized players have success over the last couple of drafts, with players like Crystal Dangerfield and Dana Evans carving out roles. Clouden is a little more of a 2-guard than those, but I think her offense will translate even with the height disadvantage.

Pick 7: Dallas Wings — Nyara Sabally

I could see Sabally going as high as fourth, but in a league where each roster spot is precious, I wonder if teams might be scared off by Sabally’s injury concerns, as she’s had multiple ACL tears during her college career. Dallas would be a good landing spot though, not only because Sabally’s sister, Satou, already plays for the Wings, but because could use another big. Last year, the team spent the first two picks on Charli Collier and Awak Kuier, but neither is a lock to be a starting big on this team in the future. Why not take someone like Sabally who can play in the paint but also can put the ball on the floor?

Pick 8: Minnesota Lynx — Sika Kone

I’ll admit that Kone is the player I’ve watched the least in this draft, as I don’t get the chance to watch much of the Spanish league where she plays. But from the highlights I’ve seen, Kone’s athleticism really pops. She needs some time to harness that athleticism and to work on refining her skills inside. That makes me really like this fit in Minnesota, where she could have one season to learn from Sylvia Fowles. And with much of this team hitting free agency in 2023, Kone’s also a nice bet for the future, someone with more upside than anyone left on the board.

Pick 9: Los Angeles Sparks — Destanni Henderson

The conversation about this draft has long been that it lacked an elite point guard option. That’s probably still true, but Destanni Henderson’s performance in the national title game might have some rethinking that logic. Henderson was magical on Sunday, scoring a career-high 26 points in the win over UConn. She shot 39.9 percent from 3 this season and is active on the defensive end. She’s also a little undersized and her scoring isn’t super consistent. Can Henderson be a starting point guard in the W? The Sparks could let her learn from Kristi Toliver this year and then try to make a Henderson and Chennedy Carter backcourt work in 2023, which would be extremely fun.

Pick 10: Indiana Fever — Naz Hillmon

There seems to be a big gap between what some people think of Hillmon and what others think of Hillmon. Ask an eye-test person and she’s a potential lottery pick. Ask an analytics person and she’s not a first round pick. The issue with Hillmon is she took 76.6 percent of her shot attempts at the rim — nothing about her college shot profile suggests that she can operate outside of the restricted area. There’s something Megan Gustafson-y about Hillmon — an incredibly productive college player who just doesn’t have the size to continue doing those things in the W. Gustafson dropped way below where people expected she’d go on draft night. Could the same thing happen to Hillmon?

Pick 11: Las Vegas Aces — Elissa Cunane

I had high hopes for Cunane this season. After flashing a lot of potential last year, I thought she’d come back and dominate for NC State. That didn’t really happen, though. The upside is obvious for Cunane as she’s a big that can play inside and outside, but will she be able to hold her own defensively at the five? And does the lack of shooting development as a senior mean that she’ll struggle to develop range in the W? It’s also worth noting that I think the NC State system she played in was pretty perfect for her. Is there a perfect landing spot in the W that would give her the space she needs inside?

Pick 12: Connecticut Sun — Veronica Burton

The final pick of the first round belongs to Connecticut. With Courtney Williams and Natisha Hiedeman both hitting free agency after this season, I think Curt Miller’s team will go guard here. Burton and Christyn Williams are the best point guard prospects after Henderson, but I lean Burton because I think she’s going to be better defensively and is the better passer, which is useful on a team where she’d be asked to take a backseat to the bigs and to focus on setting up players like Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner.

WNBA Mock Draft: Second- and third-round picks

I’m not going to provide any explanations for these picks, but here’s a rough outline of how I could see the second and third rounds going. Note: I’m far less confident in these picks than I am in the first rounders.

Pick 13: Minnesota Lynx – Rae Burrell
Pick 14: Washington Mystics – Christyn Williams
Pick 15: Atlanta Dream – Khayla Pointer
Pick 16: Los Angeles Sparks – Lorela Cubaj
Pick 17: Seattle Storm – Evina Westbrook
Pick 18: Seattle Storm – Mya Hollingshed
Pick 19: Los Angeles Sparks – Aisha Sheppard
Pick 20: Indiana Fever – Jade Mebourne
Pick 21: Seattle Storm – Lexie Hull
Pick 22: Minnesota Lynx – Jasmine Dickey
Pick 23: Las Vegas Aces – Joanne Allen-Taylor
Pick 24: Connecticut Sun – Olivia Nelson-Ododa
Pick 25: Indiana Fever – Jenna Staiti
Pick 26: Phoenix Mercury – Hannah Sjerven
Pick 27: Los Angeles Sparks – Katie Benzan
Pick 28: Minnesota Lynx – Chloe Bibby
Pick 29: New York Liberty – Jordan Lewis
Pick 30: Dallas Wings – Queen Egbo
Pick 31: Dallas Wings – Kianna Smith
Pick 32: Phoenix Mercury – Lotta-Maj Lahtinen
Pick 33: Seattle Storm – Que Morrison
Pick 34: Indiana Fever – Vivian Gray
Pick 35: Las Vegas Aces – Anna Wilson
Pick 36: Connecticut Sun – Bethy Mununga

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