The 2022 WNBA draft will be judged a lot on how much Indiana Fever did to improve after dominating the first round with four picks. The fever had seven choices in total, and those players who get a roster spot will have the opportunity to be creators of change for a franchise that has not been in the playoffs since 2016.
With so many choices on Monday, it’s no surprise that the fever led to ESPN’s WNBA draft marks. Indiana threw a basket ball to most prognosticators by taking Stanford Cardinal guard Lexie Hull in the first round. But the fever wants players who come hungry to make a difference, and Hull have that kind of personality on the pitch.
Although it was a busy night for some teams, Chicago Sky was just a draft observer as the defending WNBA champions had no choice. The Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury had four picks between them, three of them in the third round, so those picks might not make that much of a difference.
How were teams like the Atlanta Dream and Las Vegas Aces making trades to achieve certain draft-day goals fair Monday? Did the Washington Mystics make the right move by trading the No. 1 pick?
Here’s our 2022 WNBA draft for characters who dissect it all.
Emily Engstler joins NaLyssa Smith as she is selected as number four overall by Indiana Fever.
Choice: 2. NaLyssa Smith, Baylor, PF; 4. Emily Engstler, Louisville, PF; 6. Lexie Hull, Stanford, SG; 10. Queen Egbo, Baylor, C; 20. Destanni Henderson, South Carolina, PG; 25. Ameshya Williams-Holliday, Jackson State, C; 34. Ali Patberg, Indiana, SG
General manager Lin Dunn said she wanted energetic, young players who could bring defense, and she seems to have gotten it. Hull was a surprise as the third of Fever’s four first-round picks, but Dunn clearly believes in her engine. Hull led the Cardinals in steals (78) this season. Smith and Egbo have been teammates at Baylor for four seasons, so they bring chemistry with them. The ever-moving Angstler is a defensive force and plays as if she was created to compete for Dunn.
Even after an excellent Final Four performance, Henderson went into the second round. But if she can get on the list, Henderson will also play the kind of defense that Fever is looking for. It will be difficult for Williams-Holliday to win a list spot, but her choice is a boost to HBCUs everywhere.
Choice: 1. Rhyne Howard, Kentucky, SG; 15. Naz Hillmon, Michigan, PF
The Dream is under new management and a new coaching staff, and they knew who they wanted in Howard and were willing to swap to get her. It should give Howard energy to know how much the Dream believed in her to do so. It’s a great legacy to carry to be the No. 1 pick, and Howard has the ability to fill that role. New Dream coach Tanisha Wright was highly respected for her leadership and defense as a WNBA player, and she should be a great mentor to Howard.
Just as amazing a player as Hillmon was in college, her second-round pick confirms that WNBA teams are concerned about her size and shooting range. What they can not fully measure is her heart and maturity – and both are off the charts. These qualities should help her get a place on the list and prove that she can keep adding to her game.
Choice: 3. Shakira Austin, Ole Miss, C; 14. Christyn Williams, UConn, SG
The trade succeeded for the mystics: By giving the No. 1 choice, they still got an elite post player in Austin, for whom heaven is the limit if she steadily develops like a pro. And Washington also got an extra choice to pick Williams, who has the UConn pedigree for her.
Much has always been made of Williams ‘ups and downs in college, but the former Huskies’ track record in the league is more than impressive. In Washington, she can thrive without much pressure.
Washington Mystics uses the third pick in the WNBA draft to pick Ole Miss’ Shakira Austin.
Choice: 9. Rae Burrell, Tennessee, SG; 16. Kianna Smith, Louisville, SG; 19. Olivia Nelson-Ododa, UConn, C; 27. Amy Atwell, Hawaii, SF
Sparks comes after the disappointment of not making it to the playoffs last year. But they made big moves out of season by acquiring Liz Cambage and Chennedy Carter, and potentially they filled some needs with the draft. Burrell has good size and abilities on the wing, and Smith and Nelson-Ododa both have Final Four experience.
Atwell, Big West Player of the Year, is worth a look at the camp. They may not all be on the list, but Sparks got the most out of their draft spots.
Choice: 5. Nyara Sabally, Oregon, PF; 18. Lorela Cubaj, Georgia Tech, PF; 29. Sika Kone, Mali, C
Liberty needed size and strength inside, and they got it. Sabally, if she can stay healthy, is a versatile addition that New York guards can take advantage of as another goal.
Cubaj was the anchor in Georgia Tech’s first defensive success. Wife left later than many expected, but she is only 19 and could be a player for Liberty’s future.
Atlanta Dream picks Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard with the first pick in the 2022 WNBA draft.
Choice: 12. Nia Clouden, Michigan State, SG; 24. Jordan Lewis, Baylor, PG; 36. Kiara Smith, Florida, SG
Cloud is a strong scorer, and Lewis a very good distributor. It’s always a number game with the guard, but getting more young depth on the guard is positive for the sun. Smith is a choice for the future as she suffered a knee injury that ended the season during the SEC tournament in March.
Choice: 7. Veronica Burton, Northwestern, PG; 30. Jasmine Dickey, Delaware, SG; 31. Jazz Bond, North Florida, PF
Considering all the Wings’ draft picks from the last few years, they do not have much room on the list. But they get a good grade alone from Burton’s committee. The triple Big Ten defensive player of the year adds a perimeter of toughness to the end of the field that the Wings need.
Dickey and Bond are the type of players you really wish had more chances to catch, but it hurts when the numbers crunch.
Choice: 17. Elissa Cunane, NC State, C; 21. Evina Westbrook, UConn, PG; 33. Jade Melbourne, Australia, PG
Cunane is probably the best 3-point shooter of the centers in the draft. Although she dropped to the second round, she has great potential to find her way into the WNBA if she can get on the Storm list.
Some felt that Westbrook could go a little higher with his 6-foot size and ability to be a combo guard. She is a player who always plays hard and that can make a difference. Melbourne is 19 and probably more of a choice for the future.
Choice: 8. Mya Hollingshed, Colorado, PF; 11. Kierstan Bell, Florida Gulf Coast, SG; 13. Khayla Pointer, LSU, PG; 23. Aisha Sheppard, Virginia Tech, SG; 35. Faustine Aifuwa, LSU, C
This character might turn out to be far away, but it comes down to this: The Aces made a deal with Minnesota on Sunday to get No. 8 and 13 picks; did they get the most out of these choices? If Hollingshed turns out to be as good as the aces think she is, then yes. If not, then the grade can be quite accurate.
Bell’s circumference size should be a good pickup. Hollingshed, Pointer, Sheppard and Aifuwa were all fifth-year seniors, so they bring maturity, though it is unlikely everyone will stick around.
Choice: 22. Kayla Jones, NC State, SF; 28. Hannah Sjerven, South Dakota, C
By swapping elections # 8 and 13 for the aces for elections in 2023, Lynx made it clear that this draft would not be a big factor for them. It makes sense given their limited hood space. Jones and Sjerven are both hard-working players who had good college seasons, with NC State reaching Elite Eight and South Dakota the Sweet 16. Both are worth a look at camp, but it will be hard for both to get on the list.
Choice: 26. Maya Dodson, Notre Dame, PF; 32. Macee Williams, IUPUI, C
Mercury is in a similar situation to the Lynx, and does not expect much from this draft. Both Phoenix’s selections were in the third round. With Brittney Griner detained indefinitely in Russia, it was reckoned that Mercury would go after big choices and both Dodson and Williams had really good seasons. Again, guard seats will be at a premium, but both can at least fit a need.