The 2022 WNBA draft, the first held in-person since 2019, had a palpable excitement among fans, players, and front office brass. The draft class was loaded with talent. The first round had been shaken up with a surprising lottery result and several blockbuster trades.
The first few picks went chalk. Shortly thereafter, all hell broke loose as Indiana took Lexie Hull with the sixth overall pick, and multiple blue-chip prospects began to free-fall into the second round.
To make sense of the chaos that was the 2022 WNBA Draft, we’ve assigned a trade grade to each of the 12 franchises.
Atlanta Dream: A
Newly-hired GM Dan Padover made big moves in his first draft with the Dream. They traded with Washington to get the number one pick in exchange for picks later in this year’s draft and swap rights for next year.
While there was some debate in WNBA circles on whether to go with Rhyne or NaLyssa at #1, the 6’2″ sharpshooting point guard from Kentucky was a the ultimate choice for Atlanta. They’re looking for a franchise-changing player they can build around, and Howard fits that bill for them.
Padover and company didn’t stop there. They were able to select standout Michigan Forward Naz Hillmon at 15, which was an absolute steal. Hillmon, who was a frequent flier in mock draft first rounds all year, is a 6’2″ post player. Many have doubts that her game won’t translate to the pros, but the value of grabbing her at 15 is fantastic.
Chicago Sky: n/a
The champs sat this one out. They did their damage in Free Agency this season and will no doubt be a top contender for the 2022 WNBA title.
Connecticut Sun: C+
The Sun are in a very interesting position heading into this season. Their rotation is full of elite, seasoned veterans, and they’ve done everything but get over the hump and win a championship. Coach and GM Curt Miller has cited the slowed-down pace and lack of versatility on the perimeter as being their Achilles heel in the playoffs last year.
We all knew they’d go for a guard in this draft, and there were plenty of options remaining by the time they were on the clock with the 12th pick. With Destanni Henderson, Khayla Pointer, and Chrystin Williams all still on the board, they opted for Michigan State’s Nia Clouden. She’s an undersized score-first guard, and my initial reaction was surprise. It’s going to be hard to crack Miller’s rotation of elite defenders in her first couple of seasons.
They wrapped up the draft with the selections of Jordan Lewis and Kiara Smith in the second and third rounds, respectively. They’ll have to battle for a spot of the roster in training camp.
Dallas Wings: A
After a season in which the Wings had virtually every pick in the first round, the wings were relatively quiet this year. They made a trade in recent weeks to acquire Teaira McCowan from the Fever, and in turn, went down to just one pick in the first round.
With the seventh overall pick, the Wings nabbed ball-hawk Veronica Burton of Northwestern. Burton led the country in steals by a crazy margin, and fits with their existing guards beautifully. Considering the McCowan trade, Arike’s extension, and solid first-round draft pick, the Wings quietly executed a great offseason.
The Wings also drafted both Jasmine Dickey and Jazz Bond in the third round, but their roster is already pretty crowded with young talent and it will be tough for them to find a permanent spot in Dallas. Their rookie class barely played last year. For Burton’s sake, let’s hope things change in that department.
Indiana Fever: B+
Throughout the night, my trade grade for the Fever varied wildly. They took the no-brainer best available player at number two in NaLyssa Smith. Then, they selected somebody that fits in beautifully with their existing pieces in Emily Engstler. Things got weird from there.
“With the sixth pick in the WNBA Draft, the Indiana Fever Select… Lexie Hull!” WHAT?!
All due respect to Hull – a player who can shoot the lights out and had a fantastic collegiate career – this was a reach. Unless the Fever front office had intel that another team wanted her with a pick in the mid-late first, I believe wholeheartedly that they could have selected Hull a round later.
They then chose to go with Queen Egbo, Smith’s front court running mate at Baylor. I don’t personally agree with the fit and would have gone with Cunane here. Smith’s game essentially is ten feet and in, and Egbo won’t help you space the floor around her.
At this point in the night, I was flustered and dumbfounded. Meanwhile, Destanni Henderson continued to slip. The Fever were able to redeem themselves by selecting her with the TWENTIETH pick.
Indiana wrapped things up by making the historic selection of Ameshya Williams-Holiday and Indiana’s Ali Patberg. Overall, the Fever undoubtedly loaded up with young talent (including the player that could turn out to be the best in the class) that’s all on the same timeline, and had a solid draft outcome on the whole.
Las Vegas Aces: B+
The Aces made a last-minute maneuver to get more draft capital this year. They traded picks next year to Minnesota to move up in the first round, and took Mya Hollingshed number eight overall. This pick surprised many, but it definitely fits with what the Aces need on their roster: size, speed, athleticism, and a presence at the rim.
They went on the take Kierstan Bell with the 11th pick. Bell is an absolute monster scoring guard with great size and potential to be a two-way impact player in the league. They were up again quickly to start the second round and grabbed LSU’s Kayla Pointer 13th.
Vegas wrapped things up by taking Aisha Sheppard and Faustine Aifuwa with their slotted picks in the second and third rounds, respectively.
Overall, Vegas filled some gaps that weren’t satisfied by Free Agency, and loaded up on young backcourt talent to back up their superstar guards. The success of this draft historically will depend on whether Hollingshed develops into the player they hope she can be.
Los Angeles Sparks: B
The Sparks entered the offseason without a first-round pick in this year’s draft, but traded Gabby Williams to Seattle to get back into the mix. They took Rae Burrell of Tennessee, a forward who would have been much higher on many draft boards if it wasn’t for a knee injury that derailed much of her senior season.
Los Angeles moved into the second round and was able to get both Kianna Smith and Olivia Nelson-Ododa at great value. Amy Atwell of Hawaii was taken in the third round and will battle for a roster spot in training camp.
GM Derek Fisher and his staff have completely transformed the roster this offseason, and their draft picks fit nicely as depth options. A year after drafting Jasmine Walker, another Tennessee Forward, my only concern is whether their two young first-round picks (who both suffered major knee injuries in the last calendar year) can remain healthy.
Minnesota Lynx: C
As previously mentioned in the Aces section, the Lynx punted on drafting in the first round this year. They didn’t make a selection until the 22nd overall pick where they grabbed Kayla Jones of NC State. Shortly thereafter they selected another PF – Hannah Sjerven from South Dakota.
This process has left me scratching my head a bit. We know that Napheesa is likely out for the season. We know that last year’s DPOY, the legendary Sylvia Fowles, will retire after this year. I, like many, had them pegged to take Cunane (or Austin if still available) with the 8th pick. I’m not sure what the plans are for the front court depth this year or in the future, but we’ll just have to trust that Cheryl Reeve has something up her sleeve.
New York Liberty: A+
The Liberty walked away from this draft with three excellent players. All of which, as they mentioned in their post-draft press release, they had targeted with their fifth overall selection.
Nyara Sabally is who they ultimately decided to use that pick on. She’s quite raw, but undeniably talented. The 6’5″ forward from Oregon came out of college a year early and will be a great addition to a young and talented Liberty roster.
The mastery (and/or luck) that went into getting Cubaj via a trade of the 18th pick with Seattle, and Sika Kone in the THIRD ROUND, was incredible to watch.
I tip my hat to New York’s front office, and say they’re on a short list of teams that “won” the 2022 draft.
Phoenix Mercury: C+
Finals runner-up Phoenix was very quiet during this draft. They only had one pick, and went with PF Maya Dodson 26th. While there is much to be determined with the unfolding Brittney Griner situation, I expected them to make a move up to grab a backup big earlier in the draft. Dodson comes in at just 6’3″ and has not shown an ability to stretch the floor.
This roster very well may be strong enough to win a championship even without Griner, but not moving up feels like a missed opportunity – especially with a player like Cunane slipping into the middle of the second round. On a separate note, taking a chance on Kone in the third round could have been a home-run to bridge the gap into the future for Phoenix.
Seattle Storm: A+
The Storm are running back their big three and signed Jewell Loyd to a two-year supermax. In the process of Free Agency they traded off their first round pick, and I expected their draft to be fairly “meh”. I was wrong.
GM Talisa Rhea was masterful in nabbing Elissa Cunane at the 17th overall pick. Cunane is a 6’5″ center who profiles as an elite outside shooter, and fits in with their current center rotation perfectly. It’s a shock that Cunane was available this late, and Rhea didn’t blink.
After selecting and trading Cubaj’s draft rights to the Liberty for a pick next year, the Storm grabbed Evina Westbrook 21st. Westbrook had a down year at UConn, but still profiles as a strong 3 and D option in the pros. They wrapped things up by taking Jade Melbourne 33rd. Melbourne is the youngest Australian player to ever make the national team and, while raw, could be developed into a solid rotational piece.
Washington Mystics: B-
The Mystics could have had Howard. They could have had Smith. They said no thanks. Instead, they traded down to the third pick in exhange for second-round picks this season as well as swap rights with Atlanta next year. Ultimately, the effectiveness of this move comes down to where Atlanta’s pick falls next year. If the Dream get out of the basement and aren’t in the lottery, this is a disaster. If Atlanta struggles and continues their rebuild as many expect, Washington may have a shot at getting Aliyah Boston in the 2023 draft.
Washington walks away with 6’5″ Shakira Austin who they selected third overall. Austin will undoubtedly be at least an average center in this league and profiles as a solid defender. My concerns are on the offensive end, where Austin’s game is limited.
The selection of Chrystin Williams in the second round was understandable, but not taking Destanni Henderson there could come back to haunt them. Of all teams in this draft, the Mystics’ outcome may have the lowest floor and the highest ceiling, and only time will tell how that shakes out.