Starting Five: Thoughts and musings from 2022 WNBA Draft

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

For the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WNBA managed to stage a draft that actually felt like a WNBA draft.

The last two drafts were held virtually in response to the pandemic, but we were back in person for the 2022 rendition as the festivities took place at Spring Studios in the TriBeCa district in New York City.

Another 36 women heard their names called and dreams realized after a lifetime of hard work going back to those days in the hoops trenches in the middle school, high school and AAU circuits. The bright lights of the WNBA are now shining on these 36.

Here are a few thoughts from what was a 2022 WNBA draft overflowing with talent.

Rhyne Howard

The word “transcendent” will be used a lot when the 2023 draft is staged with South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and UConn’s Paige Bueckers at the top of the draft board.

While this draft may not have those generational players, it does have talents one will likely see at an All-Star Game or two in the coming seasons. One of those is Rhyne Howard, who was chosen first overall by the Atlanta Dream.

The Dream made a trade with the Washington Mystics, originally winners of the draft lottery, to move up two spots in the lottery to land the young star out of Kentucky.

Howard was tagged as the No. 1 overall pick in this draft for a few seasons. It was only a matter of which team would select her with the top pick. At first, we thought it would be the Indiana Fever despite the organization’s bad luck in lotteries. Then the Mystics won the 2022 draft lottery only to trade that No. 1 overall in the eleventh hour to Atlanta.

The trade made sense for both Mystics and Dream. Washington eventually selected Shakira Austin third overall to be a backup for Elena Delle Donne who we may or may not see more of. Atlanta is looking at it from a perspective of building through the next two drafts.

A team such as the Dream, despite going into the 2022 free agent period with plenty of cap space, will not attract free agents the way a Las Vegas Aces or New York Liberty will because of its rebuild. So, the Dream have to build through the draft and it is likely looking at Howard plus either Bueckers or Boston as building blocks for the franchise’s future.

So much for mock drafts

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

The 2022 WNBA draft was another where anyone who did a mock draft likely were laughed at by general managers.

The first three picks – Rhyne Howard to the Dream, NaLyssa Smith to the Fever and Shakira Austin to the Mystics were as many expected that they would be. Following those three picks, a lot of unexpected things happened.

Among those were Louisville’s Emily Engstler, Stanford’s Lexie Hull and Baylor’s Queen Egbo all being selected by the Fever in the first round with the fourth overall, sixth overall and 10th overall picks, respectively.

Naz Hillmon

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

If Engstler’s draft stock was helped by the Cardinals run to the Final Four, one would have thought the same would have been true for Naz Hillmon, whose Michigan Wolverines came within one game of reaching the Final Four before losing to those same Louisville Cardinals.

Instead, Hillmon plummeted out of the lottery and out of the first round to being drafted early second, where she was right there waiting for the Dream to pick her at No. 15.

Destanni Henderson

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

One may have seen a lot of Destanni Henderson content on one’s timelines ever since she was the main factor in lifting South Carolina to another national championship.

At one point, Lines.com’s mock draft had her as first-round pick – possibly to the Seattle Storm. Then, she dropped to the second round where the Los Angeles Sparks were likely to bring Henny to Hollywood. There was even a school of thought that felt with the Las Vegas Aces moving up to the eighth overall pick that it was a call from Becky Hammon and Nikki Fargas to pair one Gamecocks great in A’ja Wilson with another in Henderson.

Instead, despite having, arguably the most drip of anyone at draft night in New York City, Henny fell all the way to No. 20 – and the Fever.

As of late, Indiana has been where WNBA careers become stagnant given the organization has been in a seemingly constant state of rebuild ever since Tamika Catchings’ retirement. The Fever got close to the playoffs in Pokey Chatman’s last season (only two games behind the Minnesota Lynx in 2019), but have regressed in the two seasons under Marianne Stanley who one would think has to be on the hot seat in 2022.

WNBA meet HBCU

For a league that is 80 percent Black the way the W is, it has not had a player drafted from an HBCU in 20 years – until last night’s draft.

With all of the picks the Indiana Fever made, this one may arguably be the most impactful as Indiana selected Ameshya Williams-Holiday with the 25th overall pick.

Her school? Jackson State University – an HBCU. The last time a prospect from an HBCU was selected was 2002. In the second round of that year’s draft, the Utah Starzz took Andrea Gardner out of Howard.

Lin Dunn, the Fever’s interim general manager is clearly attempting to create a much-needed culture change with Indiana. Only time will tell if the Fever’s draft picks eventually create the same effect that appears to be in the process of being built with the Dallas Wings – another team that stockpiled picks, brought in a new coach in Vickie Johnson and eventually qualified for last year’s playoffs.

Honorable Mention – Training Camps

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

Getting drafted into the WNBA is hard enough. What arguably is even harder is making a roster.

The harsh reality of WNBA basketball is that there are only 12 teams and 144 roster spots available – and this is not like 2020 where there were extra openings with veterans opting out of the bubble.

A good number of second and third round picks in a draft as deep as this may not make their respective team’s rosters. There may even be a few first-round draft picks that could even be left off when the teams make their final roster cuts.

While it is a career highlight to go pro, many draftees are about to unfortunately experience how cutthroat the W can be – and why expansion (more teams, bigger rosters) is sorely needed.

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