Starting Five – Washington Mystics land first pick in 2022 WNBA draft

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When the 2021 season concluded and the four teams were known for the 2022 WNBA draft lottery, it was probably common for many to assume that the lottery’s winner would be either the Indiana Fever (who had the worst record last season) or the Atlanta Dream who had the second worst mark.

Instead, the lottery would result in the Washington Mystics, a team that was barely on the outside looking in of last season’s playoff picture being put on the clock for the first overall selection.

The Fever will select second followed by the Dream and the Dallas Wings at the fourth pick.

Prior to Sunday, draft boards were basically unofficial given most used the order of where each team finished in the standings to allocate picks 1-4. We now know where picks 1-4 will go to for real, giving mock drafts more of an opportunity to resemble more what the actual draft will look like.

With the lottery order now set, here are five thoughts on this year’s draft lottery.

Draft More Value?

With the Mystics landing the first pick, the debate will commence as to if Mike Thibault will select Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard with the first overall pick or if they will opt for NaLyssa Smith out of Baylor instead.

Washington, on the heels of a couple of down seasons following its 2019 championship, may not actually be all that far away from being a contender again given the health status of Elena Delle Donne and if the Mystics will be successful in re-upping with Tina Charles in free agency.

The salaries page at Her Hoop Stats shows the Mystics with $456,900 in cap space for 2022 (slightly above the Minnesota Lynx’s roughly $433,000). Five teams (Seattle Storm, Chicago Sky, Atlanta Dream, Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut Sun) have more cap space than the ‘Stics. Also there remains the question of if Washington will draft for need or best player. Our guess is they will go with who is the best player at the time of the draft – whether it is Howard or Smith.

Big I-95 Energyyyy

For the third consecutive draft, the No. 1 overall pick will be claimed by a team residing in a big northeastern market.

The Mystics winning this season’s draft lottery follows the last pair of lotteries that were won by the team that plays in the WNBA’s biggest market – the New York Liberty. Jonathan Kolb and the Liberty, of course, drafted Sabrina Ionescu first overall in the 2020 draft then traded the 2021 top pick in a multi-team trade that saw the Wings pick first (Charli Collier, Texas) in addition to second overall (Awak Kuier).

That New York trade ended up working out for the seafoam, black and copper as the Lib would select UCLA’s Michaela Onyenwere with the sixth pick in last season’s draft. Onyenwere won Rookie of the Year and the Liberty made its first playoff appearance since 2017. The Aces selected first in two consecutive drafts prior to the Liberty winning the 2020 draft lottery. Both of Las Vegas’ selections were hits in A’ja Wilson (obvious hit) as well as Jackie Young.

The Dream Continues …

If Clarissa Explains It All, someone will have to ask Ms. Darling to tell us how the Dream continue to encounter bad luck at draft lotteries.

In the 2020 draft, the Dream picked fourth – Chennedy Carter out of Texas A&M. She was supposed to be a potential cornerstone of Atlanta’s franchise moving forward but has become one of the biggest question marks in the entire WNBA. In last season’s draft, the Dream selected third and that was Aari McDonald out of Arizona, whose draft stock took a major leap because of McDonald leading the Wildcats to the national championship game vs. Stanford.

Lines.com’s latest mock has the Dream selecting Michigan’s Naz Hillmon third overall – behind the Mystics selecting Howard and the Fever going with Smith. Atlanta has a pressing issue that goes beyond the draft – how its team will look in 2022 with all of the free agency decisions new general manager Dan Padover will have on his hands.

Another Year, Another High Draft Pick

The Fever, who have been in a constant rebuild since Tamika Catchings retired, have become used to top draft picks. Indiana has used its status at picking high in draft on the heels of less-than-stellar seasons to bring Tiffany Mitchell, Kelsey Mitchell, Teaira McCowan, Victoria Vivians and Kysre Gondrezick into the fold in the Hoosier State. Lauren Cox, now with the Los Angeles Sparks, was another Fever draft selection.

Indiana has been hampered by not only youth, but also injuries. Many will contend that another element holding the Fever back has been coaching. In 2019, former coach Pokey Chatman had the Fever within two games of the No. 8 playoff berth, but have won only 12 games since in the Marianne Stanley era.

Lines has the Fever going with Smith second overall, but one wonders if this is all a precursor to what could possibly be Stanley’s days eventually coming to an end in the Hoosier State.

Read it and Weep, Sparks fans

That fourth overall pick that will be Dallas’ in the 2022 draft? That selection was supposed to be the Sparks before they traded it to the Wings.

In exchange, Los Angeles acquired the seventh overall pick plus a second rounder from the Wings. The Sparks would draft Jasmine Walker (who only played in two games last season on a veteran-heavy Los Angeles squad) with that pick.

Derek Fisher and the Sparks (or as Amanda Zahui B. calls her team, Sparkles) could have been in line for a lottery selection in this season’s draft (one considered to deeper than last year’s) if they would have held onto that pick. After all, last season’s draft was seen to be so weak by WNBA general managers that the No. 1 overall pick, which was eventually Charli Collier to the Dallas Wings, was traded twice in the same day.

The Sparks, with that trade, not only do not have a lottery selection – the team does not even have a first round draft pick. Unless Los Angeles can pull off a trade or two, Fisher will have to do all his work to improve his team via free agency and the Sparks have almost zero cap space. Per Her Hoop Stats, Los Angeles has roughly $157,000 in 2022 cap space. Ironically, only the Wings have less.

Meanwhile in recent seasons since losing Skylar Diggins-Smith to the Phoenix Mercury and Liz Cambage to the Las Vegas Aces, the Wings have seemingly never met a draft selection they did not like. Some of the Wings’ other recent draft selections have included Ty Harris, Allisha Gray, Satou Sabally and, of course, Arike Ogunbowale.

Dallas is coming off a 2021 that saw the Wings qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2018 – and will be in the second season of coach Vickie Johnson’s tenure in the Metroplex. According to Lines.com, the Wings are slated to select Ashley Joens, a 6-foot small forward out of Iowa State fourth overall.

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