April 8, 2022
Who’s Next — The Next’s WNBA Draft Board v2.0
In-depth scouting reports on every potential major contributor
Welcome to The Next’s draft board, the most detailed WNBA draft resource available outside a team’s actual war room. We have full profiles, including physicals, roles, full scouting reports, and player comparisons! Player profiles are condensed, so click “show more” on each player to see their full report.
Since tiering off prospects is important, we’re going to use the baseball approach: “future value,” on a scale of 20-80. These numbers translate to: 30 — reserve; 40 — bench; 50 — average rotation player; 60 — All-Star caliber; 70 — All-WNBA caliber; 80 — MVP candidate. Having a 45 FV is nothing to scoff at — an average outcome as an average player is real good, given what a crapshoot most of the draft is.
Players’ tiers say nothing about their ceilings or floors, just what I think their average outcome is likely to be.
Some notes before we get to the list:
- The board is as long as there are players that I’d be willing to give solid minutes to, if I were a WNBA general manager. You may be wondering where some notable names are that show up in others’ mock drafts; that is why.
- I like players with clearly definable roles. Women who do a lot of things fairly well are a lot harder to give minutes to than ones who are great at a handful of things.
- I find prospects’ floors more important among top picks — this isn’t a league that you can win big in while whiffing on picks — but there’s got to be upside there. While Naz Hillmon and Destanni Henderson have high floors, I’m not spending a high pick on a solid bench piece.
- Combining those last two points, having a path to starting is an enormous differentiator, unless you’re someone like Khayla Pointer and your bench role is both very clear and very likely to hit.
- Positions listed aren’t what they play right now, but what I expect them to play in the pros. For example: Nia Clouden played combo guard for Michigan State, but since I don’t see any playmaking translating to the next level, I see her as an off-ball guard in the W.
- Some people don’t like comparisons between women’s and men’s basketball players. But my primary concern is helping people relate to the game however they can, and using only the WNBA for player comparisons is far too restrictive for how diverse prospects’ skillsets are.
- As I’d mentioned in our first draft, this is most certainly not a good class for teams needing point guards or frontcourt scoring; but if you find yourself in need of a wing or defensive big, there are bound to be diamonds in the rough here.
A huge shoutout to a number of people who helped contribute to this board in one way or another, including Mark Schindler of Basketball News, Robert Mummery of Her Hoop Stats, Peter Kilkelly of Five Out Basketball, Stephen Trinkwald of the Double Down WNBA podcast, and Hunter Cruse of 60 and 36.
1. Rhyne Howard, wing, Kentucky
Offensive style: Secondary ball-handler
Defensive style: Helper
Similar to: Derrick White, Ariel Atkins
It’s not often you find players with as high a floor at that of Rhyne Howard. The wing is a truly transformational help defender, providing legitimate secondary rim protection from the weakside corner, nail help, and perfect rotations, 2.9s, and digs. She’s nearly as stout on-ball, excellent at navigating screens and the rare player who’s a natural at fighting over while rarely fouling.show more
Though Howard could be an all-defense fixture for years, she’s got an offensive skillet readymade for the pros. She’s an elite pick-and-roll (PnR) scorer and playmaker in the two-player game, mapping the quarter-court with aplomb. She’s got a quick and smooth catch-and-shoot motion, though it is a little long. Howard has other limitations, in that she doesn’t drive to get left very often, settles for less efficient shots, doesn’t have a great feel for off-ball movement, and isn’t a halfcourt playmaker.
Much of Howard’s game has been questioned for misplaced reasons. I’ve seen little evidence to support the idea she has problems with her motor, and that criticism is likely attributable to two factors: Howard has an incredible internal metronome, making it look like she’s not playing hard when she’s simply processing the game perfectly; and she’s playing with maybe one WNBA-caliber teammate (big Dre’una Edwards, at least on offense), forcing her to be the team’s highest-usage player on both ends by far.
Why she’ll succeed: Howard is a two-way contributor who can pass at as many as three positions, while bringing the kind of help defense that keeps you on the court for over a decade and boosts title teams, plus secondary playmaking and off-ball gravity that slot into any lineup anywhere.
Why she’ll fail: Howard’s limited vision driving prevents her from being more than a tertiary option, but her off-ball acumen restricts her ability to fit into low-usage roles, and defensive assignments that require 24-second motors across 20+ minutes prove too much.
Ceiling comps: Tall Jewell Loyd, Jimmy Butler with a three
Floor comps: Lonzo Ball, Rebecca Allen
2. NaLyssa Smith, big, Baylor
Offensive style: Versatile big
Defensive style: Mobile big
Similar to: Ezi Magbegor with a back-to-the-basket game, Scottie Barnes without the playmaking
NaLyssa Smith could easily end up as the best player in the draft, a perennial All-Star with top-five MVP finishes during her prime. And it all depends on how high her ceiling is.show more
Smith’s development in both the past calendar year and within this season has been incredible. While she looked like a star within former head coach Kim Mulkey’s system, that system demanded very little of her in the way that professional systems will, and Mulkey did not appear to help develop the skills professional players need. In one season with now-head coach Nicki Collen, Smith has gone from getting post position when she didn’t have the ball to developing excellent feel for off-ball movement; from struggling to close space while hedging to managing stunts very well; from ball-watching to elite one-pass-away help; from seemingly predetermining most of her post moves to being able to adapt to her defender; from being a dreadful screener to having decent positioning; and most notably, she’s established consistent jump-shot mechanics. They’re not great mechanics, with a super wide base and pronounced inward knee bend, but they are consistent!
And everything that earned her the 2021 Big 12 Player of the Year is still there: she’s the best rebounder and box-out-er (Editor’s note: eh, fine, let’s go with it) in the country, is a legitimate lob threat, closes out well while still contesting drives, recovers well, has some feel for secondary rim protection, has excellent fluidity and coordination to pull off extremely difficult moves, can hit cutters well, and is decent in drop coverage.
She has notable weaknesses, though. She occasionally takes some dribbles off on defense — which everyone does, except she often picks spots that leave her disadvantaged. Somewhat relatedly, she can often be flat-footed at the point of attack (including on the block). She’s shown little feel for nail help. And she’s mediocre in space at preventing good ball-handlers from turning the corner and getting penetration.
Why she’ll succeed: Smith’s rate of development under Collen continues in the pros, and she becomes a two-way, high-motor, high-usage frontcourt player with supreme athleticism who can and will shred any single coverage without only standing in the dunker’s spot for 32 minutes, while providing secondary rim protection and dominance on the boards that can fit into multiple schemes.
Why she’ll fail: Smith’s jumper doesn’t improve and her inefficiency away from the rim allows defenses to send paint help to shut her down, while her defensive development slows, capping her ability to guard in space and preventing her from being able to play big minutes.
Ceiling comps: Jonquel Jones with a worse jumper, John Collins
Floor comps: Brandon Clarke, supercharged Beatrice Mompremier
3. Shakira Austin, center, Ole Miss
Offensive style: Versatile big
Defensive style: Anchor big
Similar to: Wendell Carter Jr., Myles Turner with a pull-up jumper
With Shakira Austin, the game starts on defense. She’s got superb control of her footwork and hips against post-ups, forcing opposing bigs into extremely tough shots, plus an excellent ability to establish verticality. With pretty good lateral quickness and ability to keep her shoulders square to contest drivers, she’s generally excellent in deep drop, while her shallow drop and hedge defenses are projectable.show more
That those schematic fits aren’t sure things stems from some glaring weaknesses: She simply won’t close up vertical space in drop against pull-up shooters; she’s not strong enough in her lower body to contest drives after closing-out; she has little ability to stay in front of ball-handlers at the point of attack (POA). She’s not particularly strong in the post when engaging with opposing centers either, and is overall mediocre at preventing post position — she actively fights, but isn’t strong enough to do well just on her fundamentals. Additionally, she appears to be a very good off-ball communicator, but a mediocre on-ball communicator.
The real question marks for Austin, however, are on offense — and not necessarily in a bad way. While she’s clearly a defensive five, her offensive skillet is pretty bad near the rim in isolation; she’s poor at establishing post position, has poor footwork on her post moves (with the reception of a very good on spin), and she’s almost certainly predetermining those post moves. She’s also a decent screener but sets those screens far too early in PnRs.
It’s Austin’s game away from the rim that is shockingly good. Her footwork for getting into catch-and-shoot attempts is very good, and she’s got a good feel for off-ball movement. She handles well enough to drive into score, and can even run big-big snug PnRs — if she can be taught to make a read when her drive or pull-up isn’t there, she could become a consistent PnR-handling threat. She’s also a really good pull-up shooter (on moderate volume); although her upper-body form is a little chaotic, her footwork and ability to keep her shoulders square is consistent, and the numbers bear that out, capping a truly unique skillset.
It’s very much worth noting that Austin is a poor rebounder for someone of her height and length.
Why she’ll succeed: Improving discipline in drop is a skill developed without too much difficulty, as is adding a bit of muscle, making Austin one of the more valuable defenders in the league. Her spot-up shooting and solid tandem of pull-up shooting and PnR handling equate to a player that complements most lineups.
Why she’ll fail: Austin isn’t able to scale up her PnRs or jumpers off the dribble, leaving her an inefficient offensive player who’s too slight to defend in the post but too slow to guard forwards.
Ceiling comps: Natasha Howard, Serge Ibaka
Floor comps: Weak Bella Alarie, Marvin Williams
4. Emily Engstler, big wing, Louisville
Offensive style: Playmaking versatile big
Defensive style: Helper
Similar to: Rebounding P.J. Washington, Nia Coffey at the wing
There’s no one in this class with as distinctive a game as Emily Engstler. She’s the third-best offensive playmaker in the class, best defensive playmaker, a stellar rebounder, and will have almost no interior scoring ability in the W. She’d never put all those skills together before this year, though she’d shown them all at different points in her three years at Syracuse.show more
Engstler is, without a doubt, an elite help defender. She has excellent timing on help, can block anyone on-ball or in rotation and strip the ball at the key or in the post or poke it out from any side, is very good at navigating screens both on-ball and off-ball. She does overhelp a little when 2.9ing, though that may just be because collegiate offenses are generally poor at punishing that, and either way she’s got very good instincts for moving in and out of that position. As an on-ball defender, she can side-step while keeping her shoulders square in excellent fashion, but is poor at preventing post position. She’s capable at the POA, though she can often be caught flat-footed, and her attempts to poke the ball away can be predictable, allowing handlers to anticipate them and get by her while she’s out-of-position. She can flip her hips too soon on the perimeter sometimes as well.
On offense, Engstler’s calling card is her versatility. That being said, her playmaking is just silly for a four: she excels at anticipating passing lanes opening and is more than capable of making midair kick-outs to the weakside corner or no-look skips over a trap from one slot to the other; accordingly, she’s an excellent post-entry passer. She can do almost anything else you’d want out of a second-side weapon as well — pretty good off-ball screens, a one-motion catch-and-shoot (though she needs room to land forward to generate enough carry with her legs) that she’s hit very well with the past couple years while continuously improving her accuracy, good cutting instincts, fluid driving, an excellent ability to turn fouls into free-throws — except her on-ball scoring lacks any punch. She struggles to drive past or through strong players even when attacking on an angle, is a poor pull-up shooter thanks to unstable upper-body mechanics (her shoulders keep rotating forwards on middy pull-ups), has no post-up game to speak of, and often completely ignores mismatches to instead facilitate teammates. She’s also a mediocre finisher.
Engstler lacking both a post game on either end and a pull-up jumper greatly limits her upside, as her athleticism dictates that she’s a four, but those limitations make pairing her with a complementary big wing at the three very difficult. Still, the skills she has are impossible to find in any one other player. It is worth noting a couple other issues, though:
- Her free-throw accuracy (62.3% the past three years) is completely incongruous to her three-point shooting (35.7% the past three years).
- She’s in the 19th percentile in foul rate this year, per Her Hoop Stats, though that hasn’t been a career-long issue.
- She only plays 25.7 minutes per game, though I suspect that because of a combination of the fouling and a scheme that demands she’s Louisville’s most-used player on both ends.
Why she’ll succeed: Engstler’s spot-up three and athleticism on the ball translate, and shouldering less burden on both ends allows her to be more consistent at the POA, creating a versatile and impactful 6th woman.
Why she’ll fail: Engstler’s spot-up three and athleticism on the ball do not translate, and opposing teams are routinely able to force her into primary post defending.
Ceiling comps: Herb Jones, Candace Parker without an interior game
Floor comps: 2021 DeWanna Bonner, taller and foul-prone Jae’Sean Tate
5. Veronica Burton, point guard, Northwestern
Offensive style: Primary ball-handler
Defensive style: Helper
Similar to: Chris Paul without a jumper, Erica Wheeler with fewer threes
What draft class is complete without a prospect starring in a system that inflates their stats and is radically different from any they’ll play in during their professional career! (See: every post-Brittney Griner big coached by Kim Mulkey.) This year, we have Veronica Burton, whose quandary is how much her defense translates from Northwestern’s “blizzard” scheme to the man-to-man defense she’ll predominantly play in the pros.show more
There’s a name for this issue*: The Matisse Thybulle Conundrum, for the 2019 Washington men’s product who was a generational wing defender but never played in a true man-to-man scheme. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor was one of the highest on him, and still ranked Thybulle only twentieth; he’s become a top-10 player from that class. And I’m of the opinion that Burton’s skills will translate similarly to the pros: she’ll have a lot fewer opportunities to disrupt offenses, but her timing, instincts, athleticism and off-ball tracking will make her a valuable defender sooner rather than later. Currently, she’s excellent at most everything, with elite timing on jumping and her digs, an excellent feel for tracking, and is a superb communicator who’s strong at anticipating where help and rotations will be needed. That leads her to excellent transition defense and scrams as well. She’s also quite good at avoiding on-ball fouls and has incredible reflexes.
There are problems with Burton’s defense, though: She mirrors at the POA well, but has downright terrible footwork there; she uses her hips to prevent dribble penetration well, but over-relies on side-shuffling instead of stepping over, and as a result can allow drivers to turn the corner; her close-outs are heavy-footed, so she gets blown by fairly easily; and she’s poor navigating ball screens. On the bright side, all of those issues are likely due to playing in a scheme where every dribble penetration is switched — meaning Burton’s barely had to defend drivers since she left high school. There’ll be a hell of an adjustment period in the W, but there’s good reason to think these issues are more than correctable.
While Burton’s size makes her a much less valuable defender than Thybulle (relative to their competition, he’s three inches taller and has a wingspan three inches above the NBA average for his height), she makes up for it with actual offensive contributions.^ She provides elite rim pressure for a guard, is a pretty good finisher, and is elite at getting to the line. Her game off the bounce is developing — she has a solid crossover, a good hang dribble, decent behind-the-back move — but seems to have mediocre burst that leads to some struggles getting downhill against better POA defenders, and she occasionally picks up her dribble too easily. She is a decent playmaker in the halfcourt but excels in the quarter-court, opening up rollers and cutters and shooters. And her passing velocity and accuracy with either hand are excellent. She’s good at getting open when she tries, but her off-ball movement is otherwise non-existent — likely on account of the usage load she already has on both ends. Her midrange pull-up is decent, but she’s reluctant to use it more often. And her three is a bit stiff — her elbow juts forward and she explodes up but not forwards. That does open the possibility of there being a decent shooter from deep if she can actually use her legs.
Why she’ll succeed: Burton’s issues at the defensive POA improve as she plays more man-to-man and adjusting the form on her jumper allows her to make threes more easily, leading to a player who’s worth high usage on both ends of the court.
Why she’ll fail: Footwork and coordination can be damn hard to improve, as is someone’s jumper form, leaving Burton struggling to make an impact at her height.
Ceiling comps: Jasmine Thomas, Dejounte Murray
Floor comps: Less explosive Tre Jones, late-career Odyssey Sims
6. Kierstan Bell, big wing, FGCU
Offensive style: Shot creator
Defensive style: Wing stopper
Similar to: Crystal Bradford, Jonathan Kuminga
Every draft has its Rorschach test, and this year, that’s Kiersten Bell: a big wing, playing way out of position for two years, who’s played just nine games over the past two years against opponents in a top-12 conference.show more
Bell’s offensive game revolves around her ability to get her own shot. This can happen off the dribble, where she features very good footwork at the POA that’s sloppier while driving and pairs a deep bag with a dribble that’s a little too loose; or if can come off the catch, where a long catch-and-shoot motion is offset by consistently great spot-up footwork and very good off-ball movement is juxtaposed against aimless interior movement and screening. She’s got pretty good burst and good lateral quickness, allowing her to be a good driver with good finishing and excellent rim pressure. She’s also got a post game that’s nothing to write home about.
As far as setting up her teammates, Bell is mediocre at screens that have to be held for any time — though she has a very good feel for the angles to set them at — and is decent at brush screens. She’s a quick passer with good velocity, but doesn’t show that off the bounce much, with how often she attacks downhill without a backup plan and has to force a tough shot or recycle the play. On the flip side, she’s a very good distributor with the patience to see and hit cutters in time, and is especially good at finding the team’s best option in transition.
The problem with projecting Bell’s defense is that she’s been defending out-of-position for the past two years; she guarded bigs at FGCU, when she ought to be matched up against wings in the pros. She guarded wings in her freshman year at Ohio State, and did a more-than-respectable job. So, for scouting her defense, we’ve got to take it with several grains of salt.
At FGCU, Bell demonstrated poor post footwork on defense, and was often completely non-physical defending post-ups. She did at least slide her hips to stay in front of those decently. She had good verticality, communicated pretty well, and provided decent paint help as well as timely improvised rotations. Losing her assignment when chasing on the backside was a recurring issue, though she usually stuck near enough to the offensive player. That wasn’t as much of an issue at Ohio State, though she was slow to react to upcourt cuts in Columbus, Ohio as well. She navigated screens better at Ohio State, though she was far from able to chase over. Defending cuts and contesting drives were solid areas for her there as well.
Why she’ll succeed: Bell moves back to playing predominantly along the perimeter and tightens her dribble and footwork on drives, while staying locked-in as a versatile chaser, allowing her to wreak havoc as a multi-positional shot-creator who still integrates well into most lineups.
Why she’ll fail: Bell has to work in the post on both ends for… any significant amount of time, really, doesn’t refine her driving, and gets caught by more advanced backside actions in the WNBA, rendering her a player who vacillates between flashes and struggles.
Ceiling comps: Keldon Johnson, Miles Bridges
Floor comps: Megan Walker, Derrick Williams
7. Nyara Sabally, center, Oregon
Offensive style: Post scorer
Defensive style: Anchor big
Similar to: Bizarro World Kiah Stokes
Though Nyara Sabally’s name may conjure up images of her older sister, “The Unicorn” down in Dallas, she’s a very different player than Satou. But while Nyara won’t also become the best player in her class, she’s still got a chance to be really good.show more
Having only played two seasons of college ball — she missed her first two seasons with separate tears of her right ACL — Sabally’s game is still raw; at the same time, she’s nearly a full year older than most of the prospects in the class, making projection a bit tricky.
Offensively, Sabally’s a jack-of-all-trades. She gets to her spots well both without the ball and while posting-up; she’s a powerful driver with decent burst; she’s a very good connector, thanks to good passing ability and awareness; she’s got a vaguely projectable long jumper; she’s mediocre at ball screens, but a very good roller. While her back-to-the-basket game doesn’t feature many moves, she rarely lets her shot be contested, and has both excellent patience and an advanced face-up game for a 6’5 player.
Sabally’s defense is a more complicated proposition. She’s got very good awareness and timing in stunts and disrupts handlers well, but her overall athleticism slows her recoveries and limits her ability to fit in such a scheme. She too often fouls when she’s beaten vertically by leaning over and/or moving into opponents’ backs. She’s a poor communicator, and follows off-ball non-shooters away from the rim. She’s extremely late to recognize when opposing bigs are going to post her up, and so is poor at preventing post position — offsetting that, however, is an elite use of her wingspan to deflect post-entry passes. She’s also got good eyes in zone defense, rotates well, and has decent instincts for secondary rim protection.
The additional complicating context for Sabally is Oregon itself: the Ducks have never played schemes that maximize their best players under Kelly Graves. While their positioning and ball movement excels, they don’t often use Sabally in real PnRs, and have her spend most of her time on offense standing around in the paint. Defensively, Oregon basically never lets its bigs play drop, and doesn’t emphasize secondary rim protection. It’s also very much worth noting that Sabally is a poor rebounder for someone of her height.
Why she’ll succeed: A combination of an expanded back-to-the-basket approach, a refined face-up game, a developed jumper, and learning the PnR better leads to a versatile, high-level scoring package. More training makes her into a limited defender, but one with good position who’s tough to post up.
Why she’ll fail: Without adding finesse to her game, Sabally is a one-dimensional scorer with limited utility above the free-throw line and an unplayable defender.
Ceiling comps: Christian Wood, prime Jantel Lavender
Floor comps: Las Vegas Carolyn Swords
8. Christyn Williams, off-ball guard, UConn
Offensive style: Secondary ball-handler
Defensive style: Point of attack
Similar to: Natasha Cloud with less playmaking, Austin Rivers
Christyn Williams may be the most misunderstood player in the class. Because while people have been waiting for her to become another star UConn point guard, she’s developed into an excellent primary defender and good off-ball scorer — just one with little hope of ever being a playmaker.show more
Williams operates very well both on and off the ball, an extremely fluid driver with excellent face-up handling moves, with very good finishing. She uses ball screens well with very good footwork to her pull-up jumper, and pairs that all with a smooth catch-and-shoot motion and very good back-cutting. That’s the framework for a great weapon, but her limitations put a strong cap on that possibility. Her catch-and-shoot footwork is inconsistent, so her shot off the catch is sometimes one quick motion and sometimes a longer two-step process. She has no midrange game to take advantage of mismatches with bigs, and struggles greatly with traps and ICE coverage. She’s mediocre at responding to extra help once she starts getting downhill in PnR, and isn’t as comfortable driving with her right hand as with her left. She’s also a pretty good screener.
Williams’ defense has fewer holes. She’s elite both navigating over ball screens and recovering if she gets caught, and is excellent at staying in front of drivers and contesting without fouling. She’s got elite lateral quickness, but is slower changing directions. As a result, she’s vulnerable at the point of attack to guards with great handles, especially inside-out dribbles as she habitually shades handlers over their strong dominant hand. Additionally, she provides very good ball-pressure and timely rotations, though her role doesn’t give much opportunity for her to provide help.
Why she’ll succeed: Williams’ standout athleticism and fundamentals make her a top-tier POA defender, and moving to a lower-usage offensive role allows her to focus on her stronger areas to be an efficient scorer.
Why she’ll fail: The leap in guards’ offensive talent from college to the pros minimizes the impact of Williams’ defense, and her inability to specialize in an offensive skill makes her tougher to fit into many lineups.
Ceiling comps: De’Anthony Melton, Briann January
Floor comps: Lexie Brown, Charlotte Malik Monk
9. Mya Hollingshed, combo forward, Colorado
Offensive style: Stretch big
Defensive style: Mobile big/helper
Similar to: Maxi Kleber, Natasha Howard
Among role players in this class, Hollingshed’s skillset is perhaps the most coveted and easiest to integrate into a team. Six-foot-three, floor-spacer on good volume, very good rebounder and elite help defender — she’s every coach’s dream.show more
On that help defense: Hollingshed consistently has excellent position, be it in PnR drop, 2.9ing, a drop-like cushion for a teammate going over curl, or tagging rollers. She’s excellent at second-side shot-contesting and is a very good communicator. She exudes very good lateral quickness and agility in most actions, especially in keeping her body between a posting-up big and the basket. That athleticism should allow her to develop into a good hedge big, but she’s not fundamentally sound yet; she mostly played within Colorado’s scheme, sometimes overrunning the POA to hedge or over-committing to the action. Given her lanky frame, she’s also not yet strong enough to front or prevent post-ups against the stronger bigs.
Hollingshed’s offense is about as simple, though that’s because it’s fairly limited. Her impact skill is shooting, where she’s made a career 34.0% from three on 3.5 3pa per game (per Pivot Analysis), and over the past three years shot at least 33.7% on “short-distance threes” on a per-40-minutes volume that ranked in the 85th percentile among forwards (per CBB Analytics). Her catch-and-shoot form is mechanically smooth and quick enough for the pros, but there’s something more to unlock — it’s currently a two-motion shot, and can be simplified and quickened if she can learn to transfer the momentum from the catch into the shot. A career 75.2% free-throw mark, per Pivot Analysis, backs up her shot’s viability.
Additionally, Hollingshed’s a very good screener and an excellent connector, with very good passing velocity, accuracy, and patience. Good off-ball movement allows her both to put herself in position to make those passes and to get good looks from three, though a W coach ought to want her using those instincts along the perimeter more often, instead of cutting from short corner to short corner like she did at Colorado.
Why she’ll succeed: 3-and-D at 6’3 — ‘nuff said (plus it rhymes!)
Why she’ll fail: The difference between Hollingshed’s shooting on short threes (very good) and long threes (very poor before this year) portends struggles from WNBA distance, and she’s unable to bulk up, making her easy to take advantage of on both ends.
Ceiling comps: Jarred Vanderbilt with a three, Tina Thompson without an interior game
Floor comps: Al-Farouq Aminu, late-career Glory Johnson
10. Nia Clouden, off-ball guard, Michigan State
Offensive style: Off-screen shooter
Defensive style: Low activity
Similar to: Marina Mabrey, Terrence Ross with less finishing
With Nia Clouden, the name of the game is shooting. She’s shot a 53.9% eFG on spot-up attempts and 39.9% off the dribble (the latter would rank about the 78th percentile) in her time at Michigan State, per Synergy, and sports a career free-throw percentage over 80% to match.show more
The vast majority of Clouden’s offensive abilities come outside 16 feet, with excellent footwork and consistent mechanics on both her catch-and-shoot attempts and her pull-ups, and her form is incredibly smooth and quick on both. She has an excellent feel for opening up for shots, whether it be running off motion strong or setting up her defender to run into a ball screen. And while she doesn’t have a good bag, her face-up footwork is quite good. The one knock on her shooting profile is her touch from the midrange is jarringly bipolar — either she swishes (or rims out) or airballs entirely, rarely does she get side rim. Clouden’s very good at getting herself open as well, and moves very well into catch-and-shoot pockets when she tries. The problem with that movement is it’s only good when she’s trying it; very often, she will spend much of a play standing in the same spot, not lifting or cutting baseline; that may be her fault, or a fault of the Spartans’ offense.
As for Clouden’s game within 16 feet, she’s an excellent finisher and improviser down low, but struggles to get there. She does have good burst, but limited twitch and strength prevent her from turning the corner against quality backcourt defenders, though she tries.
Defensively, Clouden’s either a non-factor or a negative. She’s poor at help above the break, either providing none or overhelping, and while she has decent instincts along the baseline, her execution thereof often leaves her out of position after. She can’t track her assignment as a chaser without facing-up to them, and is poor at keeping her hips in front of drivers. She is decent at navigating off-ball screens, but usually gets caught on ball screens.
Why she’ll succeed: Playing in shorter stints and relieved of on-ball duties, Clouden is able to focus on providing more off-ball movement and is able to develop more consistent touch from the midrange, making her a premier off-ball scoring threat.
Why she’ll fail: Clouden’s shooting touch is what it is and feel (in this case, off-ball movement) is extraordinarily difficult to develop at this age, while opposing offenses are able to target her defensively, leaving her just a sporadic shooting threat.
Ceiling comps: Seth Curry, Riquna Williams with worse defense
Floor comps: Rachel Banham, Bryn Forbes
11. Khayla Pointer, point guard, LSU
Offensive style: Primary ball-handler
Defensive style: Chaser
Similar to: Collin Sexton
Khayla Pointer is basketball in its purest. She’s a baller, a hooper, a bucket. She has elite burst and lateral quickness and is almost never flat-footed on the ball. And were she three inches taller with a better free-throw percentage, she’d be a top-three pick.show more
Pointer was among the few best point guards in the game this year, mostly thanks to skills she’s had for most of her career that’ve just gotten better over time: An unmatched game off-the-dribble with the best bag in the country — crossover, hesi, hang dribble, in-and-out — you name it; excellent pull-up footwork and body control; an elite floor game and overall feel; an elite ability to draw fouls; good finishing; excellent footwork off screens and handoffs; and elite two-player playmaking and very good quarter-court playmaking. She has a catch-and-shoot motion that is smooth in her upper body but with a long load-up, and is more of a two-motion shot in her lower body because of mediocre footwork. It’s worked, though, as she’s a very good catch-and-shoot threat for most of her collegiate career.
Pointer struggles with finishing against good verticality or when she’s going out of her way to draw a foul. Additionally, she doesn’t have a lot of velocity on many of her push passes.
Defensively, Pointer is among the better chasers across the nation, especially given her offensive load. She’s very good at tracking both her assignment and the ball, though she can get caught ball-watching at times. Her on-ball communication is good, and she’s mostly inactive in help because of her role but isn’t incapable of it. She’s excellent at navigating over screens, but has mediocre screen awareness and often overplays POA ball screens when she does recognize them ahead of time. At the POA, she’s quite poor at keeping herself between drivers and the basket, and is usually a split-second late to react to her assignment cutting or taking her off the dribble.
Why she’ll succeed: The most valuable skill in the sport of basketball is the ability to put the ball in the hoop, and Pointer’s elite athleticism and adaptive approach allows her to have little trouble as a 6th woman for years to come.
Why she’ll fail: The jump in athleticism to the pros reduces Pointer’s effectiveness enough that she’s forced to take more long and contested shots and her lack of full-halfcourt playmaking prevents her ability to punish teams for doing so, while she’s continually forced into guarding PnRs.
Ceiling comps: Lou Williams, Kelsey Plum with less three-point volume
Floor comps: Lindsay Allen with handles, Coby White
12. Lorela Cubaj, big, Georgia Tech
Offensive style: Roll & cut big/short-roll playmaker
Defensive style: Mobile big
Similar to: Brianna Turner, Rebounding P.J. Washington
Lorela Cubaj’s game can be most-easily described as similar to that of Emily Engstler, but more extreme in every direction.show more
Offensively, Cubaj has excellent passing ability and pretty good playmaking overall, but her short-roll playmaking is particularly excellent. She’s a decent screener, an elite offensive rebounder, with decent three-point form. And that’s about where the positives end. She’s got a poor post game with especially bad footwork and no face-up game to speak of. Additionally, her dribble is loose, her overall shooting is exceptionally poor, and she’s a bad finisher.
Where Cubaj’s ability to carve out a WNBA role will come from is defense. She’s inconsistent at the POA, with consistently excellent footwork and hips, but she varies between being able to slide in front of handlers, and can close-out flat-footed or relax at the POA into being flat-footed. That being said, she’s still excellent at preventing dribble penetration against any position, though she can get jumpy against lead guards, allowing them to turn the corner or create separation in the midrange. She provides elite paint help in all facets, and elite one-pass-away help from anywhere on the court. She’s poor at two-pass-away perimeter help, though, has trouble noticing back screens, and is slow to react to teammates improvising switches. And she’s an elite defensive rebounder.
It’s important to keep those aforementioned POA defensive inconsistencies in context: she’s SIX-FOOT-FOUR. The point being, she’ll be far and away one of the most switchable defenders in the league from day one.
Why she’ll succeed: Cubaj’s defensive weaknesses are easily improved upon, enabling her to be featured in a high-usage defensive role, while a EuroBall-style (or at least PnR-heavy) offense features her playmaking without asking her to be an impact scorer.
Why she’ll fail: Without improving at the POA, Cubaj is limited to being a versatile big who’s weakest in the areas that WNBA offenses prefer to attack, and she struggles to succeed in the offensive systems many teams run.
Ceiling comps: Alyssa Thomas, Miami James Johnson
Floor comp: Maxi Kleber without the finishing
13. Olivia Nelson-Ododa, center, UConn
Offensive style: Roll & cut big
Defensive style: Anchor big
Similar to: Mitchell Robinson with ankle weights, John Henson
If there’s one instance where you can make it as a one-way player, it’s defense-first centers. And boy is that good news for Olivia Nelson-Ododa.show more
Nelson-Ododa can’t switch and you probably don’t want her trapping, but she can do pretty much everything else you’d want out of a center, fully capable of hedging, ICE-ing, and dropping — although her footspeed will probably limit how often she should hedge in the W. Drop will probably be her calling card, where she can play both deep and high with very good timing and positioning, and she’s very good at anticipating where help is needed and providing rim protection against backcourt drivers. She’s extremely adept at using her length to her advantage, being highly disruptive in passing lanes, recovery-blocking without fouling, and contesting post-ups excellently. She’s also very good against post-ups at using her lower body to foul-without-fouling.
There are consistent struggles, though. Despite her anticipation for help, she sometimes doesn’t bother to provide it. She has basically no ability to close out anywhere — she always either runs the offense off the line or stops short and under-contests; against Aliyah Boston, Nelson-Ododa basically refused to close out to contest her jumpers and just watched Boston rain hell. When rotating to provide help, she can overdo her positioning. She reaches a lot in on-ball defense, resulting in a number of fouls and a number of should-be fouls that may get called in the W. She’s completely lost in man-up help — that is, she never provides a 5-on-4 advantage when possible. And given her slender frame, she struggles in the post against big, strong players.
Offensively, Nelson-Ododa’s game — or lack thereof — is very straightforward. First off, there’s essentially no hope she’ll be any kind of scorer, and she’s got one of the worst jumpers in the country. In the post, she’s got excellent footwork, is mediocre at establishing post position, and has no consistent moves to speak of. She’s also got poor face-up footwork. Outside that role, she’s an excellent screener with very good roll and slip angles and timing, and a generally good finisher — except if a quality big is in position to contest, Nelson-Ododa has little feel for preventing her layups from being blocked. She’s also got poor feel for off-ball movement, just sort of drifting around the paint if she doesn’t have an active role.
Why she’ll succeed: Nelson-Ododa adds muscle while improving her upper-body discipline and developing a better process while finishing, allowing her to be a top-end defensive center who contributes enough in a PnR offense to play good minutes for over a decade.
Why she’ll fail: Either Nelson-Ododa’s frame is maximized or adding muscle would greatly reduce her lateral quickness, and fouling discipline and offensive feel around the rim prove difficult to improve, making her a defense-only center subject to wild swings in playability.
Ceiling comps: Mercedes Russell, Steven Adams
Floor comps: Zaza Pachulia, weak Natalie Achonwa
14. Sika Kone, center, Spar Gran Canaria (SPA)
Offensive style: Post scorer
I do not purport to have any knowledge of international scouting. I do, however, know some smart people who’ve seen film on Kone.show more
From Robert Mummery, Her Hoop Stats contributor and international basketball analyst:
Extremely athletic moving in space… versatile coverage defensively… not afraid of guarding bigger centers… some ball-handling/driving ability and passing vision… very undersized for a center… absolutely zero shooting range… involved in a lot of defensive breakdowns for Mali, although hard to say if part of that was caused by the limited practice time available to international sides.
He had also noted back in January that her “numbers and rebounding in Spain are silly,” but “[Sparks big Maria] Vadeeva and [Storm big Ezi] Magbegor were statistically much better prospects, and both were late, late first-rounders. Kone would have to be a nuclear athlete to get on their level. [Sky center] Astou Ndour-Fall played for the exact same team eight years ago and graded out better, and was a second-round pick.”
Her inexperience shows in little things like defending on the perimeter, but the talent is there.
Kone is a very good athlete with a nose for the ball and a great rebounder. She showed off her skill and athleticism facing a good French squad where she went 10-for-10 for 26 points with nine rebounds. What is keeping her from being higher on my draft board is questions about what position she is. If Kone can continue to improve her skills, a late-first/early-second round pick might be a steal. But equally possible she tops out as an energy big who struggles to stick in the W.
15. Aisha Sheppard, off-ball guard, Virginia Tech
Offensive style: Off-screen shooter
Defensive style: Chaser
Similar to: Buddy Hield, Marina Mabrey
Aisha Sheppard was a top-10 prospect last year before she returned to Virginia Tech for a fifth year — which, as you can tell from her ranking this go-around, really speaks to how limited that class was. But while her ranking may have dropped, she remains a top-notch shooting prospect.show more
Sheppard’s calling card is shooting — to the extent that she ranked in the 91st percentile in true-shooting among guards despite a below-average field goal percentage (per CBB Analytics). Her footwork on both catch-and-shoot and pull-up jumpers is immaculate, as she turns on a dime to plant both feet and rise up, and lightning-quick upper-body form gives her the ability to fire from any window. As a result, she’s an elite shooter — a career 62.6% eFG% on catch-and-shoot actions (95th %ile) and 43.0% eFG% off the dribble (84th %ile), per Synergy — and the kind of true movement shooter that’s so rare in the W today. She gets open for spot-ups with good off-ball movement, though she doesn’t lift/shake often enough, and uses ball screens very well to set up her pull-ups. Additionally, she’s a good distributor in PnRs and has a decent moves off the bounce, though with poor POA burst she struggles mightily to turn the corner and create penetration.
Defensively, Sheppard is decent along the perimeter, but by no means a true POA defender. She fights over and navigates under ball screens very well and is good at keeping her hips between drivers and the basket, but her footwork and lateral quickness isn’t good enough to prevent penetration by bigger or faster guards. And unfortunately for her, she wasn’t the smallest starter in Virginia Tech’s lineup, so she was often starting at a physical disadvantage. Her perimeter help was decent as well, with good instincts for digging, but she usually didn’t help deep enough for that to matter.
Why she’ll succeed: Sheppard learns better reads in off-ball movement and is continually sent off of screens and handoffs, while having bigger teammates relieves her of having to defend bigger guards, allowing her to specialize in high-quality volume shooting without being a sieve on the other end.
Why she’ll fail: Sheppard’s inability to create dribble penetration allows defense to negate her by simply having a chaser top-lock, while shifty backcourt scorers take her off the dribble on the defensive side, greatly reducing her ability to contribute positively.
Ceiling comps: Sami Whitcomb, Malik Beasley
Floor comps: Shatori Walker-Kimbrough
16. Naz Hillmon, big, Michigan
Offensive style: Post scorer
Defensive style: Low activity
Similar to: Isaiah Hartenstein
Naz Hillmon is basically the perfect inverse of Olivia Nelson-Ododa.show more
Hillmon’s offensive game is simple, but in a good way: she’s simply an elite post scorer with a deep, deep bag of moves, one she adapts excellently to how her defender is playing her. And that applies both with her back to the basket and facing-up. Her production is limited to right around the rim, but she’s nearly impossible to stop from getting there, thanks to great strength and immaculate footwork. She’s a solid decision-maker who shows flashes of playmaking. The only way to stop her from scoring once she’s got the ball are late doubles, which she can struggle getting out of.
Defensively, Hillmon brings… very little. She plays in a hedge-heavy scheme, but she’s a very poor recoverer on account of slowness. She’s got very heavy feet on-ball, and is completely inactive in help. She wasn’t a complete negative in and of herself, but the fact that Michigan had to hide its four on that end of the court is itself a problem.
Back to the bright side: she’s an excellent rebounder on both ends.
Why she’ll succeed: Hillmon’s post scoring translates perfectly to the pros thanks to her center-like wingspan and she improves on passing out of double teams, and her team is able to find enough opportunities to hide her defensively to give her plenty of scoring opportunities in an offensive package that can lead benches for years.
Why she’ll fail: Doubles continue to give Hillmon some trouble, while the premier level of post play in the WNBA both reduces the effectiveness of her offensive skillet and continually exposes her on defense, making her tough to play against many lineups.
Ceiling comps: Izzy Harrison, Montrezl Harrell
Floor comps: Jahlil Okafor, Alaina Coates
17. Elissa Cunane, center, N.C. State
Offensive style: Post scorer
Defensive style: Anchor big
Similar to: Amanda Zahui B., Vernon Carey
Elissa Cunane is one of the most polished players that the ACC has ever seen, a high-efficiency, high-volume scorer since her freshman year who’s contended for ACC Player of the Year each season since. To reframe that, Cunane is mostly the same player today that she was 2.5 years ago.show more
Cunane is a versatile back-to-the-basket scorer with very good footwork and a variety of moves, but she seems to predetermine a great deal of those moves. She’s an elite finisher at the rim and capable-but-inconsistent at converting with her hook shot out to 10 feet. While she’s got an excellent floor game overall, her internal metronome is quite susceptible to being sped-up by delayed double-teams, which she usually responds to by going into a move and forcing up a bad shot. Her ability to establish post position is fine, but she struggles to adjust her angles to allow for easier entries. Away from the rim, she’s a good screener who’s developed as a roller over the years, and has become a consistent spot-up threat from three for a center.
Defensively, Cunane is mediocre at best. She’s pretty good at defending back-to-the-basket actions and provides decent positioning and rim protection, but she’s easily taken off the dribble in face-ups by anyone with good burst. She’s very slow in space, and bad at defending secondary actions and switching between players in the paint after passes, severely limiting her rim protection. She played both drop and hedge for the Wolfpack, but she’d be an almost-exclusively drop big in the pros.
Additionally, N.C. State’s excellent perimeter defense protected her from having to defend beyond her matchup or the two-player game very often. Plus, she’s an unexceptional rebounder.
Why she’ll succeed: Cunane develops a process to be able to feel out post defenders and double-teams, continues her development as a roller, and refines her defensive positioning, allowing her to be decent enough on the defensive end to be a high-impact scorer who presents a tough matchup against most defenses.
Why she’ll fail: Becoming an adaptive post scorer and improving an internal metronome is quite difficult, as is improving defensive feel, rendering Cunane a negative on both ends of the court. a net negative on both ends.
Ceiling comps: Greg Monroe, Izzy Harrison
Floor comps: Goga Bitadze, Reshanda Gray
18. Destanni Henderson, point guard, South Carolina
Offensive style: Primary ball-handler
Defensive style: Chaser
Similar to: Monte Morris, Moriah Jefferson
Destanni Henderson might have the smallest gap between her floor and her ceiling of anyone in this class. As you can tell from the length of the next two paragraphs, she’s got a very rigid skillset, which isn’t the worst thing in the world given that her strengths are those that every team covets. But whether she can get better at the things that are tough to develop will likely dictate whether she can get a second contract in the W.show more
The most obvious skill of Henderson’s is her elite floor game, possibly the best in the country. She’s a very post-entry passer, and is elite at beating hedges and traps and forcing defensive rotations, though she’s not great at skip passes. She’s got a very good pull-up jumper that she can hit from a variety of approaches thanks to good body control and decent footwork. She’s also demonstrated a capability to hit step-back and relocation threes, though that doesn’t begin to approach consistency. Her catch-and-shoot jumper is compact, but not a smooth one-motion, due to poor footwork and a slow rise. She’s got an extremely tight dribble (that’s a good thing), has an excellent pump-fake, and pretty good burst. She finishes decently, but is a lot more comfortable going to her right than to get left, and struggles to adjust her finishing approach once she’s committed to one. She’s an excellent two-player-game playmaker, but is much more suited to be a halfcourt facilitator than playmaker.^
Henderson’s defensive role as a chaser mainly comes on account of being relatively poor at the POA. She’s mediocre over ball screens and doesn’t recover well enough to make up for that. On the other hand, she’s good at staying in front of drivers if she’s not already beaten and provides excellent ball pressure. She struggles navigating off-ball screens and overruns back-cutters, and is mediocre at tracking both her off-ball assignment and the ball. She is, though, an excellent communicator who rotates very well when needed.
An important thing to note is that Henderson has shown little ability to scale up her shooting volume, even when South Carolina has needed it. But she has the footwork to suggest she should be able to.
Why she’ll succeed: Henderson’s strengths are areas teams always need, and there’s a dearth of solid point guard play in the W, so improvements to her defensive footwork around screens and decision-making on the drive or a compacted three makes her a high-end backup.
Why she’ll fail: Henderson’s weaknesses are areas that are difficult to significantly develop in at this stage, and while she has her moments, she doesn’t contribute in enough aspects to hang on.
Ceiling comps: Tyrese Haliburton with less playmaking, Sue Bird with less playmaking
Floor comps: Blake Dietrick
19. Jade Melbourne, off-ball guard, Canberra Capitals (AUS)
The big question for her going forward is whether she can improve her 3 point shot. She only shot 28% from 3 this season, but the shot looked improved from prior years. If she can continue to improve on that, she is a good slasher and all around player. She did not look out of place athletically on the court against the likes of Jackie Young and Marina Mabrey and alongside her teammate Brittney Sykes. She’s not a Sykes level athlete, but very few are.
She put up respectable numbers in a real league, and when I watched her (at the beginning of the season) she looked like she had some idea what was she doing, but was just not quite athletic/strong enough to make a difference.
20. Kayla Jones, combo forward, N.C. State
Offensive style: Athletic finisher/stationary shooter
Similar to: Patrick Patterson
Kayla Jones is a bit perplexing. On the one hand, she’s got a very unique skillset for someone at her position and has shot the lights out the past few years; on the other hand, she wasn’t used in N.C. State’s primary actions as much as you’d want, isn’t a standout athlete, and has a funny-looking three-point shot.show more
Jones’ biggest offensive strength is her versatility: she’s a spot-up threat from anywhere, can pull-up inside the arc, is a very good post-entry passer, and runs both ends of the PnR. She’s also got an excellent floor game, and is a very good screener. Her face-up game is decent and she’s got tight footwork on her spin move, to go along with good burst. She has a loose dribble, though, and is extremely limited on the block, thanks to poor post strength and a poor feel for scoring with her back to the basket. She’s been a consistently good free-throw and three-point shooter, but her jumper beyond the arc is a two-motion one with a stiff hitch in her arms as she sits the ball on her shoulder.
Defensively, Jones sticks very well with her assignment at the POA — be it the handler or screener — and while she shouldn’t be switching, she rides out hedges and recovers from them excellently. She’s very good at contesting drives, including preventing wings who attack on an angle from getting to the rim. She has very good instincts for nail help and is decent at digs. She struggles defending traditional fours in the post, though.
Jones strikes me as someone who’d have an easier fit in a league whose positional archetypes were closer to that of the MNBA than the W.
Succeed: Jones’ skillset scales up, and her offensive versatility and defensive abilities allow her to contribute to a variety of lineups, though her size prevents her from being a full-time starter in today’s WNBA.
Why she’ll succeed: Jones’ skillset scales up, and her offensive versatility and defensive abilities allow her to contribute to a variety of lineups, though her size prevents her from being a full-time starter in today’s WNBA.
Why she’ll fail: There’s a reason Jones wasn’t featured more heavily in N.C. State’s primary offensive actions, and she has trouble matching the size and strength of W fours.
Ceiling comps: Kayla Thornton, Clifford Robinson
Floor comp: Isaac Bonga
21. Lexie Hull, off-ball guard, Stanford
Offensive style: Stationary shooter
Defensive style: Chaser
Similar to: Katie Lou Samuelson
Lexie Hull’s game isn’t hard to scout from the box score: good instincts, good floor game, and overall production that makes or breaks based on whether her three is falling.show more
Hull’s offense is based around an extremely quick and compact three-pointer that she can get off coming off most kinds of screens, thanks to consistent, stable footwork. Her ability as a catch-and-shoot threat is limited, though, because it’s more of a two-motion process, with her needing to steady her hips/torso before rising. She sees the floor well and is a very good connector, and has excellent instincts for cutting and decent perimeter off-ball movement.
That’s probably about where her contributions at the next level end. Hull is a poor finisher, has a somewhat loose dribble, and is an inconsistent pull-up shooter at best. Athletically, her agility is limited and her overall footspeed is on the lower end.
Those athletic limitations hurt Hull on the defensive end as well, where she’s slow-footed at the POA and easily taken off the dribble. She does have decent lateral quickness, though. She’s got pretty good court awareness and active hands into passing lanes for a chaser, and is good at communicating ball screen coverage and improvising switches. Otherwise, she just isn’t as involved overall in the primary defensive action.
Why she’ll succeed: Hull’s feel for off-ball movement is exponentially more valuable in a scheme that runs her off off-ball screens to pop for threes, making her an efficient and very good volume shooter off the bench.
Why she’ll fail: Hull’s slower shot reduces her ability to be a volume shooter, and with her poor athleticism, she doesn’t contribute much.
Ceiling comps: Stephanie Talbot, Reggie Bullock
Floor comp: Daniel House