April 13, 2022
2022 WNBA Draft: Seattle Storm make some things out of nothing
Talisa Rhea discusses the Storm's war room deliberations
Seattle entered the 2022 WNBA Draft with four late picks. It left with a possible upgrade to its current roster and quality assets for the future — unexciting, sure, but as much as you could ask of any team in its place.
The Storm made a pair of mid-second-round picks, a trade, and an international draft-and-stash, adding a couple of quality bodies for at least training camp, a promising prospect for the future, and a pretty good 2023 second-round pick. Not bad for a team that made its first pick after nearly halfway through the night.
- With the No. 17 pick, Seattle drafted center Elissa Cunane, out of N.C. State
- Seattle traded the rights to the No. 18 pick — big Lorela Cubaj, out of Georgia Tech — to New York for its 2023 second-round pick
- With the No. 21 pick, Seattle drafted wing Evina Westbrook, out of UConn
- With the No. 33 pick, Seattle drafted combo guard Jade Melbourne, out of Canberra (WNBL)
“We’re excited. We feel like we got some really good talent and an asset for next year as well,” said general manager Talisa Rhea told The Next. “So, we’re happy with how everything played out, and feel like we have some good pieces to add to our roster heading into training camp this weekend.”
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It was an uncommon night for Seattle in a number of ways. For starters, the organization lacked a first-rounder for the first time since 2017 and just the second time since 2008. It was also ostensibly the least-experienced war room the Storm had had since 2015, with Rhea having assumed the general manager role just one day before the 2021 draft, and Noelle Quinn currently in her first offseason as head coach — though both had been assistants to their current roles for a few years. For Quinn, it wasn’t too hard of a transition.
“[The war room] is a combination of not just understanding it’s about that moment, but doing the due diligence and talking through it prior to the moment,” Quinn said. “So we have an idea of where we would like to go and determine where we will go and playing out certain scenarios. In the war room, it is tough, because you have to make a decision quickly and filter through what you discussed prior; but Talisa has done a great job, and we connect in various ways, and kind of align in our thought process as well.”
Pick no. 17
Seattle came into the draft with a cap sheet restricting it to an 11-player opening-day roster, and with a camp battle already set for the team’s final frontcourt spot. So Rhea and co. were unlikely to trade up, even if a prospect they liked started falling. As it turned out, that didn’t matter: the team had a late-first grade on Cunane, and got her in the mid-second round.
“If you think about the way we play, we like to play up-tempo, we like to play in space; understanding concepts… understanding that screening is important, understanding getting to the dunker[‘s spot] and picking up concepts on the offensive end but [she’s] also a big body and presence and versatility on the defensive end,” Quinn said of Cunane’s skillset.
I had Cunane exactly 17th on our draft board, reminiscent of Amanda Zahui B., Izzy Harrison, and a taller Reshanda Gray. The scouting report:
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… 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… 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…
The Storm traded the rights to the next pick to the Liberty, which ended up being Lorela Cubaj, a big out of Georgia Tech. With her extreme defensive versatility and impact all over the halfcourt, she would’ve been a natural fit in Seattle. But the front office didn’t want more of the same.
“Cunane was someone who we felt like would fit us just a little bit better and add some versatility to our post group,” said Rhea. “And then with the [trade] opportunity on top of that, it was kind of a win-win for us, and we were really happy to get the player that we wanted and to also have a piece now for next year as well.”
Pick no. 18
In return for the rights to draft Cubaj, Seattle received New York’s 2023 second-round pick. With the Liberty projected to be fighting for one of the last couple playoff spots, that pick should end up higher than 18th next year, though the 2023 draft is shaping up to be much shallower than this past one.
Compare the value the Storm got in this trade to what the Lynx received a few days ago: Minnesota traded the Nos. 8 and 13 picks this year in exchange for the Aces’ 2023 first- and second-round picks. With the Aces widely expected to be a top-five team this year, the selections the Lynx receive next year are likely to come in lower than the ones they just traded away.
Pick no. 21
The draft room sat still for a couple minutes, then did what mock-drafters have been expecting for months: it drafted UConn wing Evina Westbrook. If she made the opening-day roster, she’d be the team’s seventh different Husky since 2019, the same year Quinn joined the coaching staff. When asked that, Quinn laughed and said “[Are you] trying to say ‘is there a conspiracy here?’ Nah, I mean, it just kinda works out like that, though we do love our Huskies.”
Westbrook’s skillset at this point is largely theoretical, which isn’t what you want out of a 23-year-old. She hasn’t shot very well from three since her sophomore year at Tennessee, and is a poor free-throw shooter to boot. I’d rated her as a non-prospect, given that her jumper mechanics are inconsistent, she can’t get her own shot, and she’s got little feel for help defense. Rhea and Quinn cited her size and versatility as reasons they drafted her; given the dearth of real prospects at that point in the draft, they seemed to want a body for training camp, and Westbrook’s theoretical upside made her as good an option as any.
Pick no. 33
Seattle closed the night by drafting Australian combo guard Jade Melbourne. She was rated a late-second round pick by many, including myself; Peter Kilkelly, who writes about the WNBA at Five Out Basketball, said, “The big question for her going forward is whether she can improve her 3 point shot…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 Brittney Sykes.”
With Seattle’s roster situation, it’s safe to assume that a raw teenager is a longshot to break camp. And the team certainly seems hopeful she’ll stay overseas, effectively allowing the Storm to delay a decision on her until at least next April.
“We’re in conversations [with Melbourne’s agent] right now,” said Rhea. “We definitely see her as someone who has great potential and could help in the future. And we’ll see how that plays out here, but we were excited that she was still available as well… She’s definitely someone that we see as more of a future opportunity.”
Melbourne was the unanimous No. 2 international prospect in the draft, behind Mali’s Sika Kone, who just wrapped up her EuroLeague season with Span Gran Canaria. But Seattle never even inquired about whether she’d be open to a draft-and-stash — Melbourne was their top international target from the get-go.
“I think we’re just looking for a competitive training camp, and be able to select the best available players for our roster and the best fit with who we have,’ Rhea said. “We’re excited to see it play out. I think we have a lot of talent at a lot of different positions in our camp, and it’s going to be really competitive and a lot of fun.”