April 6, 2022
Atlanta Dream trade for top pick with eyes ‘expected’ on Rhyne Howard, as Washington plans for the future
Washington looks to snag favorable pick in 2023; sources believe Dream will snag Kentucky's Howard
A miserable 4-22 end of the year squandered most of the joy found at the start of the Atlanta Dream’s 2021 campaign. But on Wednesday afternoon, the team’s new-look front office decided to create some optimism of its own, finalizing a trade with the Washington Mystics that will send this year’s No. 1 pick to Atlanta in exchange for the Dream’s No. 3 and No. 14 picks, as well as a 2023 first-round pick swap that benefits Washington.
In an interview with The Next on Wednesday, Atlanta Dream general manager Dan Padover did not disclose his team’s plan for Monday’s draft. However, multiple WNBA sources told The Next that they believe Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard will come off the board first when Atlanta makes its selection.
“When we were evaluating this trade, we not only looked at this year’s draft, but we looked at previous and future drafts and we feel like moving up to one this year puts us in the best possible spot to get a foundational piece,” Padover said. “And we felt comfortable doing so.”
For months, most WNBA executives, talent evaluators and media members have made declarations that this year’s extravaganza is some version of a “two-player draft,” with Howard and Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith battling for the top overall spot in virtually every mock selection. That meant that the Dream, slotted third overall during the recent Draft Lottery, looked like a team that once again found itself holding the short end of the stick.
That’s no longer the case. Now, the board runs through Atlanta.
If the Dream choose Howard, she would add instant offense at the perimeter — a skill that the team lost plenty of this offseason with the departures of Chennedy Carter and Courtney Williams. With elite offensive versatility (20.5 points per game, and that nifty shot chart below) and an SEC Championship to her name, Howard should provide upside for a team that figures to remain in the lottery for at least one more year.
If the Dream chooses to select Smith — sending her from Nicki Collen’s new team to her old one — the team will add explosiveness at the post that it hasn’t had in recent roster constructions.
With this trade, the Dream are also betting on the outcome of a third franchise: the Los Angeles Sparks. This season, Atlanta will have to hope that Los Angeles makes the playoffs or finish with a higher spot in the standings than Washington. Mike Thibault and the Mystics now own the more favorable pick between the Los Angeles Sparks’ 2022 first-round pick or their own first-round pick (Atlanta will possess the lesser of the two selections).
“Anytime you get something, you have to give something up,” Padover said. “We knew we were gonna have to give assets up and that may be a potential asset. That’d be a new day. We were comfortable with it.”
Atlanta will pray that Los Angeles ends up with a good enough record to prevent the Mystics from snagging a top-two pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft. Many expect next year’s draft to start with South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston (the most-coveted prospect since 2018) and Stanford’s Haley Jones (who would have a decent shot to go number one if she was eligible for this year’s draft).
Washington, meanwhile, put itself in the driver’s seat for 2023 (and, in Thibault’s view, didn’t lose much by moving down). According to the Washington Post’s Kareem Copeland, Washington was comfortable picking anywhere inside the top three in this year’s draft.
Talked to Thibault and he said they'd gotten other offers for more draft picks to move farther down, but he didn't want to be outside of the top 3. They feel good about their top-rated 3 in this draft. #WNBA https://t.co/TCGfZg0WPG— Kareem Copeland (@kareemcopeland) April 6, 2022
In addition to a potentially-higher pick next season, Washington now gets two cracks at players who could fit with its impressive core centered around Elena Delle Donne. However, neither selection is likely to see significant minutes according to Copeland. The Mystics could emerge as contenders this season depending on the health of Delle Donne and Alysha Clark and have plenty of enticing options with their new No. 3 selection.
Since the team has plenty of depth at the post position, it could consider Florida Gulf Coast standout Kierstan Bell or Louisville’s Emily Engstler as smart additions to its wing rotation. If Washington wishes to add to its depth down low, it could shift to Ole Miss’ Shakira Austin or Oregon’s Nyara Sabally.
“I do like having to really, really think through the process of how you arrive at decisions,” Thibault said. “What you deem as important in the process, important with the players, all of that. We came to the conclusion that all three of these kids can play.”
(Howard Megdal contributed reporting to this story.)