January 23, 2024 

Ranking the top WNBA Draft prospects of all time

See where all the greats line up

by Em Adler, Hunter Cruse and Lincoln Shafer

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The WNBA Draft is where championship winners are born. From Candace Parker and Maya Moore to Breanna Stewart and Aja Wilson, one superstar prospect can change an entire franchise. All but one of the W’s 27 championship teams were led by either an initially allocated player, a former No. 1 pick, or a No. 2 pick in a draft with two No. 1–caliber prospects.1 Thirteen of the past 17 title winners have had multiple No. 1 or No. 2 picks, and six of the past nine had three.

Enter Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and UConn’s Paige Bueckers, superstar 2024 draft-eligible guards viewed as once-in-a-generation prospects. Clark, widely expected to leave Iowa City and travel 312 miles east to Indiana, is likely to join 2023 No. 1 selection Aliyah Boston in leading a Fever rebuild that will define the trajectory of the WNBA.

If No. 1 picks are the key, and Boston is already a star, then it’s important to answer one question: Where do Clark and Bueckers and Boston rank among the best prospects in W history?

To answer this question, The Next’s amateur scouting team spent the past six months diving into college film of over 30 of the greatest prospects in WNBA history. The best of these players are tiered off by the 20-80 baseball scale as always, with their “future value” grade indicating what their median outcome was most likely to be. The average draftable college prospect over the past three years has been a 40 FV, meaning that their median outcome was a mid-bench player. Everyone listed below is either a 70 FV, an All-WNBA-caliber player, or an 80, a perennial MVP candidate.

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Some notes before we get to the list:

  • Each prospect is evaluated based on the stylistic tendencies, team-building philosophies and rules of their era, rather than how they would stack up in the modern WNBA. For example, the WNBA didn’t install a defensive three-second rule until 2012, in the months before Brittney Griner’s rookie debut, eliminating the ability for post players to camp in the paint. So in the 15 seasons prior, the need for bigs to switch and defend in space was less important.
  • When evaluating these prospects, it was important to disregard how their WNBA careers transpired and rank players based solely on their college tape. For example, Tina Thompson was a 60 prospect, according to our consensus scouting grade, but her WNBA resume is indicative of a 70-grade player.
  • Many legends, such as Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes, were part of allocations, composed of experienced Olympians and former college stars ahead of the 1997 season and at points throughout the following years, thus making them ineligible for this series. The same rule applies to the former ABL players included in the 1999 draft, since they were already professionals, and to Cheryl Miller, one of the best college players ever who played a decade before the WNBA’s inauguration. The Next will evaluate some of these players in a future series.
  • For more historical draft coverage, the scouting crew covered each of these prospects and more in the 15-plus episode series on Locked On Women’s Basketball. The full WNBA Retrospect playlist can be found here.

80+ FV

1. Candace Parker, big wing/point big, Tennessee

Draft: 2008, No. 1

Height: 6’4

Wingspan: 6’7

Offensive style: Shot-creator/versatile big

Defensive style: Mobile big/helper

Candace Parker is the standard against which all prospects are measured. Maya Moore, Brittney Griner, Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson — how did they compare as prospects to Parker?

The answer is that there remains just one Candace Parker. Just one player since 2005 to win multiple NCAA titles despite being one of only two future WNBA starters on her team and her best teammate playing just one year off her rookie contract. Just one player to make three-straight Final Fours while playing point guard, small forward and power forward — none of which were even her best position in the pros. Just one player who could have won the Naismith Award from the perimeter or the interior, as a creator or a connector or a finisher, both the best passer and scorer in the country with a 6’7 wingspan to boot. Just one player who was the best help defender, rotator, wing stopper and communicator in the country and the most lethal grab-and-go threat we’ve ever seen.

Just one Candace Parker.

2. Lauren Jackson, center, Australia

Draft: 2001, No. 1

Height: 6’5

Wingspan: 6’8+

Offensive style: Shot creator

Defensive style: Mobile big

It’s rare for a teenager to be one of the best players on the floor against a team of WNBA superstars, but that was Lauren Jackson at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The Australian big had an unbelievable combination of coordination, footwork, length and shot-making versatility at the most important defensive position. Jackson could truly do it all: make 3-pointers off of movement, operate in the low and mid-post, run in transition and generate offense for herself while making wing-like passes off the dribble. In a loaded 2001 lottery pool that also included Tamika Catchings and Jackie Stiles, Jackson was the no-doubt No. 1 prospect.

3. Breanna Stewart, big wing, UConn

Draft: 2016, No. 1

Height: 6’4

Wingspan: 7’1

Offensive style: Shot creator/versatile big

Defensive style: Mobile big/helper

There’s no word that encapsulated Breanna Stewart better than unique. The 6’4 big combined her incredible plus-9″ wingspan differential with impeccable technique, footwork and body control. Stewart’s physical tools and preternatural processing speed allowed her to defend anyone anywhere on the court. On offense, her pull-up jumper was virtually impossible to contest, and between her processing and the ability to square her shoulders to the basket like no one else, her off-ball game was special and her ability to work out of either side of the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop was unlike anything the WNBA had seen in the 15 years since Jackson.

80 FV

4. Caitlin Clark, point guard, Iowa

Draft: 2024*

Offensive style: Primary ball handler

Height: 6’0

Defensive style: Helper/low activity

Every now and then, a basketball player comes along that is unlike anything we have ever seen before. A singular offensive engine with basically no weaknesses on that end of the ball, Caitlin Clark has been one of the best players in college basketball since the moment she arrived in Iowa City. Her combination of on-ball skills and off-ball utility compares only to legends of the game like Stephen Curry and Diana Taurasi, and her defense quietly improved across her first three collegiate seasons. Clark would be a slam dunk No. 1 pick in almost any WNBA draft. The only reasons she isn’t in the top tier are that her defensive effort has plateaued and she can demonstrate questionable composure.

5. A’ja Wilson, center, South Carolina

Draft: 2018, No. 1

Offensive style: Post scorer

Height: 6’5

Defensive style: Mobile big

A’ja Wilson was the platonic ideal of a center from the moment she stepped foot in Columbia, S.C. — though her leaner build tempted coaches to play her at power forward during her early-to-mid-20s. The result was a player who not only dominated at both frontcourt positions in college, but got better all the while: Her preternatural coordination turned into unstoppable fluidity off the catch and a lethal first step turned into an excellent driving game, plus passing instincts turned into the best playmaking center prospect since Tina Charles. That development almost undermines the fact that Wilson’s defensive prospects remain comparable to only Jackson.

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6. Paige Bueckers, point guard, UConn

Draft: 2024*

Height: 5’11

Wingspan: 5’11

Offensive style: Primary ball handler

Defensive style: Helper/point of attack

The last time we saw Paige Bueckers before November 2023, she was arguably the best midrange shot creator in the history of the game and dragged UConn to a national championship appearance despite playing on one good leg. The last time we saw Paige Bueckers on two healthy legs before November 2023, she was splitting USBWA Freshman of the Year honors with the No. 4 player on this list. There’s no question that Bueckers’ immaculate shot creation could easily make her one of the greatest offensive guards in WNBA history, her court-mapping could challenge anyone in NCAA history and her suddenly improved defense may make her the kind of two-way point-of-attack player we’ve only been able to glimpse in Skylar Diggins-Smith’s 2021-22.

7. Tamika Catchings, combo forward, Tennessee

Draft: 2001, No. 3

Offensive style: Shot creator/super-utility wing

Height: 6’1

Defensive style: Wing stopper/mobile big

What happens when you combine exceptional basketball instincts, incredible vision, once-in-a-lifetime athleticism and an unstoppable motor? The greatest defender in the history of women’s basketball. Catchings fell to the third pick in 2001 after suffering a torn ACL during her senior season at Tennessee, but she still racked up countless accolades in her three fully healthy seasons as the most intriguing player on teams that featured Chamique Holdsclaw. Catchings’ first step was viciously quick, while her defense made some of the best players in the country look ordinary, and her cognitive processing in all facets of the game was unrivaled. Given all that, it’s no surprise that she ended up having one of the greatest careers of anyone who has played in the WNBA.

8. Maya Moore, combo forward, UConn

Draft: 2011, No. 1

Offensive style: Shot-creator

Height: 6’0

Defensive style: Wing stopper/helper

Sometimes prospects stand out because they represent a new combination of skills or something we have never seen before on a basketball court. But sometimes players don’t do anything revolutionary and are just better at what they do than anyone has ever been. Maya Moore is maybe the smoothest women’s basketball player to touch the court at the highest levels, and she simply never made mistakes. On top of the smoothness, she dominated with incredible burst that showed offensively and defensively, whether it was pulling up for a jumper (that usually went in), getting to the rim (where she usually scored), or blocking shots (which she was very good at for her size and position). She had a tantalizing mixture of on- and off-ball scoring prowess, and her footwork, rebounding and processing made her an ideal prospect on the wing. The only thing separating her from the top of this list was relatively average playmaking.

70+ FV

9. Elena Delle Donne, big wing, Delaware

Draft: 2013, No. 2

Offensive style: Shot-creator

Height: 6’5

Defensive style: Helper

The term “unicorn” often gets thrown around in discussions of talented young players. In truth, there have been only three prospects in WNBA Draft history whose combination of physical gifts and skills completely defied positional labels: Parker, Jackson and Elena Delle Donne. Delle Donne’s unbelievable burst, lateral quickness and pull-up shooting at 6’5 is a package that could only be guarded by a couple of players ranked in the top five of this list. Add in both playmaking and off-ball movement that would have been impressive for someone four inches shorter, as well as flashes of plus rim protection and defending on the drive, and the ceiling was the roof.

10. Diana Taurasi, combo guard, UConn

Draft: 2004, No. 1

Offensive style: Secondary ball-handler

Height: 6’1

Defensive style: Low activity

Diana Taurasi was a prospect unlike any before her. At 6’1, she had an exceptional handle, standout live-ball passing and a uniquely skilled mid-post game for a guard. Oh yeah, she also shot 39% from three on 6.2 attempts per game. In her first two collegiate seasons, Taurasi was a secondary ball handler next to Sue Bird, allowing her to grow into one of the best off-ball shooters in the country; her last two seasons showed unmatched scoring utility and left no doubt that she would be a star in the WNBA from Day 1. What’s keeping her from being an 80-grade prospect? The defense. UConn was forced to immediately change defensive schemes to a zone with Taurasi in the game due to a comical disengagement and lack of effort.

70 FV

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11. Brittney Griner, center, Baylor

Draft: 2013, No. 1

Height: 6’8

Wingspan: 7’3.5

Offensive style: Post scorer

Defensive style: Anchor big

Brittney Griner was almost certainly the most physically imposing and dominant player in the history of NCAA women’s basketball. Watching collegiate Griner, you’re constantly awed by the pure athleticism, force and talent on display so frequently in her games. Griner was very much a paint-bound center at Baylor, and if she could have fixed a few small things — a handle enough to drive from the elbow, higher activity in weakside rim protection — she might have broken our scale entirely. Griner was incredibly reliant on her athleticism to cover up a lot of flaws in her game, but because of how physically overpowering she was, that was still enough to be one of the greatest WNBA prospects of all time.

12. Kelsey Plum, point guard, Washington 

Draft: 2017, No. 1

Offensive style: Secondary ball handler

Height: 5’8

Defensive style: Point of attack/chaser

The quality of lead guard play in women’s basketball waned significantly between 2004 and 2013. Then a string of premier talents entered the draft: Diggins-Smith (2013), Jewell Loyd (2015), Moriah Jefferson (2016) and, most outstandingly, Kelsey Plum. Plum had plenty of exposure as a prospect, thanks to the fairly conspicuous honor of being the leading scorer in women’s college basketball history and second overall only to Pete Maravich; still, opinions were divided on just how good she was. It’s become apparent that those divisions were short-sighted. Plum was elite offensively at just about everything — shooting off the catch and off the dribble, playmaking, cutting, finishing and drawing fouls — to such a degree that multiple skills could have failed to translate to the W and she would have still been an All-Star point guard. A raw defensive skill set flashed plus at the point of attack, too, and we’re still watching her improve on that end of the court.

13. Aliyah Boston, center, South Carolina

Draft: 2023, No. 1

Height: 6’5

Wingspan: 6’9.5

Offensive style: Post scorer

Defensive style: Anchor big

Rare is it that a prospect has both an elite floor and a Hall of Fame ceiling. But that was Aliyah Boston. She was an excellent horizontal athlete, with elite rim protection and overall help defense, from absurdly perfect positioning to constant scanning for help opportunities. On offense, no defender had been able to even slow her from getting what she wanted, thanks to an essentially perfect collection of post tools: excellent patience, an extremely active adjustment of her moves to adapt to defensive tendencies, elite footwork, great fluidity out of the triple threat, and excellent all-around finishing. Boston was without a doubt the best frontcourt prospect since Wilson, with her lack of a consistent long-range jumper and questionable ability in hedge the only things keeping her from reaching the same tier.

14. Sylvia Fowles, center, LSU

Draft: 2008, No. 2

Height: 6’6

Wingspan: 7’1

Offensive style: Post scorer

Defensive style: Anchor big

Sylvia Fowles is the greatest all-around defensive prospect the league has ever seen — and for good reason. She was 6’6 with a ridiculously long wingspan, a bulky frame but superb mobility, elite core strength and a preternatural understanding of angles and positioning. Across her four seasons in Baton Rouge, Fowles averaged a monstrous 7.7% block rate and 3.2% steal rate. On offense, her skill set wasn’t built to drive an elite offense, but her screening, rolling, sealing, aggressive transition play and incredible catch radius made her arguably the greatest finisher ever. If it wasn’t for the greatest prospect in WNBA history entering the 2008 draft as a redshirt junior, Fowles would have been the unquestioned No. 1 pick that year.

15. Seimone Augustus, wing, LSU

Draft: 2006, No. 1

Offensive style: Shot-creator

Height: 6’1

Defensive style: Wing stopper

The rap on Seimone Augustus coming out of college was that she was something close to the second coming of Chamique Holdsclaw, an otherworldly athlete and an automatic bucket-getter. But that actually undersold her. Yes, Augustus had ungodly burst and core stability with incredible hip flexibility to boot, an unblockably smooth pull-up jumper and excellent touch around the rim. She was also a limited passer who could never be a No. 1 option on a good team without completely overhauling her shot diet — all key resemblances. But Augustus routinely flashed plus defense at LSU, using all her athletic gifts and heady play to stifle screening actions and stick with drivers and provide good help. The dramatic defensive improvements she made over the second half of her pro career show what might’ve been with better coaching in Minnesota from Day 1.

Honorable mentions (listed chronologically and alphabetically)

* Players in college during the 2020-21 season were granted an additional year of eligibility, allowing current seniors to remain in school through 2025. (Bueckers also has a medical redshirt year on top of the aforementioned extra year.)

  1. The one exception was the 2012 Indiana Fever, led by Tamika Catchings, who was only available to be drafted at No. 3 because of injury.
  2. Ralph is the greatest what-if in women’s basketball history, forced to retire before playing a minute in the W after suffering five ACL tears during and immediately following her time at UConn. She recovered from the first two, which both came in her right knee within a six-month span, to play three more years as the best prospect on teams that included Bird, Swin Cash and freshman Taurasi. Her third tear came in her left knee during her final conference championship game. The rehab timeline and previous injuries caused her to fall to the third round in the 2001 draft, and while sitting out her first WNBA season to recover, she re-tore that same left ACL twice within 12 months of the initial injury. The toll of those injuries was too great for her to continue playing even through recreationally.

Written by Em Adler

Em Adler (she/they) covers the WNBA at large and college basketball for The Next, with a focus on player development and the game behind the game.

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