January 21, 2024
Stock up, stock down: Biggest WNBA draft risers and fallers
Checking in with notable stars and under-the-radar names alike
By Em Adler and Hunter Cruse
A lot has changed since November: The all-time leader(s) in college basketball coaching wins; the number of decades since Colorado was last top five in the AP poll; UConn’s odds of winning a title; and our assessments of 2024 WNBA draft prospects.
In lieu of a full Draft Board v2.0, we’re back with some quick-hit midseason updates. There’s a few reasons we’re taking this approach, chiefly the fact that we came into the 2023–24 season with three or four years of observations on nearly all of these players and so not that much can change in a three-month span. A significant majority of the bullet points on our preseason board still ring true.
Still, some things can change. Some players are in different roles, have played different competition and have or have not made the improvements we were hoping for. Here are the prospects for whom that has made the most difference.
Add Locked On Women’s Basketball to your daily routine
Here at The Next, in addition to the 24/7/365 written content our staff provides, we also host the daily Locked On Women’s Basketball podcast. Join us Monday through Saturday each week as we discuss all things WNBA, collegiate basketball, basketball history and much more. Listen wherever you find podcasts or watch on YouTube.
Note: 30 FV is a median outcome as a hardship-caliber player, 40 FV is a median outcome as an end-of-bench player, 45 FV is a starter on a mediocre WNBA team and 50 FV is a starter on a true contender.
Kamilla Cardoso, center, South Carolina
30 FV → 50 FV
To us, Kamilla Cardoso‘s game looks night-and-day from how it was last year. There’s a lot more mobility than we anticipated, some truly great and quick decision-making on both ends and her plus passing has held up, even under greater volume. Beyond that, our understanding of what matters in prospects and what skills trainers consider ‘easier to teach’ is evolving. Her drop defense and ability to solve movement problems at her size are both remarkable, and her ability to process the game on offense (in terms of off-ball movement and reading her defender) suggest she will be able to add a more advanced post scoring package as she continues. Those are things that we either missed last season or were much harder to see with less playing time.
That being said, do you want a drop-exclusive big anchoring your defense? In 2024, with a number of teams still starting paint-bound centers, the answer can still be yes. Looking ahead to 2027, 2028, as dominant post scorers are becoming rarer? That gives some of us pause.
Rickea Jackson, combo forward, Tennessee
40 FV → 45 FV
Em went in depth on why Rickea Jackson has risen up our board after her 15-point performance against Team USA back in September. To make a long (and interesting) story short: When you’re an incredibly consistent shot-creator against even the toughest competition, that’s tough to ignore. It’s still hard to see Jackson as a first-division starter (i.e. a starter on a true contender, which would be a 50 FV), given her lack of shooting gravity (she is a career 30.3% on catch-and-shoot threes, per Synergy), value-added passing or improvement on the defensive end. But a microwave scorer at her size who offers occasional 3-point shooting is still a second-division starter, and worthy of a 45 FV.
The Next and The Equalizer are teaming up
The Next is partnering with The Equalizer to bring more women’s sports stories to your inbox. Subscribe to The Next now and receive 50% off your subscription to The Equalizer for 24/7 coverage of women’s soccer.
Alissa Pili, big, Utah
20 FV → soft 40 FV
Alissa Pili isn’t doing anything new this year. Rather, she’s continued her dominance from 2022–23 against even WNBA-level competition. Last season, she only played two WNBA-caliber post defenders in Cameron Brink and Rayah Marshall, and had one good performance in her three games against them; this year, Stanford has still had her number, but Pili has dropped 37 points on both South Carolina and USC. That answers the question of how her production would hold up against tougher competition. There’s also the question of what position she’ll play in the pros, but we’re pretty confident the answer is the 4, because she’s dominated everyone she’s faced on offense. As far as her defensive position, she’d be a decent paint presence if she were five inches taller and it’s easier to be a 4 than a 5 if that’s the case.
Leilani Correa, off-ball guard, Florida
N/A → 30 FV
Leilani Correa wasn’t on our radar as a draft prospect before the 2023–24 season. However, she’s firmly in the mix after taking significant leaps as a shooter and proving herself against top competition, a la her 28-point performance against South Carolina on Jan. 4.
Athletically, Correa checks all the boxes WNBA organizations are looking for in a connector on the wing. She has above-average positional size (6’), long arms, quick hips and an elite motor. Correa leverages these on the defensive end, with impressive timing in passing lanes, active hands, consistent closeouts and rotations as a help defender.
On the offensive end, Correa creates a lot of easy-scoring opportunities for herself through her defensive playmaking, but there are real struggles with her ability to finish at the rim consistently in the halfcourt. She is a smooth off-ball shooter (39.4% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, per Synergy) with quick mechanics to back it up. But, as a rhythm-based shooter, there are inconsistencies: She has shot at least 40% from three in nine games this season, but shot less than 20% from deep in her other seven games.
Celeste Taylor, off-ball guard, Ohio State (Duke transfer)
40 FV → 30 FV
Celeste Taylor is one of the handful best backcourt defenders in the country, with enough size to hold up against any guards and probably some wings at the pro level. The hope was that, after significant improvements to her 3-point form at Duke, she would continue or maintain those improvements at Ohio State. We had also hoped that going from an elite defensive roster in Durham to what was an offensive superpower in Columbus would give her easier looks, so her finishing would improve under less pressure. So far, neither of those things have happened — Taylor has hit just over 20% of her open threes and has missed more layups than she’s made in the halfcourt, per Synergy. For a career 66.0% free-throw shooter, given what we know about shooting and finishing, it’s hard to see how she could still improve in those crucial areas.
Your business can reach over 1 million women’s sports fans every single month!
Here at The Next and The IX, our audience is a collection of the smartest, most passionate women’s sports fans in the world. If your business has a mission to serve these fans, reach out to Christie Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss ways to work together.
Nika Mühl, point guard, UConn
40 FV → 30 FV
Nika Mühl posed an odd evaluation to begin with, coming into this season as an elite point of attack defender at two of the three aspects of that archetype (ball-pressure, disrupting drives) but mediocre at the third (navigating through ball screens), an excellent passer who turned the ball over too much to be a Ticha Penicheiro but was too reluctant to shoot to be a Suzie McConnell Serio. Even with Paige Bueckers back and taking up on-ball reps, Mühl is still running a higher turnover rate than assist rate, still doesn’t drive and hasn’t appreciably upped her shooting volume. She’s always been a good 3-point shooter, but that will not matter to pro defenses if she continues averaging nearly as many turnovers as 3-point attempts.
Maddie Scherr, wing, Kentucky
45 FV → 40 FV
Maddie Scherr has continued to build on her strengths as a perimeter defender and value-added passer, but hasn’t yet answered our questions about her scoring package. She is still passive as a driver and doesn’t get to the rim (7.9% of her field-goal attempts are taken from 0-5 feet, per CBB Analytics, 22.1 percentage points below Division I average), consistently settling for floaters and contested mid-range jumpers. As a result, Scherr struggles with efficiency and making an impact from game to game, though she is handling the largest workload of her college career (25.9% usage rate) on a Kentucky team who may not see another SEC win this year. That can be viewed as an opportunity for growth through discomfort or an exercise in futility — take your pick. But all in all, between her being easily the best perimeter defender in the class and an elite help defender, a quick processor and a quality shooter, we can’t knock her down farther than a 40.