As usual, there’s no time wasted between the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship and the WNBA Draft. To be fair, the season starts May 6 so it’s not like there’s time to bask in the success of the tournament.
After trading up to the No. 1 spot, the Atlanta Dream kicked off the 2022 WNBA Draft by choosing Kentucky star Rhyne Howard, per ESPN. The two-time SEC Player of the Year led the team in points, rebounds, 3-pointers, steals and blocks during her senior year, and will be a crucial part of Atlanta’s rebuilding phase. Howard is from Cleveland, Tenn., which is 118 miles from Atlanta, so she gets to play in front of her family.
“For it to be so close is huge. A lot of family and close friends can come and support me,’’ Howard told ESPN. “To go first, I don’t have words for it right now. Still shaking. Super exciting and proud of myself and thankful for everyone that has been on this journey with me and helped me get here.’’
The Indiana Fever used the first of its four first-round picks on Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith. Smith, who averaged 22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds for the Lady Bears this season, joins Indiana’s other first-round draft picks Louisville forward Emily Engstler, Stanford guard Lexie Hull and Smith’s Baylor teammate, center Queen Egbo. It’s been tough sledding for the Fever for a while. The team’s last winning season came in 2015 and the last time they made the playoffs was in 2016.
“We’re gonna rebuild with young players,” Indiana Fever GM Lin Dunn told ESPN. “I’m seeing highly skilled players coming out of college, but the real key adjustments are the physicality and the speed of the game. I need players who can adapt to that quickly.”
Here’s the thing: we’ve seen this movie before with the Fever. They get a talented young player in the lottery, then eventually trade said player away for more draft picks, only to see that player thrive on a new team. Rinse and repeat for several seasons. I can’t really trust Indiana until I see results on the court.
Meanwhile, the Washington Mystics, who traded the No. 1 pick to Atlanta, chose Ole Miss center Shakira Austin at No. 3. Washington was hit hard by injuries last season, so the team will be looking for the rookie to provide some depth to its veteran lineup. Injuries are the only reason the Mystics ended up in the lottery.
The New York Liberty used the No. 5 pick to reunite Oregon center Nyara Sabally with her former teammate Sabrina Ionescu, the Liberty’s star point guard. Nyara joins her sister Satou Sabally in the league. Satou was chosen second by the Dallas Wings in the 2020 WNBA Draft.
“Sab [Ionescu] is such an amazing point guard,’’ Nyara Sabally said. “I saw her in practice every day and am excited to share the court with her.’’
Like all drafts, there were surprising names that fell from the first round to the second, including UConn guard Christyn Williams, who Washington chose at No. 14 and South Carolina star Destanni Henderson, who was picked at No. 20 by Indiana.
The 2022 WNBA season kicks off May 6.