Every WNBA draft has the potential to reshape the league. But Monday’s picks might carry more of that capability than most.
Last year’s worst teams just got a lot better. The Indiana Fever added a massive amount of frontcourt help, headlined by No. 1 overall pick Aliyah Boston, plus the best pure point guard and the best perimeter shooter in this year’s class. The Minnesota Lynx selected the most intriguing all-around talent, the best international prospect, an intriguing modern center and the best perimeter defender available.
Meanwhile, some good teams bided their time. The Washington Mystics parlayed their lottery pick into an intriguing package for the future and didn’t select their own pick until the 20th pick. And the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces didn’t select until the third round — though, let’s just say they didn’t need to, given the available talent on hand.
It all made for a fascinating reshuffling of the league’s talent base, just a week after the NCAA Final Four and a little over a month until the 2023 season begins on May 19.
So who were the biggest winners?
Let’s start with general manager Lin Dunn’s Fever, who have utilized the last two drafts masterfully after — how do we put this? — not doing that prior to her arrival. The centerpiece of Indiana’s rebuild is Boston, a 6-foot-5 big out of South Carolina who was both the consensus best player available and fit the largest needs of the team.
Boston finished among the national leaders in every major defensive measure once again in 2022-23 for the Gamecocks’ top-ranked D, combining elite rim protection and defensive rebounding to single-handedly end many opposing possessions. To really appreciate Boston, though, you’ve got to watch her — she simply doesn’t miss defensive assignments. Like, ever. She’s always in the right place and will be an instant boon to new Fever head coach Christie Sides’s defensive scheme.
Indiana was also last in the WNBA in offensive rating in 2022, and getting easier baskets inside with Boston will be vital as well. During her senior season, Boston hit 58.7 percent of her twos.
Expect that number to go up in the pros — not down — because Boston won’t face triple-teams in the WNBA.
“I’m pretty confident just because of just simply spacing,” Boston told assembled media on draft night. “I think it’s going to allow me to be able to work a little bit better. Just being able to watch the pros prior to joining the league, you can just see how they can just get to work […] It’s going to be pretty nice, I think.”
But the Fever’s haul was just getting started with Boston. They added Grace Berger of Indiana at the seventh overall pick, who took over point guard duties for the Hoosiers once Ali Patberg left to begin collecting Social Security. Berger promptly put up a 31 percent assist rate while hitting 65.4 percent of her shots at the rim, according to CBB Analytics.
“Obviously the midrange is my favorite shot,” Berger said on draft night. “Anybody that watches me knows that. But I think a part of my game that I’ve always known I could be good at is finishing at the rim. I worked countless hours with Coach [Glenn] Box, our assistant coach at Indiana, on different finishes, getting to a spot and finishing over bigger, stronger, quicker defenders. Obviously you can’t be a one-dimensional player at the next level. So me getting all the way to the rim in addition to my mid-range and my three is just going to hopefully serve me well in terms of making a roster and contributing.”
As for the Fever’s third pick, shooter extraordinaire Taylor Mikesell (No. 13 overall) shot 41.4 percent from deep on 7.8 attempts per game for Ohio State last season and will push Lexie Hull for minutes as a space-creator off the bench. And LaDazhia Williams of LSU (No. 17) and Victaria Saxton of South Carolina (No. 25) will give Sides extra competitors for her frontcourt slots during training camp.
For Minnesota, the haul began with No. 2 pick Diamond Miller, a 6-foot-3 wing who can comfortably guard positions 1 through 4 while scoring at all three levels. If she simply retains the efficiency she showed in her final year at Maryland, she’ll be an immediate contributor for Cheryl Reeve’s Lynx in Year 1 of the post-Sylvia Fowles Era. If she starts hitting threes, she’ll be an All-Star.
Be sure of this: Miller will work to make it happen.
“I think I’m just never satisfied,” Miller said following the draft. “Even now, I know I have so much more to develop. The player you see right now, or the last game I played, I’m not going to be in another two years. I’m just constantly trying to develop and be a sponge to the game and constantly find new things.”
Then at No. 12, the Lynx added 19-year-old Maïa Hirsch, a 6-foot-5 center from France who was a highly coveted prospect in many WNBA war rooms, and at No. 16 they took 6-foot-5 Dorka Juhász from Connecticut. Both are modern bigs at each end of the floor, providing spacing on offense and rim protection on defense. It’s a departure from what Fowles gave the Lynx, but let’s be real: There’s only one Sylvia Fowles. And at No. 24, Minnesota took Brea Beal, the 6-foot-1 South Carolina product who can guard four positions as well. Beal’s perimeter defense is an obvious calling card, but don’t sleep on her emerging offensive game — she shot 38 percent from three this year on 2.7 attempts per game.
Mike Thibault and the Mystics, meanwhile, gave themselves a future gift, dealing No. 4 pick Stephanie Soares to the Wings for Dallas’s second-round pick in 2024 and Atlanta’s first-round pick in 2025. The opportunity to punt on adding talent to what is already a win-now roster, while getting extra picks in what most observers expect will be overstocked draft classes, was a vintage bit of Thibault strategy.
In the meantime, New York, which drafted Okako Adika of USC with the 30th pick, and Las Vegas, which selected Brittany Davis with the last pick of the draft, may not have altered their fortunes much on Monday. But adding Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot did that back in free agency for the Liberty (along with the trade for Jonquel Jones earlier in the offseason), while Candace Parker and Alysha Clark did the same for the Aces.
So weep not for those two teams, despite their lack of draft-night excitement. But get excited for the teams that added the WNBA’s next generation of stars — including a Boston-led group that might turn the league on its head sooner than you think.