WNBA draft grades: Fever, Lynx score top marks
- M.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
Lin Dunn returned to the Indiana Fever as general manager in 2022 with a three-year plan to get the franchise back on its feet. The Fever’s coach for the organization’s zenith — winning the 2012 WNBA championship — Dunn said Indiana had to be rebuilt with youth and defense. She added to those qualities with the Fever’s five picks in Monday’s 2023 WNBA draft.
Indiana drafted South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year and a four-time Lisa Leslie Award winner as the top college center, with the No. 1 overall pick. Boston can play the power forward or center positions, and she will have a chance to expand her already strong offensive skills in the WNBA.
ESPN’s annual WNBA draft grades reflect the hopes of franchises looking to turn things around (Indiana has not been to the playoffs since 2016), trying to get to the next level (the Dallas Wings hope to become contenders) or reloading after past success (Minnesota Lynx). Those teams were the most active in this draft: the Wing had six picks (one via trade), and Indiana and Minnesota had five each.
With 12 teams and a maximum of 12 roster spots (teams often carry just 11 players due to salary-cap considerations), it’s always very difficult for many of the draftees to make a roster. But they will all go to training camps with high hopes.
The defending champion Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty — both dubbed super teams this season after big free-agent additions — each only had one pick in the third round and thus don’t qualify for a grade in this draft. But here are the grades for the other 10 franchises.
Indiana Fever: A
1. Aliyah Boston, South Carolina, PF
7. Grace Berger, Indiana, PG
13. Taylor Mikesell, Ohio State, SG
17. LaDazhia Williams, LSU, PF
25. Victaria Saxton, South Carolina, SF
Add Boston to an interior that already has last year’s first-round picks — NaLyssa Smith, Emily Engstler and Queen Egbo — and you have the makings of a strong group of post players on both ends of the court.
With Berger, the Fever get strength, toughness, defense and playmaking at the point guard spot, plus someone who will bring in fans as she was such a popular player at nearby Indiana. Mikesell is one of the best 3-point shooters in the draft and played for an Ohio State team that was strong defensively.
It’s been a really tough past few years for Fever fans after the retirement of franchise legend Tamika Catchings and some subsequent moves and draft picks that didn’t work out. But this team could be headed back to the postseason if all goes well.
Minnesota Lynx: A
2. Diamond Miller, Maryland, SG
12. Maia Hirsch, France, C
16. Dorka Juhász, UConn, C
24. Brea Beal, South Carolina, SG
28. Taylor Soule, Virginia Tech, SF
The Lynx had a dynasty, but now they are in the midst of starting a new era. And this group of players could help. Miller has such a high ceiling as a potential all-star player who could become one of Minnesota’s big standouts along with Napheesa Collier. Hirsch isn’t expected to play this season, but she has intriguing potential down the line for a franchise that lost all-time great Sylvia Fowles to retirement after last season.
Juhász could step in right away and help with rebounding and interior defense. Like most teams, the Lynx have had a lot of success with former UConn Huskies, and Juhász could be a similar story. If Beal makes the team, she perhaps could be a defensive standout whose offensive game gets a chance to grow at the next level.
Dallas Wings: B-plus
3. Maddy Siegrist, Villanova, PF
4. Stephanie Soares, Iowa State, C
5. Lou Lopez Sénéchal, UConn, SG
11. Abby Meyers, Maryland, SG
19. Ashley Joens, Iowa State, SF
31. Paige Robinson, Illinois State, SG
The Wings sure seem to like the draft. But will this group help them take the next step in the postseason? Soares won’t this year, as she is out with an ACL injury, but she could in the future. She was selected by Washington and then immediately traded to Dallas and we’ll see how she fits into the Wings’ lineup next season. Will Dallas have any regrets about trading a 2024 second-round pick and a 2025 first-round pick to get her?
Wings president Greg Bibb said the team’s biggest goal in this draft was to get shooters, and the Wings did with Lopez Sénéchal, Meyers and Joens. In fact, with Siegrist and Joens, they got two players who between them had 5,956 points and 2,493 rebounds in college. At least some of these picks might not make it with Dallas, but could catch on with another WNBA team.
Atlanta Dream: B
6. Haley Jones, Stanford, PG
8. Laeticia Amihere, South Carolina, PF
15. Leigha Brown, Michigan, SG
The Dream did OK with this draft, but they didn’t improve themselves at all from behind the arc. That’s a concern for a team which had the second-worst scoring average (78.5 PPG) in the WNBA last season. Jones has the chance to be a really good playmaker at the pro level, but she hasn’t added much to her game during her last two seasons in college. Maybe we will see that blossom now. Amihere was a Swiss Army knife player in college, which doesn’t always translate at the pro level without a specific great skill. But she could also find her stride in the pro game. There were players with stronger 3-point shooting skills than Brown still available, but she is a big, physical guard and has a chance to play with former Michigan teammate Naz Hillmon.
Seattle Storm: B
9. Jordan Horston, Tennessee, SG
18. Madi Williams, Oklahoma, SF
21. Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu, South Florida, PF
33. Jade Loville, Arizona, SF
The Storm, as much as any team, are in a new era and could use high-energy players who are hungry to prove themselves and help show life goes on after Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart are gone. That’s what both Horston and Williams can bring. Horston fell a little further in the first round than some expected, but she is likely a quick fit right away as a good-sized guard who never stops hustling. Williams will need to become more comfortable on the perimeter, but she rebounds bigger than she is and has a nice touch on her jump shot. In Fankam Mendjiadeu, the Storm have a strong rebounder who averaged a double-double for the Bulls this season.
Washington Mystics: B
4. (traded) Stephanie Soares, Iowa State, C
20. Elena Tsineke, South Florida, SG
32. Txell Alarcon, Spain, SG
It’s not a WNBA draft if there isn’t a Mystics trade involved, right? That’s the way it’s been the last four years as Washington has played “Let’s Make a Deal” with first-round picks. The Mystics did it again this year, taking Soares with the last lottery pick and immediately sending her to Dallas for a 2024 second-round pick and a 2025 first-round pick. Both of those drafts could be very good, so the Mystics decided they wanted to have more picks for them. We’re giving a high grade because that seems like a good gamble to take even with the potential that Soares has. The Mystics weren’t in dire need of help at any particular position for this season, and general manager Mike Thibault plays the long game well.
If she makes the roster, Tsineke could add depth as a good-scoring combo guard. And Alarcon doesn’t turn 20 until July 31, so she might be a pick that’s more for the future.
Los Angeles Sparks: B-minus
10. SG Zia Cooke, South Carolina, SG
14. Shaniece Swain, Australia, SG
26. Monika Czinano, Iowa, C
The Sparks said their big need was at wing, but then didn’t address it with these picks. Understandably, it was hard for the Sparks to bypass Cooke when she was still available at No. 10. Cooke helped herself with good play throughout her senior season and during the NCAA tournament. She can get to the rim and has become a more reliable 3-point shooter. Swain doesn’t turn 20 until October, and has impressed teams with her shooting skills and the fact that she’s already played professionally.
As for Czinano, she also made scouts give her a second look by helping Iowa reach the NCAA championship game. Czinano has great hands and footwork, but her style of play might not translate as well to the WNBA.
Connecticut Sun: C
22. Alexis Morris, LSU, SG
34. Ashten Prechtel, Stanford, C
Morris has spent her college career proving people wrong, and she will look to do the same to those who bypassed her in the WNBA draft. She played well in the Final Four for national champion LSU and was a key cog for LSU’s quick transformation the last two seasons. Morris can show an extra gear getting to the basket, and she’s not afraid to take big shots. Prechel is an interesting case … at 6-foot-5, she had some huge moments at Stanford, but then other times seemed to be lost in the shuffle on a team with too many posts.
Phoenix Mercury: C-minus
27. Destiny Harden, Miami, SG
29. Kadi Sissoko, USC, PF
With picks this late in the draft, it’s hard to offer an insightful grade. But Harden has some positives going for her, including the fact that she helped lead Miami to its first Elite Eight, and took big shots against the likes of top-seeded Indiana to do it. The Mercury haven’t been known as a defensive team, but Harden could help on that end, too. Sissoko is a native of France who led USC in scoring this season after previously playing at Syracuse and Minnesota.
Chicago Sky: D
23. Kayana Traylor, Virginia Tech, SG
35. Kseniya Malashka, Middle Tennessee, SF
Same goes for the Sky as for the Mercury; it’s hard to assess considering that both picks are so low. Like with the Storm, the Sky are searching for a new identity after losing signature players such as Courtney Vandersloot and Candace Parker. Traylor helped lead Virginia Tech to its first ACC tournament title and women’s Final Four. Malashka helped lead Middle Tennessee to the Conference USA regular-season and tournament title, tying as the team’s second-leading scorer despite coming off the bench.
Las Vegas Aces: No grade
36. Brittany Davis, Alabama, SG
Davis was a standout for the Crimson Tide, averaging about 17.8 points and 7.0 rebounds the past two seasons, numbers that stand out in the SEC.
New York Liberty: No grade
30. Okako Adika, USC, SF
Adika, a wing from Denmark, averaged 7.3 points and 4.9 rebounds for the Trojans. Like Davis, she has to try to make one of the super teams’ rosters.
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