The first domino of the WNBA off-season fell last week as Curt Miller took over as the head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks, leaving Connecticut after two Finals appearances in four seasons and a highly successful run of play. The next proverbial piece on the chessboard to shift is November 11th, as the 2023 WNBA Draft Lottery presented by State Farm will take place before South Carolina vs. Maryland.
The lottery will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 5:30 pm EST, with a half-hour show leading up to the 6 pm tip-off between Maryland and the defending National Champion South Carolina Gamecocks, and the results of the lottery will be unveiled during the show.
Headed into the lottery, the Indiana Fever has the highest odds, followed by the Atlanta Dream, Washington Mystics, and Minnesota Lynx.
Odds are calculated based on cumulative records of the past two seasons. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix do not have first-round picks in the 2023 Draft at this time.
Who stands the most gain by moving up in the lottery? What kind of prospects should organizations potentially prioritize? What does the top of the draft look like?
To answer that last question, Aliyah Boston and Haley Jones, from South Carolina and Stanford, respectively, are the clear-cut top two prospects in this draft.
Boston is a dominant force on the interior, with a deft touch in the paint and as a face-up player. She’s flashed potential as a three-point shooter. She sees and processes the floor well and is a plus playmaker at the five. Boston’s a phenomenal glass cleaner and rim protector with room to keep growing as a defender in space but the mobility to be very good at doing so. She was the National Player of the Year and felt like a lock to be the number one pick barring an outlier development in the draft class.
Jones is a fascinating player with an uncommon archetype as a big wing playmaker and ball-handler. She has good defensive instincts and is a plus athlete with legitimate size to play the four in the W. How her jump shot continues to develop is what I’m most intrigued by heading into the year. She shot 24.4% from deep on low volume last season, and her jumper is a work in progress in general. Drawing closeouts on jump shots will be essential to get the most out of her playmaking. Her skill set and all-around play make her an extremely exciting prospect to track this season.
Let’s dive into the Washington Mystics, as they are who I’d consider the biggest wild card in the lottery.
Washington obtained the right to swap 2023 firsts with Atlanta this past April after Atlanta acquired the Los Angeles Sparks’ first-round pick in the Chennedy Carter/Erica Wheeler trade. After trading out the top pick in last year’s draft, the Mystics have a small shot (178 out of 1000 chances) to get the top pick in this year’s draft due to the pick they got in that trade with the Dream. If your head is already spinning, welcome to the WNBA Draft, it’s wild here!
The Mystics went 22-14 last season, despite star Elena Delle Donne only playing in 25 games as she load-managed parts of the season and dealt with minor injuries. Third-overall pick Shakira Austin was highly impressed and rarely looked like a rookie. She played well at the FIBA WorldCup for Team USA and seems primed to become one of the dominant frontcourt players in the league.
This team has a tremendous defensive base, with Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins taking home First Team All-Defense honors in the backcourt in 2022. They could have a vastly different-looking depth chart in 2023, with four unrestricted free agents. As good as this team is, there was a lack of oomph offensively, particularly with Delle Donne off the floor last season. Adding more top-end talent, secondary shot creation on the wings, and connective playmaking feel like a feasible and necessary jolt for the Mystics.
They’re in a funky spot where they may not view a rookie as the player who jolts them into the upper stratosphere of contending teams, as they have the cap space and flexibility to make things interesting in free agency. I’m really intrigued to see how Mike Thibault attacks the draft and the direction of this team over the off-season.
Rickea Jackson out of Tennessee (transferred from Mississippi State), Ashley Owusu out of Virginia Tech (transferred from Maryland), and Diamond Miller out of Maryland are all players who could vault themselves into the higher end of the first round depending on how their senior seasons play out that theoretically make sense in Washington.
The Minnesota Lynx come into the off-season trying to figure out life after Sylvia Fowles. Those are unfillable shoes, without question.
With Napheesa Collier rounding back into form after missing much of 2022 due to the birth of her daughter and a solid base on the wings with Aerial Powers and Kayla McBride, there’s room for optimism in Minnesota. Jessica Shepard had her best season to date and really intrigued by her skillset in the frontcourt. Moriah Jefferson was a revelation for the team after signing her mid-season, and she’s an unrestricted free agent heading into 2023, as are Rachel Banham and Damiris Dantas.
Collier is an All-W level player at her best, but the Lynx are unquestionably still in need of further top-end talent as they build out around her in a new era.
Indiana is in a really interesting place where they have a fairly set young core, but the opportunity to inject talent can rewrite things quickly. While they’ll only have 3-4 open roster spots depending on how they handle their restricted free agents, they have a ton of cap space to work with, given how many players on the roster are on rookie scale deals, just short of $530,000.
I am still trying to figure out how to project what Lin Dunn envisions doing in the immediate future, but I look to seeing her add veteran players that supplement the growth of their youth wave while raising their competitive floor. As for the draft, there isn’t necessarily a guard that currently stands out as a top selection headed into the year. So the Fever may double down on their frontcourt by taking the best available player wherever they select (the lowest they can is 3rd).
The Dream seems a likely staple to retain most of their free-agent talent while building around first-time All-Star and Rookie of the Year Rhyne Howard. Tiffany Hayes, Erica Wheeler, Monique Billings, and Nia Coffey are all unrestricted free agents, and Kia Vaughn is as well but announced her retirement after the season ended.
AD Durr was tremendous in their run with the Dream after they were acquired via trade from New York, finding their confidence in their offensive game again. They add viable secondary shot creation and scoring alongside Howard and feel like a shoo-in returner as a reserved free agent.
Cheyenne Parker was tremendous this past season as the full-time starter at center, but this team lacked size in the frontcourt behind her. She’s capable of thriving at either the four or five, and given that the best players in the draft are frontcourt players, Parker’s versatility and talent make it much more enticing to picture the fit in Atlanta.
Atlanta can also be a sizable free agency player, with $942,000 in cap room heading into the off-season. Again, much of that will likely go to retaining some of their own free agents, but they’ve gone noticed as potential high-stakes players. Based on conversations in and around Atlanta, I’d highly doubt this team goes all out to be a contender this season, but don’t be surprised if one of the top free agents signs with the Dream.
This organization isn’t about skipping steps, but part of that next step is a talent influx and ramping up competitiveness, which comes through free agency and the draft. Atlanta is fascinating, considering how they can impact the off-season in all facets.
Expect more draft coverage and profiles from me in the coming month and as the off-season continues! While it’s just the early stages of setting the stage, the lottery will be an essential determinant in how the remainder of the off-season plays out and sets up 2023.
WNBA reporter Mark Schindler writes a column on WNBA.com throughout the season and can be reached on Twitter at @MG_Schindler. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.