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WNBA Draft 2022: Finding Success with Beyond the First Round

Let’s start by stating the obvious – making a WNBA roster is incredibly difficult. There are 144 roster spots available – 12 per team in a 12-team league – which means only the best players will make a team and some extremely talented players will find themselves on the outside looking in each season.

Last season, a total of 155 players played at least one game in the WNBA. Here is a breakdown of those players by draft position:

  • First Round Picks: 100 (64.5%)
  • Second Round Picks: 39 (25.2%)
  • Third Round Picks: 6 (3.9%)
  • Undrafted Players: 10 (6.5%)

As the numbers above illustrate, the odds of making a WNBA roster as a third-round pick (3.9%) or by going undrafted (6.5%) are extremely low. Even second round picks only make up a quarter of the league’s rosters.

At the same time, there are plenty of examples of players that have beaten the odds and found long-term success in the WNBA despite being a lower-round pick or never hearing their name called on draft day.

Becky Hammon was named to the WNBA’s 25th Anniversary Team last season despite being undrafted out of Colorado State back in 1999. Erica Wheeler went from going undrafted in 2013 to not only being named an All-Star in 2019, but being the only undrafted player to ever win All-Star MVP honors.

We don’t have to look very deep to find a number of successful second round draft picks. Betnijah Laney was the 17th overall pick in 2015, was named Most Improved Player and All-Defensive First Team in 2020, was an All-Star in 2021 and finished as one of only two players (along with Skylar Diggins-Smith) to rank in the top 10 in both points and assists last season. Then there is Crystal Dangerfield, who in 2020 became the first player not selected in the first round to win Rookie of the Year honors after being selected 16th overall by Minnesota.

How about Tiffany Hayes? The 14th overall pick in 2012, earned All-Rookie Team honors that season, made her first All-Star team in 2017 and was named All-WNBA First Team and All-Defensive Second Team in 2018. Then, there is Emma Meesseman, who went from 19th overall pick in 2013 to WNBA Finals MVP for the Mystics in 2019. She is the only second round pick to ever earn that award; every other Finals MVP is either an allocated player (Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie, Katie Smith) or a top seven pick in the WNBA Draft.

So, which players from the 2022 WNBA Draft pool will be the next player that defies the odds, that hears their name called later in the broadcast, but fights to make a roster and eventually make an impact on the court?

If we look to our Mock Draft Roundup, there were 12 players that appeared in at least three of the six mocks drafts. And while we can’t assume that is how the first round will play out, we will look beyond this dozen in search of players that may go later in the draft. Also, you can read about most of these players from our Draft Lottery Preview earlier this college season, and learn more about them off the court in Michelle Smith’s recent story.

  • Rhyne Howard, Kentucky
  • NaLyssa Smith, Baylor
  • Ashley Joens, Iowa State
  • Naz Hillmon, Michigan
  • Elissa Cunane, NC State
  • Shakira Austin, Ole Miss
  • Nyara Sabally, Oregon
  • Rae Burrell, Tennessee
  • Kierstan Bell, Florida Gulf Coast
  • Sika Kone, Mali
  • Lorela Cubaj, Georgia Tech
  • Nia Clouden, Michigan State

Let’s begin with the six collegiate players that appeared in at least one of the mock drafts used in the roundup, but did not have the same consensus as the players listed above. Some of these players may end up being selected in the first round or potentially fall to later in the draft, should they renounce their remaining NCAA eligibility and make themselves available for the draft.

  • Emily Engstler, Louisville, Forward, 6-1
    • Mock draft positions: 5 (Bleacher Report), 6 (ESPN)

One of five finalists for the Cheryl Miller Award, which recognized the top small forward in Division I women’s basketball. The senior forward played her first three years at Syracuse before transferring to Louisville and has helped the Cardinals to a Final Four matchup with South Carolina (Friday, 7pm ET). She brings a defensive mindset every time she takes the court and has a toughness and grit to her game that should translate to the WNBA as coaches are always looking for energy players.

  • Destanni Henderson, South Carolina, Guard, 5-7
    • Mock draft positions: 6 (W Basketball Blog); 8 (Winsidr)

Running the point for the nation’s top ranked team brings plenty of responsibility and pressure to the table, but Henderson has handled it well in leading the Gamecocks back to the Final Four after defeating Creighton in the Elite Eight round on Sunday. While her shot has escaped her in March (25.8 FG%, 32.4 3P%), she is a career 37.3% shooter from 3-point range and has the quickness to get past nearly any defender to get into the paint to either finish at the basket or find a teammate for an open look (3.94 assists per game). Henderson is one of five finalists for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which honors the top point guard in Division I, as is …

  • Veronica Burton, Northwestern, Guard, 5-9
    • Mock draft positions: 7 (W Basketball Blog), 12 (Bleacher Report)

Northwestern’s season ended when the Wildcats were not selected as part of the 2022 NCAA Tournament field, thus ending Burton’s collegiate career. The senior point guard averaged 17.8 points, 6.4 assists (7th in Division I), 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 steals (1st in Division I) per game; Burton is one only five players in Division I to average at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists per game as she routinely stuffed the stat sheet. Burton was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year for the third time and is one of four finalists for the Naismith Women’s Defensive Player of the Year. She shot 32.6% from beyond the arc this season; an improvement in long distance shooting could make her an ideal 3-and-D player in the WNBA.

  • Evina Westbrook, Connecticut, Guard, 6-0
    • Mock draft positions: 9 (Her Hoops Stats), 11 (Bleacher Report)

Connecticut and Tennessee have produced the most WNBA Draft picks ever with 40 apiece, and Westbrook is one of the rare players that has played two seasons at each of the women’s basketball powerhouse programs. Despite one of its most tumultuous seasons in recent memory, the Huskies are back in the Final Four. Westbrook – a combo guard that can play on or off the ball – has split her time this season between being a starter (15 games) and the first player off the bench and has proven capable in both roles. She has the ability to score from all three levels (although her 30.4% shooting from deep this season is the lowest of her career), create scoring opportunities off the bounce for herself or teammates, and can defend multiple positions.

  • Christyn Williams, Connecticut, Guard, 5-11
    • Mock draft positions: 10 (Bleacher Report), 11 (ESPN)

There may be no better WNBA apprenticeship than being a four-year starter at the University of Connecticut. Williams has had her ups and downs during her four seasons in Storrs – with some puzzling inconsistent play at times – but her talent is undeniable. She can score inside (beating opponents off the dribble and finishing at the basket) and outside (she is shooting 35.1% from beyond the arc this season) and has stepped up her defense with a career-best 1.6 steals per game, which has fueled one of the best aspects of her game – scoring on the move, particularly in transition. The Huskies are back in the Final Four and will face Stanford on Friday giving Williams another opportunity to showcase her talent.

  • Queen Egbo, Baylor, Center, 6-3
    • Mock draft positions: 8 (ESPN)

Egbo declared for the WNBA on Sunday, removing any speculation that she would return for a fifth season at Baylor. The 6-3 center posted nearly identical numbers each of the past two seasons – 11 points on 50 percent shooting, over eight rebounds, just under two blocks per game. Egbo finished the season as Baylor’s fourth-leading scorer and second-ranked rebounder behind projected lottery pick NaLyssa Smith. Egbo is a traditional big that does her work in the post – she attempted only three 3-pointers her entire collegiate career – and she is a menace on the offensive boards, grabbing nearly three per game.

Sources

  • ESPN: WNBA mock draft 2022, version 4.0: Did March Madness performances help or hurt draft prospects? (3/23)
  • Bleacher Report: 2022 WNBA Mock Draft: Pre-March Madness Predictions (3/16)
  • Winsidr: 2022 WNBA Mock Draft 2.0 (3/12)
  • Her Hoops Stats: 2022 WNBA Mock Draft 1.0 (2/28)
  • W Basketball Blog: 2022 WNBA Mock Draft 3.0 (2/16)

Longtime WNBA reporter Brian Martin writes articles on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.

NCAA players mentioned in this article will become eligible for the 2022 draft at such point as they renounce their remaining NCAA eligibility and thereby make themselves available for the draft.