2022 WNBA draft: 5 players whose draft stock rose and what analysts are saying

·10 min read

The momentum and excitement from March Madness flows right into the WNBA season.

A mere eight days after South Carolina won its second title in program history, a selection of the collegiate game's best players will walk the orange carpet and hear their names called by WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

A total of 108 players collegiate players declared for the draft to be held Monday at Spring Studios in New York (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). That number does not include international players, such as Mali's Sika Kone who is projected to be a low first-round pick. There are only 36 draft picks — three each for 12 teams — and very few of those will make the final rosters.

The three general managers on a pre-draft media call voiced more confidence that players from this deeper class will stick on rosters even though there isn't a lot of room. The Atlanta Dream, repped by general manager Dan Padover, completed a trade with the Washington Mystics on Wednesday for the No. 1 pick. The Mystics, repped by GM/head coach Mike Thibault, will draft third after the trade. The Indiana Fever and interim general manager Lin Dunn had the second and fourth picks.

Rhyne Howard, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Kentucky, and NaLyssa Smith, a 6-foot-4 forward out of Baylor, are the likely first and second picks. Mock drafts have them interchangeable at the top followed by Shakira Austin of Ole Miss at No. 3.

Thanks to deep NCAA tournament runs, some players upped their draft stock ahead of the festivities. Here are five players who had big showings in March and could land on an April training camp roster.

Destanni Henderson

Point guard, 5-foot-7, South Carolina

March Madness highlight: 26 points on 9-of-20 shooting, 3-of-6 from 3-point range, four assists, three steals, two rebounds and held Paige Bueckers to 1-of-5 shooting against her in championship game win vs. UConn

Henderson was locked in during the final after a sub-par early tournament showing. She came up big on the largest stage and almost more important than her 26 points was her ability to take Bueckers out of the game. Henderson, known as "Henny," didn't have much playing time as an undergraduate and could have left the program, but instead decided to stay the course.

Coach's comments: “You want your seniors to end their careers the way Henny ended her career,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said after the championship game. “Not necessarily national champion, but just growth. Like there are certain things that need to take place each and every year of your college career. Henny was patient enough to wait for those things, and now she'll go on, like she'll be in the record books.

"She'll be the one that we'll remember her performance, we'll remember her doing the job both offensively and defensively. And I just know whatever franchise gets her in the WNBA is going to get a good one. Low maintenance, high performer."

Analysts: "Whenever you have a player that can show up on the big stage when their number is called or when their team needs the momentum, that’s exciting for WNBA coaches and GMs [seeing] someone that can perform at a high level under the bright lights," ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson said Thursday on a pre-draft conference call. "We knew she was quick and you knew about her leadership at the point guard spot and how fast she is. She changes the game on both defensively and offensively. But I think her ability to knock down the 3-point shot is something that definitely catches the eye of GMs and coaches in the league and what she can do at the next level."

Projection: Low first round

Lousiville's Emily Engstler had an impressive NCAA tournament showing and could be a top-10 selection in the 2022 WNBA draft on Monday. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Lousiville's Emily Engstler had an impressive NCAA tournament showing and could be a top-10 selection in the 2022 WNBA draft on Monday. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Emily Engstler

Forward/wing, 6-foot-1, Louisville

March Madness highlight: 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, 3-of-3 from 3-point range, 10 rebounds, three blocks against Tennessee in the Sweet 16

Without Engstler, that Louisville loss to South Carolina in the semifinals looks a whole lot uglier. Engstler is a nightmare for any offense to deal with, and she was the catalyst for climbing back into a two-possession game against the eventual champion. Mykasa Robinson, whose playing time dropped when Engstler transferred from Syracuse, said ahead of the Final Four she "saves games for us."

She averaged 14.4 points and 13.3 rebounds in the tournament, increases of 28% and 50% over her regular season averages. She had 23 steals (averaging 4.6 per game), including seven to tie her season high and six against Michigan to tie the second highest.

Engstler has improved steadily over her career and worked hard to develop the body of a WNBA player. Expect to hear her name in the first round.

Coach's comments: "Emily's instincts for the basketball are off the charts," Louisville head coach Jeff Walz said ahead of winning the Wichita region. "She reads passing lanes as well as any player we have had here since Angel McCoughtry. And when you start comparing someone to Angel, you're pretty darn good. That's what Em does. She has a knack for the basketball, she can read people's eyes. She might not get a steal every time, but she is making people start their offense a lot further out. What looks like is going to be a clean entry pass into the post, she gets a hand on it, now the post player has to step to the ball, so it takes them out of their scoring zone."

Analysts: "The steals that she averaged in the NCAA tournament was ridiculous," ESPN's Rebecca Lobo said on a conference call. "She kind of showed everybody that she’s the most disruptive player in women’s college basketball and her ability to also do it in big moments was also impressive."

Projection: Picks 5-10

Lexie Hull

Guard, 6-foot-1, Stanford

March Madness highlight: 36 points, six rebounds, six steals, three assists vs. Kansas

Hull came into the Final Four as the tournament's leading scorer thanks in large part to the 36-point outburst in the second round against Kansas. She was 14-of-21 (66.7%) and 6-of-11 (54.5%) from 3-point range. It marked career-highs in points, field-goals made, 3-pointers attempted and steals. Hull has a high basketball IQ and ended her collegiate career with the best 3-point shooting of any of her four years.

Coach's comments: "She'll get on the floor for the ball, she's scrappy, she plays with great intensity," Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said during the week of the Final Four. "I think it just goes back to the twins [Lexie and Lacie] playing on their driveway. One of them would come in bloodied and crying because the other one won. But she has no quit in her. She's really playing great, getting out — she works at every aspect of the game. She rebounds. She plays defense, and she's scoring."

Projection: Second round

Nyara Sabally

Post, 6-foot-5, Oregon

March Madness highlight: 31 points, 12-of-24 shooting, 12 rebounds, seven blocks, three assists, three steals vs. Belmont

Sabally, a redshirt junior, almost pushed Oregon into the second round on her own back, but the Ducks were upset by Belmont after two overtime periods. She could have furthered her name recognition to casual fans with a deeper run, but the early exit didn't hurt her draft stock.

She's the younger sister of Satou Sabally, the No. 2 overall pick by the Dallas Wings in 2020, and many have said over the past few years Nyara is more talented. They both play for the German national team, so Sabally has experience at a top level alongside her size, strength and skill. The downside is her health. She's had multiple ACL tears and missed two full years, but the upside is huge.

Coach's comments: "[Her journey is] a real testament to No. 1, her toughness, No. 2, her resolve, and three, her talent," Oregon head coach Kelly Graves said before the tournament. "The fact that she, even to this day, is really unable to go through an entire week of practice, I think really shows how good she is. To go out and perform the way she does in the games with limited practice time is very impressive."

Analysts: "I think people right now are questioning a little bit how healthy is she," Lobo said. "That’s going to be a big factor in terms of where she’s taken. But certainly still, she’s got the size, she’s got the skills, she can face-up, she can hit out the 3, she’s got the moves inside. Could finish a little bit better, but she can get there."

Projection: Top five

Oregon forward Nyara Sabally has injury issues, but could still be a top-five 2022 WNBA draft selection. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Oregon forward Nyara Sabally has injury issues, but could still be a top-five 2022 WNBA draft selection. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Hannah Sjerven

Center, 6-foot-2, South Dakota

March Madness highlight: 20 points, 7-of-7 shooting, seven rebounds, three steals, one block

Sjerven played some of the best post players in the country in Ole Miss' Shakira Austin (projected top-two), Baylor's NaLyssa Smith (projected top-two) and Michigan's Naz Hillmon (projected first round). She averaged 17.7 points and 6.4 rebounds a game in those outings, shooting 62.5%. The two-time Summit League Defensive Player of the Year and former Sixth Player winner took and hit more 3-pointers at a better rate than her three previous years at South Dakota. She spent a freshman season at New Mexico.

Coach/analysts: Baylor head coach Nicki Collen, formerly of the Atlanta Dream, called Sjerven "patient, efficient," "works hard to gain position" and solid at setting screens ahead of their loss to South Dakota in the second round.

"She's so poised, like she, yesterday started the game with a three, which is obviously a big shot for them to kind of create open space in the lane," Collen said.

Projection: Second round

What about Paige Bueckers, Aliyah Boston?

The WNBA's draft eligibility rules only allow for undergraduates to declare in certain situations.

A player who turns 22 in the calendar year of the draft can renounce their NCAA eligibility, such as Charli Collier did last year in becoming the No. 1 overall pick by the Dallas Wings. A player who graduated from a four-year school prior to the draft or within three months after it can also declare. And international players who did not play collegiately in the U.S. can declare if they turn 20 in the calendar year of the draft.

UConn standout and 2021 Naismith Player of the Year Paige Bueckers cannot declare for the WNBA draft until 2023. Neither can South Carolina champion and 2022 Naismith Player of the Year Aliyah Boston. That class could also include Stanford's Haley Jones and Louisville's Hailey Van Lith if they decided to leave early. Women's players rarely do so.

Name, image, likeness rules make it more unlikely players would want to leave early since they can earn money while in college when female players' marketability is often at its peak. The top-four picks in this year's draft can sign at $74,305 and it drops approximately $3,000 to picks 5-8, picks 9-12, second round and third round ($62,285).