2023 WNBA Draft preview
📚 The history
The first WNBA Draft was held in 1997, the same year the league first hit the hardwood. Unlike subsequent drafts, the 1997 edition came in three parts, beginning with the allocation of 16 stars, like Cynthia Cooper, who were distributed among the original eight teams.
After the stars were assigned, the WNBA held an “Elite Draft” in which established pros were selected. On February 27th, 1997, former Tennessee star Dena Head became the first-ever player drafted into the league when she was selected by the Utah Starzz (not a typo).
- The regular college and international player draft was then held on April 28th, 1997, when 32 more players joined the WNBA’s inaugural season.
Today, as college’s and international team’s best are drafted, the No. 1 pick position remains a coveted career milestone. While South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston will likely be the first name called tomorrow, whoever snags the honor will join one of the sport’s most exclusive and successful clubs.
- Thirteen No. 1 picks have won Rookie of the Year, and eight went on to claim league MVP honors, including two-time winners (and now Las Vegas Aces teammates) Candace Parker and A’ja Wilson.
✍️ The details
Thirty-six hoopers will hear their names called over the course of tomorrow’s three-round, 12-pick draft. As for the order, most picks are doled out in inverse order of the standings from the previous regular season.
- However, the top four picks are allotted via the Draft Lottery, which consisted of the four squads who didn’t make the playoffs. The Indiana Fever won the
Aliyah Boston sweepstakeslucky No. 1 selection when the lottery was held last November.
- The other caveat? Trades. Squads have been wheeling and dealing picks and players in the lead up to tomorrow’s action. Expect more musical chairs before the festivities begin.
As for eligibility, you won’t see March Madness champion LSU’s Angel Reese or Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark on stage tomorrow. Domestic WNBA hopefuls must be 22 years old during the year of the draft, have completed their college eligibility, or be set to graduate within three months. No one-and-done here.
💫 The top picks
Aliyah Boston, South Carolina: Fever fans rejoiced when Boston, who had another year of NCAA eligibility due to COVID-19, officially declared for the draft. With her dominant defense, elite rebounding and incredible leadership, it’s no wonder she’s the consensus No. 1. She’ll likely be put to task immediately as the ailing Indy franchise needs some work. No pressure.
Diamond Miller, Maryland: A four-year Terrapin standout, Miller shined brightest in her senior season, posting a career-high 19.7 points per game and leading her squad to the Elite Eight. Both analysts and league general managers (GMs) have labeled Miller as a pro-ready draftee, meaning the versatile guard could be the next face of the Sylvia Fowles–less Minnesota Lynx.
Haley Jones, Stanford: With her elite size, speed and playmaking ability, the multifaceted Jones is poised to make an immediate impact in the W. That said, her three-point shooting left much to be desired this year, which could be a potential deterrent for interested teams.
Jordan Horston, Tennessee: After a solid season buoyed by an impressive supporting cast of Tennessee teammates, Horston saw her draft stock rise. Though she has a tendency to turnover the ball on offense, her defensive skill is elite, making her a potential top-three pick.
Maddy Siegrist, Villanova: Siegrist led the nation in scoring last season by putting up a cool 29.2 points per game. Although it’s still TBD how her game will translate when facing tougher pro-level defenses, that sharpshooting would be a major boost for many squads. Sky’s the limit.
👀 Other players to watch
The stock risers: When asked whose interest shot up the most during the NCAA tournament, both South Carolina’s Zia Cooke and LSU’s Alexis Morris were the clear answers from analysts and GMs. Morris’ tenacity, resilience, and calm leadership was on full display as she helped her Tigers win their first-ever national title last Sunday.
- As for Cooke, her explosive offense could translate into immediate off-the-bench points for whichever WNBA team picks the 2022 national champ tomorrow.
The Huskies: The school that boasts the most No. 1 selections in WNBA Draft history? UConn, whose five picks include legends like Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. And while the Huskies aren’t expected to crack the Top 5 this draft, both Lou Lopez Sénéchal and Dorka Juhász are projected first- or second-rounders.
The Cyclones: According to the aforementioned Lobo, the second-best post player in the draft is Iowa State’s Stephanie Soares, who’ll bring size, mobility, and versatility to the W team lucky enough to nab her.
- The other Cyclone storming the draft projections? Ashley Joens. The three-time Cheryl Miller Award winner (presented annually to the best women’s basketball small forward) put up over 3K points and 1.3K rebounds over her five NCAA years, and her grit could grab her not only a first-round pick, but a roster spot in May.
The Hoosier: Indiana’s Grace Berger has a shot at joining Aliyah Boston on the Fever’s roster. Indy GM Lin Dunn specifically mentioned Berger’s strength, toughness, ability to play multiple positions, and steady improvement throughout her fifth collegiate season as reasons why the Hoosier could be in for a short move from Bloomington to Indianapolis later this month.
🏀 Zooming out
According to Cheryl Reeve, the Minnestoa Lynx’ president of basketball operations, only 0.9% of American college women’s basketball players are ever drafted into the WNBA. However, that elite honor simply grants athletes the opportunity to compete for one of the league’s 144 roster spots.
The lack of space for new talent means that, traditionally, about half of those drafted tomorrow will not be on W courts when May rolls around. Instead, players will take their chances to play overseas and improve their game with the hope of making a future WNBA roster.
While the obvious answer may be accelerating the promised WNBA expansion, only a few rookie players enter training camps truly ready for professional competition. Perhaps the creation of a developmental program similar to the NBA G League would provide an opportunity for North American talent to grow and flourish in our own backyard.
And for those lucky enough to take the W court this season, they’ll have to compete without some of the perks they enjoyed as college hoopers, like charter flights. But these fierce ballers didn’t make it this far by taking the easy route, so while tomorrow may look like an Orange Carpet finish line, it’s actually just the start. The real work begins at training camp on April 30th.
📺 How to tune in
Live from New York, it’s Monday night! That’s right, the festivities and nail-biting picks air live from NYC at 7 p.m. ET tomorrow on ESPN in the U.S. and TSN3 in Canada.
And there’s no rest for the drafted. The WNBA preseason will tip off on May 5th, with the regular season beginning May 19th. Can’t wait.