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2023 WNBA Draft Preview


lethalweapon3

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Stop me if you’ve heard this before: good things come to those who wait!

The approach to slow-build the Atlanta Dream around 2022 WNBA ROY Rhyne Howard, in the face of recent superteam building at WNBA venues in New York and Las Vegas, makes plenty of sense. There are few incoming rookies in this year’s WNBA Draft (Monday at 7 PM Eastern, ESPN) that convey instant impact in terms of stardom and championship contention.

But with a pair of mid-tiered first rounders, and an early second, GM Dan Padover and Coach Tanisha Wright have the chance to buttress team depth in anticipation of a more earnest playoff push in 2023.

You’ve likely seen some amazing talents on college-level courts, especially during NCAA March Madness. But thanks to the one-two punch of COVID disruptions and NIL opportunities, if you’ll excuse the pun, You Can’t See Them in the WNBA. Not for another year or two, as scores of would-be eligible players surveyed the landscape and chose to accept an extra NCAA year, rather than forgo possible NIL largesse for some meager post-amateur paychecks.

While those players are worth the wait, their disinterest in rushing to turn pro keeps this year’s WNBA draft wafer thin. Indiana won the Draft Lottery, and South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston will help the Fever firm up their emerging frontcourt. After that? Well…

 

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Maryland’s Diamond Miller and Tennessee’s Jordan Horston are high on potential, and bucket-getter Maddy Siegrist of Villanova will likely join them within the first five picks. Veteran wing Allisha Gray poses a more immediate impact as a wing pairing with Howard than any of those collegians, so Padover swung a deal with Dallas to get out of the Draft’s top-five. Bidding adieu to longtime holdover Tip Hayes, however, and last year’s draft deal with Washington for the right to select Howard first-overall, allowed Atlanta to field two picks in the run-up to Draft time, at #6 and #8.

Perimeter shooting, playmaking and rim protection all seem to be needs of greatest improvement for the Dream (14-22 last season, incl. 7-18 after a heady 7-4 start). Not everything can be addressed in 2023, though, through a Draft that is talent-shallow at the PG and C spots.

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Atlanta was a threat from the three-point line (35.1 team 3FG%, 4th in WNBA, although just 7th in attempts) for the first time in ages, thanks largely to brief, productive stints from Hayes, Maya Caldwell, AD Durr and Kristy Wallace, and Durr is the sole potential returnee. Gray's 3-and-D impact will be huge as a second banana to Howard in the starting lineup. But Lou Lopez-Senechal of UConn, and Taylor Mikesell of Ohio State, are possible bench contributors that could offer a steadier stream of long-range baskets, opening up the inside of the offensive court for more post-ups and paint penetration.

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Former NAIA Player of the Year and Iowa State star Stephanie Soares, a 6-foot-6 Brazilian-American, will miss this WNBA season due to a torn ACL she suffered in January. Yet Soares soars up draft boards for being precisely the type of future-forward prospect some WNBA teams are willing to wait on.

Padover brought in his last first-round pick from his time in charge of the Aces, France’s Iliana Rupert (whose brother Rayan, may be a SG prospect for the Hawks in June), as a stretch-five option behind Cheyenne Parker. But Soares, if stashed, may bring a more traditional skillset into the fold in 2024, allowing the recently-extended Parker to shift to a more customary PF role.

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With all eyes rightfully on Howard, the Dream ranked last in the league in assists (fewest; 12th in assist%) and turnovers (most; 11th in TO%) in ’22. Wright is banking on continued improvement from Aari McDonald as a ballhandler, but she and veteran free agent Danielle Robinson can only be of incremental gain on the playmaking end. NCAA champ Alexis “Lex Luthor” Morris of LSU may be the only traditional PG on the board worth a first-round flyer, although undersized SG Zia Cooke of South Carolina, and Big Ten combo guards Grace Berger of Indiana and Leigha Brown of Michigan, may be worth a look if they fall into the early second round.

There is a great chance that 2024’s top 10 selections will be more impactful out of the gate, not only compared to this year’s, but than what we have seen in quite some time. In that case, for Atlanta, better luck next year! But, hey, good luck with this one, too.

 

Let’s Go Dream!

~lw3

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