Recap of the Top Five 2022 WNBA Draft Picks

Logan Sundberg, Staff Writer

On Monday, April 11, the WNBA Draft was held in person for the first time since 2019 at Spring Studios in New York. This year, 108 NCAA athletes opted into the 2022 WNBA Draft, competing for one of the 36 total picks.

The Atlanta Dream boasted the first overall pick after they traded their number 3 and 14 overall picks, and rights to swap 2023 draft picks, to the Washington Mystics, whose head coach Mike Thibault told NBC Sports that he would be be extremely comfortable with all three of the possible top players.

With their No. 1 overall pick, the Dream chose 6’2” senior guard Rhyne Howard from the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Howard averaged 20.5 points per game, 7.4 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists per game during her senior season with the Wildcats. She also helped lead Kentucky to a victory over the eventual National Champion South Carolina during the SEC Championship game. Howard is the only DI player to have 600+ points, 200+ rebounds, 100+ assists, 70+ steals, and 35+ blocks in the 2021-22 season. Additionally, she finished her senior season with 284 career 3-pointers. 

An article from CBS Sports claims Howard is a player who can impact the game on both sides of the ball, as she is a great scorer, can shoot from the outside and get to the basket and can defend multiple positions. The Dream lost their two leading scorers and finished the 2021 season with an 8-24 record, so Howard is seen as a great addition to the team offensively in their journey to rebuild. 

The second overall pick went to the Indiana Fever, which chose 6’4” senior forward NaLyssa Smith from Baylor University. In the 2021-22 season, Smith averaged 22.1 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game for the Lady Bears. She was also named the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year. Smith is extremely athletic and excels on the defensive side. Last season, the Fever had the worst record in the league, winning only six games for the second year in a row. The Fever, who had four of the first 10 picks including Smith’s former Baylor teammate, center Queen Egbo, have high hopes for rebuilding.

The third pick went to the Washington Mystics, which chose 6’5” senior forward Shakira Austin from the University of Mississippi. Austin is considered as a terrific defender, very fluid, and has lots of potential on the offensive end. Austin averaged 15.2 points and 9 rebounds per game. Not to mention, her height puts her as one of the tallest players on the Mystics. Austin started her collegiate career at the University of Maryland and transferred after two seasons to Ole Miss. With her help, Ole Miss made it back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007, making her a promising pick for the Mystics. 

The fourth pick went to the Fever, which chose 6’1” senior forward Emily Engstler from the University of Louisville. Engstler transferred from Syracuse University in her senior year after head coach Quentin Hillsman resigned and the majority of the roster transferred. At Louisville, Engstler developed a deep bond with head coach Jeff Waltz and averaged 11.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. She has a strong ability to disrupt passing lanes and has defensive grit, both qualities that are important to the Fever. 

With the fifth pick, the New York Liberty chose 6’5” redshirt junior center/forward Nyara Sabally from the University of Oregon. Sabally averaged 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. She has the chance to be a huge influence offensively and defensively, especially with her height, for the Liberty. However, Sabally has torn her ACL twice, so she has only played 47 career games. Unfortunately, she will sit out the upcoming season as well to heal from the knee injury.