The Indiana Fever, Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm missed the 2023 WNBA playoffs, but there will be a bright side to that come April. They will have the top four picks in what could be a very talented and noteworthy 2024 WNBA draft.
The draft order will be determined later this year when the WNBA conducts its lottery. But we likely won't know exactly which prospects will be available until after the college season ends with the women's Final Four on April 5 and 7 in Cleveland. This year's senior class -- those who entered college for the 2020-21 season -- is the last that has the COVID-19 waiver, which means players can return for a fifth season.
The class includes many big names, such as Iowa's Caitlin Clark and LSU's Angel Reese, whose teams met in the 2023 NCAA final won by the Tigers, and Stanford's Cameron Brink, whose Cardinal won the NCAA title in 2021.
"If the depth of the class turns out to be what it's capable of being, having two first-round picks is exciting for what that can do for us," Sparks coach Curt Miller said. "But we have to be thorough [with scouting], because this is probably the last class with so many unknowns."
The Fever, who at 44.2% have the best odds at the top pick based on their cumulative record of the past two WNBA seasons (18-58), selected Aliyah Boston at No. 1 in the 2023 draft. Boston had an outstanding season, and she is expected to be named WNBA Rookie of the Year this month.
The Mercury -- who have the second-best odds at 27.6% -- haven't had a lottery pick since 2013 (No. 1 Brittney Griner), while the Sparks (17.8%) haven't had one since 2012 (No. 1 Nneka Ogwumike). The Storm's most recent lottery picks came in 2015 and 2016, when Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart went back-to-back at No. 1; Seattle has a 10.4% chance of claiming the top pick.
"If you can get young players to play at a high level, with the salary cap and the way that works, that's the ace in the hole," said Diana Taurasi, the Mercury's No. 1 pick in 2004 who intends to play her 20th WNBA season next year in Phoenix. "And if you can get a player that changes your franchise for the next 10 to 15 years, you're one lucky team.
"When you look at this [potential] draft class, what these kids have done the last few years, there's some names that could change your team."
Miller acknowledged that name, image and likeness (NIL) money has changed things in regard to players wanting to stay in college. Sparks general manager Karen Bryant said the WNBA has to make sure it does all it can to lure them to the league.
"It will be incumbent upon every team to continue to tout the momentum and progress of the WNBA to attract that top college talent," Bryant said. "It's an exciting lottery pool with Phoenix, Seattle, Indiana and us."
For this way-too-early mock draft for 2024's first round, we list the lottery teams in order of their odds at No. 1. And for now, we include only college players who are at least in their fourth year in school, even if they haven't played all three previous years.
In subsequent mock drafts, we might include players from overseas and academic college juniors who are eligible for the 2024 draft -- if it appears likely they will declare. For the most part, players who have remaining college eligibility have waited until their season is over to announce if they will stay or go. And keep in mind that free agency in February could dramatically change teams' needs.
So by the time we run our last mock draft before the real thing, this list could look very different.
1. Indiana Fever: Caitlin Clark
Iowa Hawkeyes | point guard | 6-foot-0 | senior
Last season's national player of the year piloted Iowa to its second Final Four in program history and first championship game. Clark led the nation in 3-pointers (140) and assists average (8.6), and she was second in scoring average (27.8). Adding Clark to a team with such great young post players could boost the Fever back into the playoffs for the first time since 2016. That said, Clark is royalty in Iowa, has done well in NIL and might want to stay a fifth year in her home state.
2. Phoenix Mercury: Paige Bueckers
UConn Huskies | point guard | 6-foot-0 | junior
There is uncertainty about Bueckers, who missed last season with a torn ACL and also was limited to 17 games in 2021-22 by injury. Bueckers has appeared in just 46 college games, significantly fewer than the others in this mock. But her success when healthy -- including national player of the year honors as a freshman -- carries a lot of weight. Bueckers has three years of college eligibility left (counting the COVID waiver), so she could be at UConn until 2026. Phoenix could use a young point guard, either through the draft, trade or free agency.
3. Los Angeles Sparks: Cameron Brink
Stanford Cardinal | power forward | 6-foot-4 | senior
Brink might have the most pro-ready overall skill set of any post player in the draft. She isn't a great 3-point shooter -- she has made 32 in her three seasons with the Cardinal -- but she has the ability to improve there. She is fearless and aggressive inside; her one drawback has been getting into foul trouble. (As a pro, she would have an extra foul to work with.) Brink ranked third in Division I in blocks per game (3.47) last season. The Sparks have seven unrestricted free agents, so they will be busy this offseason with roster building. Still, there's no scenario in which a player like Brink wouldn't help them.
4. Seattle Storm: Aaliyah Edwards
UConn Huskies | power forward | 6-foot-3 | senior
The Storm, like Phoenix, probably need a point guard, but depending on where they are in the lottery and how free agency shakes out, they might go for a post player in the draft. Edwards is the kind of big, strong post out of UConn who generally does well and has a long career as a pro. She was a solid contributor during her first two seasons and became a stalwart her third year, as Edwards led the Huskies in scoring (16.6) and was second in rebounding (9.0) last season.
LSU Tigers | shooting guard | 5-foot-7 | senior
Considering their depth in the post, the Wings might opt for another guard with clutch shooting ability. Van Lith (19.7 points per game last season) hasn't been considered a top-tier defender or distributor, but she will work on both aspects of her game this season after transferring to LSU from Louisville. It will be intriguing to see how Van Lith plays on a Tigers team with so much talent. If she becomes a stronger all-around player, she will be more appealing as a pro.
Tennessee Lady Vols | power forward | 6-foot-2 | senior
Jackson is slotted here for now, but the odds are great that she will go higher. The five players listed above her all could return to college after this season, and Jackson is in her fifth year. She played 2½ seasons at Mississippi State before transferring, and she seems comfortable at Tennessee, where she led the Lady Vols in scoring (19.2) last season. She made 16 3-pointers then, an area likely to improve. Elena Delle Donne is among the free agents for the Mystics, who were eighth in the WNBA in scoring average and could use a boost in that area.
South Carolina Gamecocks | center | 6-foot-7 | senior
This could be a huge year for Cardoso, as she becomes the primary target inside for the Gamecocks with Boston gone. Cardoso averaged 9.8 points and 8.5 rebounds last season, and she has gained great experience with the Brazilian national team. The Lynx lost their true center anchor inside with the retirement of Sylvia Fowles following the 2022 season, so perhaps Cardoso could start a new era in Minnesota. But she also might opt to stay another year at South Carolina.
LSU Tigers | power forward | 6-foot-3 | senior
Reese is a superstar, especially among the LSU faithful after leading the Tigers to the school's first women's basketball championship. She averaged 23.0 points and 15.4 rebounds last season and was the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, and she has been very busy since with NIL endorsements. Reese's numbers were big in her first season at LSU after transferring from Maryland, although there is some concern about her lack of shooting range in moving to the WNBA. We'll see how Reese plays with even more talent around her this season and whether she opts to stay in Baton Rouge for a fifth year in college.
9. Dallas Wings: Georgia Amoore
Virginia Tech Hokies | point guard | 5-foot-6 | senior
Amoore was a big part of the Hokies' first run to the women's Final Four last season, as she was second in Division I in 3-pointers with 118. Amoore's size is a concern, but her experience with the Australian national team and her playmaking skills are also big pluses. Right now, we have the Wings taking two guards, so we'll see how that goes. In Amoore's case, her prowess from behind the arc could help Dallas, which was in the bottom half of the league in 3-pointers this season.
Virginia Tech Hokies | center | 6-foot-6 | senior
The ACC player of the year the past two seasons, Kitley was crucial in the Hokies' run to the Final Four, averaging 18.2 points and 10.7 rebounds. This is Kitley's fifth season, so she will be in the draft. What's less certain is how she will be evaluated, because true centers have been hit or miss in the WNBA.
Ohio State | shooting guard | 5-foot-10 | senior
Sheldon was limited to just 13 games last season as she dealt with a leg injury. But during the previous campaign, she averaged 19.7 points, 4.2 assists and 1.9 steals, which is the kind of production that could make her valuable in the WNBA. She is a strong defensive player, and this will be her fifth year with the Buckeyes.
12. Los Angeles Sparks: Charisma Osborne
UCLA | shooting guard | 5-foot-9 | senior
As mentioned earlier, the Sparks have a lot to put together with so many free agents. One of them is former UCLA guard Jordin Canada, who had her best season, statistically, this year. Might the Sparks add another Bruin in Osborne? She led UCLA in scoring (15.9) and steals (52) last season, and this will be her fifth year with the Bruins.