The WNBA Finals illustrated the value of No. 1 draft picks. Five were on the floor between the champion Las Vegas Aces and runner-up New York Liberty -- not including injured Aces center/forward Candace Parker.
The Aces are the only team in WNBA history that has had three No. 1 picks in a row, and the organization hit a bull's eye with each one. Kelsey Plum was the first, in 2017, the last year the franchise was still in San Antonio. A'ja Wilson followed in 2018, Jackie Young in 2019.
It took a little longer for guards Plum and Young to bloom into All-Stars, but they have -- big-time. Wilson, a 6-foot-4 forward who was Finals MVP, was one of the WNBA's best as soon as she stepped on the pro court. All are under contract for next season, as is point guard Chelsea Gray, who after injuries her junior and senior seasons in college was a No. 11 pick (2014).
Breanna Stewart (2016) and Sabrina Ionescu (2020), the Liberty's No. 1 picks, didn't get the league championship, but they helped lead New York to the Commissioner's Cup title and the franchise's first trip to the WNBA Finals since 2002.
No. 1 hasn't changed in ESPN's latest 2024 WNBA mock draft, but there is a lot of excitement about the possibilities in the upcoming draft, in which the Indiana Fever, Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm have the top four picks. But drafts sometimes prove better than anticipated and sometimes worse.
For instance, a lot of uncertainty surrounded who should be the No. 1 pick in 2019, and about how many long-term WNBA players would be drafted. Young turned out to be the perfect fit for the Aces, as was the case for No. 5 Arike Ogunbowale with the Dallas Wings and No. 6 Napheesa Collier with the Minnesota Lynx.
In all, 12 of the 36 players from the 2019 draft -- including five from the second round -- have played all five seasons since being picked. And if you consider just how difficult it is to make a WNBA roster and stick with a team, that's a good draft.
For this mock draft, we list the lottery teams in order of their odds at No. 1. We still don't have the lottery order (that comes later this year) and it's uncertain how many of the seniors have a year of eligibility left, depending on whether the COVID-19 waiver might return for 2024-25. We've included only college players who are in at least 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.
While there's not much more clarity than we had for our initial mock draft in September, WNBA coaches, general managers and experts had one consistent bit of feedback: Move up the big girl. That's 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso, who steps into a larger role this season for South Carolina after the departure of Aliyah Boston, the 2023 WNBA Rookie of the Year. Kardoso was No. 7 in our first mock but jumped to a lottery pick in Version 2.0. She averaged 9.8 points and 8.5 rebounds in 2022-23, numbers expected to improve this season.
1. Indiana Fever: Caitlin Clark
Iowa | point guard | 6-foot-0 | senior
Clark will have even more weight on her shoulders this season, but she is prepared for it. The national player of the year last season, she isn't thinking about repeating Iowa's Final Four trip right now, but helping a team that lost two key starters get better each day. Clark led the nation in 3-pointers (140) and assists average (8.6) and was second in scoring average (27.8). If you watch how successful WNBA teams play, you see how well Clark will fit into the league -- either in 2024 or 2025, if she chooses to stay a fifth year at Iowa.
2. Phoenix Mercury: Paige Bueckers
UConn | point guard | 6-foot-0 | junior
The Mercury have a new coach, hiring longtime NBA assistant Nate Tibbetts, who with new general manager Nick U'Ren have a lot to do this offseason. The Mercury went 9-31 and need a fresh start. In 2004, it came via No. 1 draft pick Diana Taurasi, who will turn 42 during next season. Bueckers, who missed last season with a torn ACL and was limited to 17 games in 2021-22 by injury, has played just 46 college games. If she can return to her 2020-21 national player of the year form, and if she decides to move on from college despite two more years of eligibility, she could be a big part of Phoenix's reboot.
3. Los Angeles Sparks: Cameron Brink
Stanford | power forward | 6-foot-4 | senior
The Sparks have missed the playoffs the past three seasons in a row and have seven unrestricted free agents. Coach Curt Miller and general manager Karen Bryant are trying to establish a new culture and return the Sparks to being a destination franchise for players. Brink, who has a pro-level skill set offensively and defensively, could follow another former Stanford star, Nneka Ogwumike (No. 1 in 2012), as a lottery pick who helps Los Angeles become a contender again.
4. Seattle Storm: Kamilla Cardoso
South Carolina | center | 6-foot-7 | senior
Cardoso showed flashes last season -- including in South Carolina's Final Four loss to Iowa -- of being a dominating force. She also has international experience with the Brazilian national team and should be the primary target inside for the Gamecocks with Boston gone. Like several other players, Kardoso could opt to stay another year, but she might be ready to start making her mark in the pro game. The Storm could use a top young point guard. But unless a guard that they really want is available, they might not pass up all the promise Cardoso shows at her size.
UConn | power forward | 6-foot-3 | senior
The Wings need 3-point shooting, but Dallas president and CEO Greg Bibb also believes you can almost never have too much size in basketball. The Wings already have several bigs, but if Edwards is available, they might still choose her. She has pro-ready size and skills, leading the Huskies in scoring (16.6) and finishing second in rebounding (9.0) last season. When UConn dealt with so many injuries, she was the team's stalwart. The Wings, coming off an appearance in the semifinals, could see Edwards as part of their future.
Tennessee | power forward | 6-foot-2 | senior
This is Jackson's fifth year in college. Barring an early injury and a hardship return for a sixth season -- perish the thought -- she will be in the 2024 draft. At that point, it won't be a surprise to see her go here or even higher, depending on how many other players declare for the draft. The Mystics need more scoring, an area in which Jackson excels. She led the Lady Vols with 19.2 points per game after transferring to Tennessee ahead of last season. Expect her to shoot the 3-pointer more in 2023-24, which also will help her draft stock.
LSU | power forward | 6-foot-3 | senior
Reese led LSU to the school's first women's basketball championship and averaged 23 points and 15.4 rebounds last season. The 2023 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, she will have lots of talent around her this year and is eager to show the Tigers can be even better. Some WNBA teams' need for guards, plus Reese's perceived limits on shooting range, have her lower in the first round than some might expect. But she has time to make her case this season (and next, too, if she chooses to return), and there's no question about her rebounding or motor.
Virginia Tech | center | 6-foot-6 | senior
The issue with players such as Kitley is whether they are quick and versatile enough to be effective defensively in the WNBA. That said, the Dream could use more scoring inside, and the two-time ACC Player of the Year averaged 18.2 points and 10.7 rebounds in leading the Hokies to their first Final Four. Like Jackson, she is a fifth-year senior, so there's a chance she moves up in the first round depending on who else is in the draft. There's also a chance she moves down if teams question her ability to transition to the pro game. She has this season to prove it.
9. Dallas Wings: Georgia Amoore
Virginia Tech | point guard | 5-foot-6 | senior
We mentioned Dallas' need for 3-point shooting earlier, plus the desire to have another playmaker. Amoore, who with Kitley guided the Hokies to the Final Four last season, was second in Division I in 3-pointers with 118. Amoore is small but could be an offensive boost for the Wings with her court vision and scoring ability.
Ohio State | shooting guard | 5-foot-10 | senior
We didn't see the true Sheldon last season, as she played just 13 games because of a leg injury. We're basing this pick on two things: her returning to her 2021-22 form (19.7 points, 4.2 assists and 1.9 steals) and how much WNBA Coach of the Year Stephanie White appreciates Sheldon's game as a Big Ten standout. If we see the best version of Sheldon, it could make a big difference in where she's picked.
UCLA | shooting guard | 5-foot-9 | senior
Osborne is another fifth-year player; last year she led the Bruins in scoring (15.9 PPG) and steals (52). The Liberty's need for a stronger backcourt defensive presence was evident during the WNBA Finals. If it isn't addressed through a trade or free agency, New York might look to the draft; at this pick, Osborne could be the top guard available.
12. Los Angeles Sparks: Hailey Van Lith
LSU | shooting guard | 5-foot-7 | senior
Van Lith dropped from No. 5 in our previous mock draft because of three key questions we heard from WNBA sources. Can she score against bigger/quicker pro guards? Is she a good enough defender? How well will she adjust to playing point guard? This season at LSU, after transferring from Louisville, she will get the chance at the 1 spot, and she has plenty of great options to pass to. Whether she really fits in at Los Angeles is another question, but if she's still available and answers the previous questions to the Sparks' satisfaction, they might choose her.