We’ve finally reached the inflection point during the WNBA offseason. Free agency is in full tilt, coaching staffs are being built, and front offices around the league are in the throws of scouting prospects in preparation for the upcoming draft.
The Minnesota Lynx own four picks this coming spring, including two of the top 15 (Nos. 8 and 13). However, due to the team’s salary cap situation and the limited roster sizes in the WNBA, it’s safe to assume that at most only one of their selections will make the team out of camp, that is if they don’t trade out of the draft entirely.
The 2022 WNBA draft class figures to be more robust than that of the previous season, the majority of whom struggled mightily in limited playing time. As such, it’s quite possible that the Lynx could snag a legitimate rotation player with either of their first two picks.
Below are a few names that Lynx fans should keep their eye on as the second half of the college basketball season gets underway.
VERONICA BURTON, GUARD, NORTHWESTERN
Stats: 17.4 ppg, 5.6 rbg, 6.0 apg, 1.0 blocks, 4.3 steals, 41.4 FG%, 34.3 3FG%, 4.4 3FGA/G
Burton is perhaps the most underappreciated athlete in the Big Ten. She is the Wildcats’ heart and soul on both ends of the court and has led them to an 11-5 record overall while embodying an exemplary blend of intelligence and natural feel for the game.
She is a boxscore stuffer in every sense, leading her team in points (279), assists (96), and steals (68) while coming in second in rebounds (89) and blocks (16). She may not be the most athletic guard in the draft and her outside shot is inconsistent, but there are few players that are able to match her erudite approach.
The two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year would fit extremely well within coach Cheryl Reeve’s system, particularly if they are unable to re-sign free agent Layshia Clarendon.
ELISSA CUNANE, CENTER, NORTH CAROLINA STATE
Stats: 14.1 ppg, 7.6 rbg, 1.2 apg, 0.8 blocks, 0.8 steals, 54.4 FG%, 42.9 3FG%, 0.8 3FGA/G
The Lynx may find themselves in the market for a center depending on whether or not Sylvia Fowles decides to return to Minnesota, and even if she does it may behoove the team to go out and get their future at the position. Cunane may just be the type of player they’d want.
Cunane is a two-time All-American who has helped push the Wolfpack into a top-five national ranking this season. While she is best known for her deft footwork and being a bully on the block, she has the ability to put the ball down and drive and is willing to shoot from beyond the arc.
Her skill set would be a good complement to that of Napheesa Collier as it is a blend of both Fowles’ (strong on the block) and Damiris Dantas’ (outside shooting). She isn’t the defensive stalwart that Fowles is — but then again, who is? — but she is likely to be at least serviceable at the WNBA level.
LORELA CUBAJ, FORWARD, GEORGIA TECH
Stats: 10.1 ppg, 12.0 rbg, 4.4 apg, 1.5 blocks, 1.6 steals, 42.2 FG%, 28.6 3FG%, 0.8 3FGA/G
Cubaj — pronounced “Koo-bye” — is a fifth-year senior who is currently playing some of the best basketball of her career. She’s a double-double machine and, in a similar vein to Burton, is prone to filling up the boxscore.
Her outside game is limited, though, like Cunane, she’s a force to be reckoned with on the block; she is fond of using various spin moves and fadeaway jumpers which, when combined with her overall length and athleticism, make her very difficult to stop.
Cubaj isn’t afraid to let her emotions show on the court and would bring a certain level of grit and energy that the Lynx occasionally lack.
ASHLEY JOENS, WING, IOWA STATE
Stats: 20.3 ppg, 9.5 rbg, 2.4 apg, 0.5 blocks, 0.9 steals, 38.2 FG%, 36.7 3FG%, 7.5 3FGA/G
The lazy player comparison for Joens is that of former teammate Bridget Carleton, but it isn’t frequently made without reason. Both accumulated over 2,000 points during their illustrious collegiate careers while being strong rebounders for their position. Both led the Cyclones to acclaim as one of the nation’s top programs and, in many respects, their role within the team’s schemes on both sides of the court mirrored one another.
What dissociates Joens from Carleton, however, is her athleticism. Joens possesses a degree of fluidity that Carleton does not. Additionally, her shot mechanics are smoother and more repeatable than that of her counterpart.
In short, Carleton’s success in the WNBA should bode well for Joens’ long-term prospects.
LEXIE HULL, GUARD, STANFORD
Stats: 12.0 ppg, 6.1 rbg, 2.3 apg, 0.4 blocks, 2.3 steals, 38.3 FG%, 41.8 3FG%, 4.2 3FGA/G
Hull is not the most athletic nor is she the most physically intimidating player on the court. She also isn’t a particularly good finisher at the rim. But when watching Hull it’s more important to note what she is rather than what she isn't and what she is is perhaps the best pure shooter in the 2022 draft.
Hull is one of the centers of gravity on offense for the defending champion Stanford Cardinal, but in the WNBA her role will probably be that of a spot-up shooter, making her a perfect fit for a Lynx team that struggled mightily shooting the ball last summer.
She also exerts effort on defense, leading to a propensity of steals, which the Lynx’s front office and coaching staff likely see as a significant positive. She needs to get stronger if she wants to find success at the WNBA level, but she very well could be recognized as the league’s top shooter at some point during her career.