Fantasy Basketball

2022 WNBA Draft preview: The Las Vegas Aces present the best opportunity for new draftees

The Las Vegas rehauled their front office this offseason, bringing in Becky Hammon as head coach and Natalie Williams as general manager to replace Bill Laimbeer and Dan Padover, respectively. They also lost veterans Liz Cambage and Angel McCoughtry in free agency.

Those are dramatic changes for a team that finished with the second-best record in the league last year and held a double-digit lead with 11 minutes to play in Game 5 of the WNBA semifinals, but Las Vegas never been content with anything but the best, especially under new owner Mark Davis. That’s why Davis broke the bank to hire Hammon and build a dedicated practice facility for the Aces, a rarity among WNBA franchises.

In more ways than one, this would be a great team to be drafted to. Las Vegas only has four players on protected contracts and two other players making more than the minimum. Add in Jackie Young on the final year of her rookie contract, and the Aces are truly committed to just seven players heading into training camp. If ever there were a place for a first-year draftee to make an immediate impact — and on a team with championship aspirations — Las Vegas is it.

Picks: 11, 23, 35

The Aces own all of their own picks in the 2022 WNBA Draft, nothing more, nothing less, so their best chance at finding an impact contributor will come in the first round. The question is: does Las Vegas want to play A’ja Wilson at power forward or center?

If Wilson is a center, then Dearica Hamby is the only potential power forward on the roster, and the Aces need to shore up that position. Naz Hillmon has been mocked in this range, and both ESPN and Just Women’s Sports have Las Vegas selecting the Michigan big. Hillmon would provide rebounding and paint scoring for the Aces, but she is undersized defensively and would also push Wilson away from the basket due to her lack of shooting range.

The problem is that the other forward-sized players in the first round are all projected to go earlier, including Emily Engstler and Nyara Sabally — Engstler, in particular, would be an outstanding fit on this roster given her ability to impact a game without scoring. In the second round, Las Vegas could target Olivia Nelson-Ododa or Mya Hollingshed. Both of those players can operate further away from the basket, Nelson-Ododa due to her passing ability and Hollingshed with her shooting. Lorela Cubaj could also help the team defensively.

Olivia Nelson-Ododa and A’ja Wilson would make a nice high-low combo, provided A’ja ever stops teasing her about the 2022 NCAA title game.

If the Aces envision Wilson as a power forward, however, that gives them more frontcourt options. The team is bringing Kiah Stokes, Theresa Plaisance, and Kalani Brown into training camp, the combination of whom could easily man the center position, especially if Wilson occasionally slides there when Hamby plays the 4.

That would allow Las Vegas to target wings. As it stands, Jackie Young is the only perimeter player equipped to guard opposing small forwards. In this scenario, the Aces could be interested in Kierstan Bell if she falls, Rae Burrell, and Evina Westbrook.

Most WNBA draftees are in a precarious position. Unless they’re a first-round pick, it’s not a guarantee that they’ll make it to training camp, and making the roster is yet another hurdle to clear. But players should be clamoring to be drafted by Las Vegas. Not only will they be treated like world-class professional athletes if they make the team, there’s a better chance of making the Aces than other squads thanks to their limited training camp depth. That combination of star talent and roster spots is rare, and it makes this team an exciting destination for whoever hears their name called by Cathy Engelbert on Monday.

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