Anonymous WNBA Draft scout: 3 GMs assess Naz Hillmon, Emily Engstler, Rhyne Howard and more

The college basketball season might be over but we’ve got a tight turnaround as we look ahead to the WNBA Draft. Players have been busy since their seasons ended signing agents, interviewing with teams and preparing to move out of their college housing.

The WNBA Draft is Monday, and training camp begins six days later on April 17. By April 22 — less than three weeks after the national title game — we’re already going to be talking about WNBA preseason games.

Over the last few weeks, I had a chance to chat with three WNBA GMs to get their anonymous takes on players who might be first-round draft picks. This exercise is fun because it shows where GMs agree and disagree on specific players’ attributes. Later this week, we’ll release our mock Draft, and we’ll have you covered for WNBA Draft coverage.

Note: Players are listed in alphabetical order.

Shakira Austin | 6-5 post | Ole Miss

2021-22 stats: 15.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 49% FG

“Shakira defensively would be ready to play in the WNBA tomorrow. Offensively, she needs to be a little more efficient in terms of how she impacts the game. If she starts small and does the little things that she can on the offensive end, in time, her game will grow. She does have the highest ceiling of any player in this class in terms of having all the tools to develop her game however she chooses. She needs to be patient and do all the little things first. If her first year in the league she just focuses on transition baskets and offensive rebound putbacks, I think a lot of coaches would be really happy.”

“You have these physical attributes where you go, holy shit, that’s a WNBA player. Her length, her body overall, her ability to move — the eye test, so to speak. You have to marry those things with statistics typically, and I think people see a really high ceiling for Shakira.”

“I still think she’s raw as a four. Her best position right now is five. Put her down there on the block and let her go to work. Tall, strong, physical, long arms. I think she could be a real good early on as a five if she would accept that and not float around so much. But I like her body.”

Kierstan Bell |6-1 guard/wing | Florida Gulf Coast

2021-22 stats: 22.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.5 APG, 47% FG, 29% 3PT FG

“Big, strong and a lot of people say: Is she a three or a four? She’s whatever she wants to be. She has shooting skills, passing skills, ball-handling skills. I think you have to picture what it would be like if she played on a team with a real low post. All they did was five-out, spread the floor. So, you have to anticipate what she’s going to be like at the next level, and I do think there’s an enormous amount of interest in her because of her ability to shoot the 3.”

“She’s got an explosive step to her when she wants to attack. She can stretch the floor from the 3. She can post up smaller wings. She’s a smart basketball player and she’s a naturally gifted basketball player. Her system helps her be more efficient because all they do is shoot 3s and make layups, but I think if you put her on any floor at any age range, she’d make a difference because she can go get you a basket.”

“Where do you play her? I don’t know foot speed wise, if I love her at the three. It’s a different beast in our league, chasing people around screens. … She does some things really well. She plays well in that system. When players learn how to play, those are the ones that seem to do well, seem to be a little more plug-and-play into our league. Ones that are systematic and only know, OK, I go here, I go there — there’s no reads. I think the FGCU system, she’s making reads around screens, she’s making reads as a passer. Those are things that bode well for her. She’s a little bit inconsistent in terms of her shooting.”

Rae Burrell | 6-1 wing | Tennessee

2021-22 stats: 12.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 36% FG, 33% 3PT FG

“It would’ve been nice to see her healthy all season, but there are some physical gifts there. There is a skill set there, a prototypical small forward with the ability to play some two that some people will find appealing. She’s a first-round pick.”

“She takes a lot of bad shots.”

“Great shooter. But I was kind of surprised she decided to come out and not stay for a fifth year. The biggest question about her is her health. … A healthy Rae Burrell is a first-round pick. But there are question marks about her health.”

Nia Clouden | 5-8 guard | Michigan State

2021-22 stats: 20 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 4.2 APG, 43% FG, 40% 3PT FG

“I’d put her at the two, but some people see her at the one because of her size, but I think she’s more of a two. But if you like a scoring one, Clouden would be appealing.”

“Clouden is a shifty one-two, two-one, but she’s tiny. I don’t know if she could take a beating in our league and be able to be an every-down back. I don’t know if she’ll hold up.”

Elissa Cunane | 6-5 post | NC State

2021-22 stats: 13.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 53% FG

“You know every game what she’s going to do. You look at her numbers, it doesn’t matter who she’s playing. Some nights look a little bit rougher than others, but I would look pretty rough if I had three people on me all the time, too.”

“Cunane is a rock-solid college player. I think the question mark around Cunane is how much of what she can do at NC State will translate to the W? I think that’s what every team is trying to figure out right now.”

“She’s interesting. Has some nice back-to-the-basket moves and has tried to expand her game a little bit, but I see her as a true five. Runs the floor well. My biggest question for her is her strength. … She’s physically not as strong as you’d like. That’s not uncommon for bigs. They develop strength later. But right now, I worry about her overall physical strength.”

Queen Egbo | 6-3 center | Baylor

2021-22 stats: 11 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 50% FG

“Love her energy. Love how hard she plays. She has a little edge to her, so you don’t have to worry about people pushing her around or intimidating her. She has played in Nicki (Collen’s) system, and I think that has helped her. I love how she rebounds. She goes out of the area to get rebounds just like NaLyssa (Smith, her teammate) does. Right now, she’s a five. She doesn’t have the range to go out on the perimeter, but I think with the right work ethic she could add that to her game. She’s long, lean and strong and runs the floor really well. I just like that edginess.”

Emily Engstler | 6-1 wing | Louisville

2021-22 stats: 11.9 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 46% FG, 38% 3PT FG

“She’s another player that the tournament has helped her stock. High energy, passionate about the game, values defense and rebounding, spreads the floor for them. She has a high basketball IQ.”

“Is she a four? Is she a three? At four, Emily could be ahead of the (Naz) Hillmon and (Queen) Egbo group. That tournament bounce, she’s getting that. She has been good all season long. I think she’s one that has kind of made her way up draft boards. … The toughness, the intangibles that she shows, the length, the shot-blocking, the fact that she can shoot the 3. Her will to win seems pretty high and would be appealing to teams, I’d think.”

“Engstler has got a weird quirk about her where she’s a playmaker. On and off the ball, she’s in the right place at the right time. You can’t teach that. I saw after a game that Jeff (Walz) said he hasn’t had a player as dynamic as her on both sides of the ball since Angel (McCoughtry). I think that speaks volumes of her given who has come through that program. I’m not saying Emily is Angel McCoughtry. I’m saying she has an impact on the game that all 10 players feel. She can stretch the floor. She has size where she can play as a three in our league. She has played in a top program in Louisville.”

Naz Hillmon | 6-2 post | Michigan

2021-22 stats: 21.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 57% FG

“She probably is the most-skilled back-to-the-basket player in the draft by far. But size limits her, and I worry for her at the next level because what is she, 6-foot? But a tremendous work ethic, leadership skills and a very (strong) defender. If you were to say, who’s the one you just can’t picture where she’s going to go and when she’s going to go, it might be her. Because she’s highly skilled with a tremendous work ethic, but she has small size for the pros.”

“You love what she does, you love all the intangibles; you’re just hoping that her passion and work ethic lead to the ability to become more perimeter oriented, because it’s not going to happen in our league what she does now. That being said, I think we get a little caught up in what players are trying to do versus three people. Doubles and triple-teams are really hard to play against, and then you put them in the W and go, well, they’re not going to see all of that. But she has the biggest adjustment of the group (of bigs), positionally. The other ones kind of get to be who they are, where as Naz, I don’t think there’s a great deal of history of 6-1 centers finding success.”

“Naz is a terrific college basketball player. I don’t think anyone would argue with her intangibles, whether that be how hard she plays or what type of a teammate she is. The biggest question mark around Naz is what player will she be in four years? Because the player she is today, the style of play she has today is not what will make her a 10-year WNBA player. But who is to say she won’t develop that in time?”

Rhyne Howard | 6-2 guard/wing | Kentucky

2021-22 stats: 20.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.3 APG, 44% FG, 38% 3PT FG

“Rhyne at the guard or wing position is the overwhelming best prospect this year. I don’t think there’s anybody close to her. She’s got a very diverse skill set. I think the question on her is her motor and her passion and her fight — that’s going to be everyone’s question mark around her.”

“It’s hard when a team’s overall journey maybe impacts an individual player, but same thing, Rhyne and NaLyssa were picked No. 1 and No. 2. … I thought she had enough good moments to keep herself there. One-A and one-B, I’d say Rhyne is one-A and NaLyssa is one-B.”

“She’s the top of the top. Gifted, multi-dimensional, can play the one, two, three or four. I can’t remember the last time we had anyone like her in the draft — someone who’s so gifted at some many positions, who can defend, rebound, run, play the point, play the four, so versatile. She has the potential to be a franchise player wherever she goes.”

Sika Kone | 6-3 post | Mali

2021 FIBA World Cup stats (6 games): 19.7 PPG, 14.8 RPG, 55% FG

“She’s more of an international long-term get. She’s a great rebounder, great hands. And she’s still only 19, 20 years old, so she’ll have time to develop. As our game continues to grow, international prospects become more and more appealing. You need to look for an edge anywhere and you so often see that a player who you draft in the late first or second round just isn’t ready to play, so if you can get a player overseas that you can sit on for a year or two, why wouldn’t you use the pick that way rather than just bringing someone in for a couple practices and then waiving them?”


Will UConn’s Olivia Nelso-Ododa be a first-round pick? (C. Morgan Engel / NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Olivia Nelson-Ododa | 6-5 post | UConn

2021-22 stats: 9.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 3.5 APG, 60% FG

“I really like her. Another 6-5 player that still hasn’t developed her overall body strength. I think she’s got some nice skills, and right now she plays that pinch-post area for them. She may be the best passing big in the draft in that she can pass from the high post, from the pinch-post. She has those long arms to rebound. She might have the biggest wingspan in the draft. I think she has a lot of potential if she gets stronger.”

“She’s like Cunane in that she is what she is, and there’s probably not a whole lot more for her. But if you get a serviceable player who can be with your organization for a number of years — that’s a good pick.”

“I like her. She has a lot of upside still. She’s young for her class. She’s still only 21. She needs to get a little stronger, but I think as a utility post player in our league, she could benefit certain teams from a rebounding, shot-blocking and effort perspective.”

Nyara Sabally | 6-5 post | Oregon

2021-22 stats: 15.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 53% FG

“If Shakira Austin has the highest ceiling from the post perspective, Sabally is right behind her. She can score in multiple different ways. She has a physical presence to her from a strength perspective that would match most WNBA players in our league. And she has a lot of international experience in Germany and other international play that positions her to be ready for the contact in the W.”

“I could see a wide range of assessments of where she is, where she could be. We always do that floor-ceiling thing, and she has good genes. Does that automatically qualify her that’s she’s going to be a success? No. But I think she’s a good player. Most of us see a good player, it’s just what do you need your bigs to be? And I think that would determine who would have interest in her and who would not.”

“Sabally is an intriguing prospect in that she is 6-5, big, strong, physical, a true low-block, back-to-the-basket player. Unfortunately, she’s not healthy. Her health, her knee issues — I think that will adversely affect her.”

NaLyssa Smith | 6-4 post/wing | Baylor

2021-22 stats: 22.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 55% FG

“NaLyssa is probably the most pro-ready player in this draft as far as being able to slide into a WNBA game today. She is a pretty well-rounded player on both ends of the floor. Has some room to grow on the perimeter if she chooses to expand her game.”

“(Former Atlanta Dream coach) Nicki Collen being the coach and seeing how she used her, which will be similar to how she likely will be used in the pros — I think that was good for her. I think she got a better glimpse than maybe if Nicki weren’t there. Did she help herself? She was already going to be in the top two, and she’s still in the top two. But I thought she had a good year, and it was fun to see her add to her game, because she’s going to have to be a stretch (four).”

“Versatile player that can play the four and the five. High energy. Has played in a highly competitive program, highly competitive conference. Lot of positives about her. Can’t imagine anyone passing on her if she’s sitting there. (Baylor) played more up-tempo this year — that helped. There are two things that college players have to deal with immediately, it’s the faster pace, the 24-second clock and the physicality of the league. You’re 21 and you’re playing against someone who’s 30, and they’ve been in the weight room nine more years than you. With Nicki, what she helped NaLyssa with is that they played faster, they played more up-tempo, inside and outside.”

Evina Westbrook | 6-0 guard/wing | UConn

2021-22 stats: 9 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.1 APG, 43% FG, 31% 3PT FG

“Westbrook is a utility guard. She can play almost every position, but she doesn’t do anything great. I don’t know that she’ll be picked in the first round.”

“It’s surprising that she’s no longer starting, that she’s coming off the bench. She has become a utility player for them, and I don’t think that has helped her stock.”

Christyn Williams | 5-11 guard | UConn

2021-22 stats: 14.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 45% FG, 34% 3PT FG

“Christyn is a solid two-guard in our league who can spread the floor and can play in the pick-and-roll. She can’t really play the one, and she’s can’t really play the three, so she’s a straight two. But she has played at a high level in high school and a very high level in college. I don’t think there’s anybody who a WNBA talent evaluator can say is the next best after Rhyne.”

“I would’ve liked to have seen her have a better season heading into the NCAA Tournament, but her floor (as a player) is probably a decent player in the league. … But what changes about her? What makes her be more consistent? Do you value that? It really depends on what team she gets drafted. Efficiency — that’s the name of the game and that would be concerning about her. If you have a group that you already count on, and Christyn can be a part of your six, seven, eight off the bench — that’s great. That would be a good player in that spot. That’s what this draft is — good players are going to be six, seven, eight. There are not a lot of players who are going to start for teams.”

“The NCAA Tournament has really helped her stock. I’m seeing her be more aggressive. I’m seeing her provide a real spark for her team. She has the ability to play the three-two and is about a 35 percent 3-point shooter.”

Editor’s note: Follow the NCAAW league or your favorite team to get more stories like this direct to your feed.

(Top photo of Rhye Howard: John Byrum / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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