NEW YORK (Reuters) – All eyes are on Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard and Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith with a deep pool of talent set for Monday’s Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) draft.
The beleaguered Atlanta Dream, fresh off their third consecutive losing season with a record of 8-24, acquired the top pick from the Washington Mystics this week, with Howard and Smith expected to go in the first two picks after their respective March Madness campaigns were cut short.
The 6-foot, 2-inch Howard finished last season with an average of 20.5 points per game, producing 102 assists and 39 blocks.
“She’s a game changer,” ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson told reporters this week, picking her to go first overall.
“When you look at all the different things she can do on the basketball court, she can score it from three, she has a pull-up game, she can get to the rim. There really just isn’t anything else from a scoring standpoint that you could ask for.”
She could be an appealing option for the Dream, which is looking to rebuild its roster after the departure of top scorer Courtney Williams, who returned to the Connecticut Sun after putting up a career-best 16.5 points per game.
“Obviously, (Howard is) a good-sized wing player who can score in multiple ways and also has the ability to defend when she wants to,” Dream General manager Dan Padover told reporters.
“The ceiling for her is very high, and I think a lot of people would agree with that.”
The Indiana Fever, who as of Saturday held the second, fourth, sixth and 10th overall picks, are in an even more dire position after putting up just six wins and 26 losses last year, the worst record in the league.
“We need a lot. We need help inside. We need help outside. It’s a little bit easier for us to pinpoint our needs because they’re glaring,” said Fever General Manager Lin Dunn.
In Smith, teams will find a “pro ready” talent, retired All-Star and Hall of Famer Rebecca Lobo told reporters.
Smith finished her most recent Baylor season averaging 22.1 points per game with 11.5 rebounds.
“Rebounding translates. Getting out in transition and running and playing hard and having a relentless motor, those are all things that are going to translate,” said Lobo, who is also an ESPN analyst.
The WNBA draft is set for Monday, April 11.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Hugh Lawson)