WNBA

2024 WNBA Draft Big Board: The best prospects to watch in the NCAA tournament

2024 WNBA Draft Big Board: The best prospects to watch in the NCAA tournament

The 2024 NCAA women’s March Madness tournament kicks off Wednesday, and what will begin to unfold is the largest stage for women’s basketball players to showcase their talents. Many of the best players in the country will be duking it out not only to make it to the Final Four in Cleveland, but to make their best impressions while the nation, and pro talent evaluators, are watching.

March isn’t only a busy month for the athletes, but also for WNBA front offices. These are the moments when coaches and general managers decide who is most ready for the league and who might not be.

At Yahoo Sports, we’ve prepared a guide after speaking to seven pro talent evaluators to help navigate which college players are the best WNBA prospects to watch out for in this year’s tournament. While there’s an assumption that the best WNBA prospects are just the best college players, that’s not always the case. In this 2024 WNBA Draft Big Board, I will rank the 10 best prospects in order of their WNBA readiness, potential and ceiling as contributors in the greatest professional women’s basketball league in the world.

The players featured on this draft board will only include those who have formally declared their intent to enter the WNBA Draft in April and those who haven’t yet indicated a return to college. While UConn’s Paige Bueckers and South Carolina’s Te-Hina Paopao are WNBA prospects right now, they have indicated they will be returning to school next year. Bueckers, Paopao and others, such as Indiana’s Sydney Parish and Iowa State’s Emily Ryan, won’t be included in this ranking.

This board also will not include Virginia Tech center Elizabeth Kitley, who sustained a knee injury on March 3, a week before the ACC tournament. Kitley sat out of the conference tournament and, following Virginia Tech’s seeding in the NCAA tournament, head coach Kenny Brooks has remained cagey on if Kitley will play during March Madness.

Multiple WNBA talent evaluators told Yahoo Sports that before Kitley’s injury, she might have been drafted in the first round. Now, especially with details of the injury so lock and key, that probability goes way down. Regardless if Kitley plays, her prospects in the WNBA will be covered more closely in a new mock draft, which will be released days following the national championship game.

There are critical differences between this draft board and the December mock draft following the reveal of the WNBA Draft Lottery order. The purpose of this exercise is to focus more on the prospects, detail what makes them pro-ready, explain common concerns about the state of their game and approximate their draft position. This doesn’t incorporate any intelligence that Yahoo Sports has collected from talent evaluators about team needs and which prospects certain teams like more than others. While these players will be ranked based on their skills, the rankings aren’t to be matched up with the 2024 WNBA Draft order. That will all come within the second mock following the tournament’s conclusion.

Lastly, this board won’t include the four international prospects who are expected to be drafted in April. They won’t be playing in the NCAA tournament. Now, let’s begin.

(Gregory Hodge/Yahoo Sports Illustration)

1. Caitlin Clark | Iowa, guard, senior

Pro-ready skills: The general consensus is that Clark’s high-flying offensive skills will translate to the WNBA. One talent evaluator put it plainly: “Shooters can shoot no matter who’s on the court.” Her ability to hit long-range shots combined with the ability to create even more space for herself off the dribble will bode well in the pros. Also, with presumably much more talent around her in the WNBA, her passing ability will be amplified. While Clark might not score 36 points a game in the W, it might be more realistic to imagine her averaging around a double-double.

Questions the prospect raises: Teams are going to scheme heavily to make Clark work on both ends. How often has Clark been hedged on or trapped at the college level? Defensive scheming is much more complex in the WNBA. Speaking of the defensive end, in college Clark has often been put on some of the weaker guards in the country. While her WNBA team will try to mask her as best as it can, offenses are going to hound her and create switches to take advantage of her defensive novice.

Projected draft position: No. 1 overall pick

2. Cameron Brink | Stanford, forward, senior

Pro-ready skills: There aren’t many 6-foot-4 bigs who can cover as much ground as Brink can. On the defensive end she’s become an impressive rim protector, shot blocker and shot alterer. She also rebounds well outside her area. Offensively, Brink’s game contains the ability to post up on the block, face up and drive, pass out of the post, shoot turnaround midrange jumpers over defenders and shoot 3s. Brink’s wide skills give her the tools she needs to one day become a player in the same conversation as Breanna Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Alyssa Thomas, some of the best players in the world.

Questions the prospect raises: There are still questions about whether or not Brink’s tendency to foul will carry over to the professional level. While her fouling has gone down and her minutes per game have gone up during her senior year, there’s still concern about what that could mean for gameplanning. There are other talent evaluators who view her foul trouble as less of an issue at the WNBA level. There’s belief that the ticky-tack fouls called on Brink in college won’t be called in the pros. Another question: Will Brink's slender, lanky frame take the physicality of the WNBA?

Projected draft position: No. 2 overall pick

Talent evaluators believe UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards, right, will make an impact in the WNBA right away. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

3. Aaliyah Edwards | UConn, forward, senior

Pro-ready skills: Edwards has been praised by multiple talent evaluators as a player who will make an impact in the WNBA right away and who is super consistent and efficient. “She knows what she does well and continues to do it over and over again,” one talent evaluator said. Edwards has a reputation for playing hard and playing smart. She has improved her game throughout her collegiate career. In addition to her post moves, she can shoot a midrange jumper and take defenders off the bounce and slash to the rim.

Questions the prospect raises: While WNBA talent evaluators are pleased with how Edwards has developed over her collegiate career, her next step in her growth is adding a 3-point shot to her game. As of now she can shoot an open 15-17 footer, but her ceiling increases if she can add more tricks on the perimeter. There are questions about whether or not Edwards can also play the 5 in addition to the 4 at the WNBA level. While some teams might try it, she’ll struggle defending more true centers who tower over her 6-3 frame.

Projected draft position: Draft lottery to middle of the first round

4. Jacy Sheldon | Ohio State, guard, graduate student

Pro-ready skills: Sheldon can play multiple positions in the backcourt, switching either on or off the ball. Her game plays to the percentages of the modern WNBA. She can get to the rim quickly and shoot from the perimeter. This season she’s shooting 57.8 percent on 2-pointers and 38.7 percent on 3s. Sheldon has been described by one talented evaluator as a “bouncy athlete” and someone who will get to the corners of the floor in transition “as well as any 2-guard” currently in the WNBA. Sheldon has garnered wide respect for her purposeful work ethic, never-stop mentality and willingness to put her team over herself.

Questions the prospect raises: While Sheldon has astute defensive instincts and has bought in heavily to the full-court press that Ohio State runs, there are questions about how well she’ll be able to hang defensively due to her slimmer build. While she has good size for a guard at 5-11, her body type isn’t as muscular, and there’s worry that she’ll struggle early on with the high physicality the WNBA presents.

Projected draft position: Middle to late first round

South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso is ready to compete against the game’s best centers. (Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

5. Kamilla Cardoso | South Carolina, center, senior

Pro-ready skills: In this draft class, Cardoso is the most pro-ready true center. Her rim and paint protection skills will translate to the WNBA quite quickly, and she has the potential to emerge as a solid defender early in her career. What makes her unique at 6-7 is how quickly and consistently she runs the floor back and forth. Pro talent evaluators believe she has the strength and physicality to compete against the bigger centers in the WNBA like Brittney Griner, Aliyah Boston and Teaira McCowan.

Questions the prospect raises: While Cardoso’s strengths are on the defensive end, there are some questions about how she adapts to a game played more out of a pick-and-roll. While her former South Carolina teammate Aliyah Boston adapted well to that change, it remains to be seen if the same stands for Cardoso and how she reacts when teams scheme to take her out of protecting the rim. On offense, she also struggles with consistency as she lacks a full array of post moves. “If you need a low block presence, she’s not it,” one talent evaluator told Yahoo Sports. “It sounds counterintuitive [because of her size], but she’s not it.”

Projected draft position: Draft-lottery hopeful to middle of the first round

6. Rickea Jackson | Tennessee, forward, fifth year

Pro-ready skills: At 6-2, Jackson can score from most places on the court, including from 3. She has guard-like shot-creation skills in that she can put the ball on the floor, she can raise up over defenders to score, and she posts up. One pro talent evaluator called her a “new-age 4,” while there’s consensus that Jackson has potential to play both the 4 and the 3. Her combination of athleticism, strength, skills and size all amount to pro potential.

Questions the prospect raises: While one talent evaluator noted that her guard skills — her handle and 3-point shooting — need to improve and get more consistent, multiple scouts pointed toward her defensive game as where she’ll need to grow the most. Guarding 4s will come more naturally to her because of her length, and she’ll struggle trying to contain the quickness of the WNBA’s slashing small forwards. Another concern that another talent evaluator raised is her motor. Any tendency to take off possessions won’t bode well at the next level.

Projected draft position: Draft-lottery hopeful to middle of the first round

7. Georgia Amoore | Virginia Tech, guard, senior

Pro-ready skills: Amoore has been described as a “prototypical” point guard and floor leader. One pro talent evaluator compared her to two-time WNBA Most Improved Player Leilani Mitchell, calling Amoore a “better version” of Mitchell. Not only can Amoore shoot, but she can create separation with her step-back. Her 3-point shot is especially lethal when she goes to her left. In head coach Kenny Brooks' more pro-like system, Amoore has developed into an exceptional operator in the pick-and-roll, creating for herself and her teammates.

Questions the prospect raises: On the defensive end is where Amoore draws the most concern. How, at 5-6, will she defend some of the taller and more muscular guards? Smaller guards have a place in the WNBA, but in order to get there, they bulk up and get quicker. That’s what leads to staying power.

Projected draft position: Middle to late first round

One talent evaluator called Angel Reese “the most competitive player” in the 2024 draft class. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

8. Angel Reese | LSU, forward, junior

Pro-ready skills: There is a broad consensus that Reese is an elite rebounder whose understanding of how to defend and defend hard will translate to the WNBA. She has been praised for her “dog mentality” and hyper-competitive nature. One talent evaluator called her “the most competitive player” in the 2024 draft class. And another reminded me that she has experience handling and bringing up the ball, guard skills that aren’t quite conducive under Kim Mulkey’s system at LSU.

Questions the prospect raises: Reese lacks offensive versatility and an outside game. It has frustrated some that she hasn’t developed a 12-15 foot shot. Defenses will play Reese honestly in the WNBA and that could lead to spacing issues for the team that drafts her. One talent evaluator visualized what that could look like: “If she's not guarded at the elbow, or she's not guarded when she's out of the paint, now you jammed up your paint there and players can’t drive and kick.”

Projected draft position: Most likely at the end of the first round, but don’t be surprised if she's chosen as a lottery pick. But also do be surprised if she’s chosen in the middle of the first round.

9. Charisma Osborne | UCLA, guard, graduate student

Pro-ready skills: While Osborne is 5-8, she defends larger than her size and is often tasked with guarding the opposition's best perimeter threat. One WNBA talent evaluator observed that Osborne can defend both on and off the ball with her muscular frame and athleticism. “She isn’t someone who will get bullied,” the evaluator said. Pro scouts also praised Osborne’s willingness to rebound as a guard of her size.

Questions the prospect raises: While Osborne is versatile, she struggles with mastery. She has proven that she can shoot, but the 3-ball isn’t reliable. She has a midrange game, but will Osborne make those same shots against a pro defense? There isn’t a consensus about if she’s a combo guard or just an off-ball guard. One talent evaluator noted that efficiency is what Osborne will have to work on to become a reliable WNBA player.

Projected draft position: Late first round to early second round

10. Alissa Pili | Utah, forward, senior

Pro-ready skills: There is no doubt that Pili can score at a high level, and she does it as a big at all three levels. This season for Utah, Pili is scoring 20.9 points per game while shooting 60.4 percent on 2-point field goals and 37.7 percent on 3s. In December when Utah played South Carolina, Pili proved she has the strength to bulldoze through players who are much taller and longer than her to get to her spots. She scored 37 points while shooting an efficient 65 percent from the field against the best defense in the country.

Questions the prospect raises: One talent evaluator explained that, in the WNBA, players are who they guard, and with Pili the issue is that many scouts don’t know who she defends at the pro level. While she’s listed at 6-2, Pili has admitted that she actually measures out at 5-11 “on a good day.” Pro talent evaluators don’t believe she is long enough to guard WNBA power forwards or if she’s quick and athletic enough to guard slashing pro small forwards. If Pili is going to stick in the WNBA, she’ll have to develop her game and add versatility to it.

Projected draft position: Late first round to the middle of the second round

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