These Four 2022 WNBA Draftees Could Be Major Contributors For Team USA In Years To Come
by James Kay
Just like the WNBA, there are only so many spots for players to partake in the World Cup and Olympic Games on behalf of their country. Here are four WNBA rookies who could contribute for USA Basketball for years to come.
Rhyne Howard plays for the Kentucky Wildcats against the South Carolina Gamecocks on Feb. 10, 2022 in Lexington, Ky.
Howard might have the highest ceiling of any player in this year’s draft class. The 6-foot-2 Kentucky guard is a three-level scorer who ranked in the 99th percentile as a spot up shooter last season for the Wildcats, according to Synergy Sports Tech. Howard’s elite skillset translates to international play where she can be used as an oversized guard or as a three or four.
Howard has also improved as a defender and showed at times last season she can use her athleticism to bring help to protect the rim. Her versatility on both ends is going to get her minutes if she participates in the 2024 Olympics. She won a gold medal in the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup and was named to the 2021 USA Women's AmeriCup Team. There’s a reason she went No. 1 overall in this year’s WNBA draft. Howard is a name to watch.
NaLyssa Smith grabs a rebound in the fourth quarter against the Maryland Terrapins on Nov. 21, 2021 in College Park, Md.
If Smith went as the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, no one would have blinked twice. She arguably was the best rebounder in the country this past season for Baylor and averaged 22.1 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Smith is an elite rim-runner and, at 6-foot-3, is athletic enough to face up against slower defenders and attack them off the dribble.
Smith was going to play in the 2019 USA U19 World Cup Team but had to withdraw due to injury concerns. She did, however, play with Howard to help Team USA win a gold medal in Mexico City at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in 2018. Smith continues to expand her game and isn’t a finished product. Her range continues to grow and by the 2024 Olympics might be one of the primary scoring options on what will be a loaded roster.
At the beginning of this past NCAA season, Smith and Howard were considered to be in a two-person tier at the top of the draft class. However, Austin’s progression at Ole Miss after transferring over from Maryland pushed her into the same tier as those two. Austin also isn’t finished developing her game, but her 6-foot-5 build makes her WNBA ready.
Austin, who averaged 15.2 PPG and 9.0 RPG, also has underrated vision passing out of the post. She can make passes from the block to the weak side with ease and has nice touch around the rim. Austin didn’t get to participate in the 2019 World Cup because she was sick, but has a chance to be a difference maker for Team USA. Her length and ability to take over games as a defensive anchor in the post will get her meaningful minutes in the Olympics if she makes the team.
Emily Engstler celebrates after the 62-50 win over the Michigan Wolverines during the 2022 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament on March 28, 2022 in Wichita, Kan.
Engstler’s statistics don’t tell the full story of who she is as a basketball player. After averaging 9.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG and 2.1 assists per game at Louisville last year, Engstler proved she could be a connector for any team that drafted her. She slowly crept up draft boards with her disruptive play on the defensive end of the floor. Engstler averaged 2.7 steals and 1.8 blocks per game last year. According to Her Hoops Stats’ database, she was one of only two players last year to average at least 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game.
Engstler is going to have a lot of competition at forward when she competes for a spot on the Olympic roster. However, there are very few players who have her defensive prowess and she has experience having been a member of the USA 3x3 U23 Nations League Team. Team USA would be getting one of the most competitive players out there if they select Engstler.