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2022 WNBA Draft Profiles: Could Elissa Cunane, be a sleeper pick for the Mystics at No. 1?

It would be a complete shock if the Washington Mystics drafted the center out of North Carolina State with the first overall pick in the draft, but we know you can’t put nothing past Head Coach Mike Thibault in his decision-making.

Louisville v NC State Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

There are endless possibilities...endless scenarios...endless outcomes. In other words, anything can happen when you have the first overall pick in the WNBA Draft. Better yet, anything is possible and can happen when General Manager and Head Coach of the Washington Mystics, Mike Thibault, has the first overall pick this year.

Take for example the 2017 WNBA Draft. Based on the previous season, the Mystics obtained the second overall pick and traded it along with Kahleah Copper and Stefanie Dolson to the Chicago Sky for Elena Delle Donne. The trade proved successful as both teams managed to become champions a few years down the line (Mystics in 2019 and Sky in 2021).

Granted this time around it’s looking like Washington will either go with Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard or Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith. And that probably won’t change either way.

That said, he could surprise fans and media as well, so we should look for “sleepers.” So what if the Mystics pick North Carolina State center Elissa Cunane? She has been a consensus first round pick in mock drafts with some putting her in the Top 5 but others barely in the first round altogether.

Now before you heavy sigh and write off this post, just hear me out (or more accurately, read me out). Cunane may not compare in stats to Howard, Smith and some other prospects like Iowa’s Ashley Joens. But she can still bring a presence to the Mystics family with her fearless approach.

For the Wolfpack, Cunane has averaged 13.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists. She leads her team in points per game, field goal percentage (52.7), rebounds and blocks. That helped lead NC State to become the ACC Tournament champions and a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. She was named the 2022 ACC Tournament MVP and earned her third recognition in a row as an AP All-American making the Second Team. Cunane, standing at 6-foot-5, also is the only center in the nation averaging 50-plus percent in field goals, 40-plus percent in three-pointers and 80-plus percent in free throws.

Now every player has their flaws and disadvantages. Despite Cunane’s height being an advantage, her lack of physicality could cause alarm to many teams especially Washington. She doesn’t exactly have the build to dominate the paint and could easily be discombobulated by other players who are paint protectors. If the Mystics draft Cunane, she’d have to compete with Megan Gustafson, Elizabeth Williams and even Myisha Hines-Allen for minutes. The physical aspect can be tended to as Washington shines in player development, but it still would take some time to develop more strength and dominance. For example, 2013 second round pick Emma Meesseman needed time to develop a more physical and assertive game.

As a center, Cunane does excel in three-point range which can be useful as she shot 44.8 percent and the Mystics as a team shot 32.8 percent from beyond the arc in 2021. Another three-point threat wouldn’t hurt, but how would her percentage do if she made more attempts? After all, she made 13-of-29 threes so the potential is there. But she is also not averaging one three point shot per game.

Taking a chance and being different seems to be Coach Thibault’s motive. In 2018, Washington drafted Ariel Atkins with the seventh overall pick over notable draftees such as Monique Billings, Victoria Vivians, Lexie Brown, and Kia Nurse. While that move was questioned by fans and media at the time, Thibault noted that she was among the top players based on several metrics he was looking at. Atkins’ performance since her selection speaks for itself.

It’s tough to make a solid decision with so much input and the choice of the first overall pick can even alter how other teams choose to move forward. Again, all public signs indicate that the Mystics will pick Smith or Howard. But if Cunane is selected instead and has a strong career in Washington, expect her potential as a stretch post as one of the main reasons why.