The Indiana Fever need a good break, and Friday's WNBA draft lottery (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2) could provide it. The Fever have the highest odds of getting the No. 1 pick, which the organization has never had.
Tamika Catchings, the No. 3 pick in 2001, is the best player in Fever history and one of the all-time greats in women's basketball. But Indiana hasn't made the playoffs since Catchings retired following the 2016 season.
The Fever have had draft success in that stretch with Kelsey Mitchell (No. 2 in 2018), Victoria Vivians (No. 8 in 2018), NaLyssa Smith (No. 2 in 2022) and Queen Egbo (No. 10 in 2022). But it hasn't translated into the team being playoff-level competitive. This year, the Fever had an early-season coaching change and -- with a team heavily dependent on rookies -- finished 5-31.
There have been a few years -- 2021 comes to mind -- when the No. 1 pick hasn't panned out. But most of the time, a player in that slot brings significant value. Sometimes, she alters the course of a franchise. That could be the case for 2023.
With seniors still having the option of coming back for a fifth season because of the pandemic-affected 2020-21 academic year, there is no guarantee that all of them will make themselves eligible for April's 2023 draft. With the information we have now, here is an early projection of the first round, with the first four picks in order of their lottery odds. We'll update the mock draft after Friday's lottery.
South Carolina Gamecocks | forward | 6-foot-5 | senior
She is the draft's sure thing, provided she doesn't pull a surprise and opt to stay a fifth season in college. That isn't expected at this point. Boston was the national player of the year last season and favored to repeat, as are the Gamecocks as national champions. She is the most pro-ready college player, with elite finishing skills, footwork and defensive ability and savvy.
Stanford Cardinal | guard| 6-foot-1 | senior
After taking big guard Rhyne Howard with the No. 1 pick last season, the Dream might see a post player as a better fit. But there might not be a one who really pushes Jones out of this spot. The Most Outstanding Player in the 2021 NCAA tournament, Jones could be an elite playmaker at the next level, along with becoming a more dynamic scorer than she has been at Stanford.
UCLA Bruins | guard | 5-foot-9 | senior
Osborne was somewhat out of the spotlight with the Bruins missing the NCAA tournament last season, although they advanced to the WNIT semifinals. A solid offensive player, Osborne led the Bruins at 16.4 PPG last season. But she's even better on defense, and the Mystics led the league in defensive rating last season.
Maryland Terps | guard | 6-foot-3 | senior
The Lynx missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010, and they have to get used to life without retired center Sylvia Fowles. Miller left the Terps' opener with an injury Monday, and she had injury issues last season, too. But provided Miller has a healthy overall season, she could be a strong offensive player, especially in transition for Minnesota, with room to grow on defense.
Tennessee Lady Vols | guard | 6-foot-2 | senior
An elbow injury cut short Horston's very good junior season. Despite the Lady Vols' loss at Ohio State in their opener Tuesday, expectations are high for Tennessee and Horston. She has great size and defensive instincts on the wing, which could make her valuable to the Sky. While turnovers and shot selection have been issues, Horston averaged 16.2 points last season, along with 9.4 rebounds.
Tennessee Lady Vols | forward | 6-foot-2 | senior
Jackson is in her first season at Tennessee and likely will have a lot to do with how far the Lady Vols go. She was the SEC's leading scorer when she left Mississippi State last January after two coaching changes. In her time with the Bulldogs, she averaged 16.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals. If she can have similar numbers this season, it will be good for the Lady Vols and her draft stock.
Aijha Blackwell drills triple in Baylor's win
7. Indiana Fever: Aijha Blackwell
Baylor Bears | forward/guard | 5-foot-11 | senior
Blackwell is an outstanding rebounder, averaging 13.0 last season and 10.2 in her three years at Missouri. She is quick, strong and has good instincts both offensively and defensively. Can she adjust to playing more on the perimeter, as she will need to in the pro game? Having former WNBA coach Nicki Collen guiding her this season at Baylor should be good preparation.
8. Atlanta Dream: Elizabeth Kitley
Virginia Tech Hokies | center | 6-foot-6 | senior
There is no guarantee that true centers can make the transition from college to today's WNBA. But Kitley, ACC player of the year last season, has things in her favor. Last season, she averaged 18.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks; she had four or more blocks on nine occasions. Kitley has to get stronger and maybe a bit feistier to be a legitimate low-block threat and rim protector in the WNBA, but she has steadily improved in her time with the Hokies.
Ohio State Buckeyes | guard | 5-foot-10 | senior
Any guard in the same conference as Iowa's Caitlin Clark is likely to be overshadowed. But keep an eye on Sheldon: She has a fun fearlessness in her drives to the basket and her opportunistic defense. Doing these things get a lot harder in the WNBA. But last season, she averaged 19.7 PPG while shooting 50.4% from the field and recorded almost two steals per game.
Iowa State Cyclones | forward/guard | 6-foot-1 | senior
The fifth-year senior has won the Cheryl Miller Award the past two season and takes pride in being a hardworking player who will do anything to help her team. Iowa State has not had many alums succeed in the WNBA (defense is often an issue), although Joens' former teammate, Bridget Carleton (Lynx), has found a spot. Joens played a lot of 3-on-3 over this summer, and what she learned there could help her transition to the pro game.
Oklahoma Sooners | forward | 6-foot-0 | senior
The fifth-year senior flourished last season in the offensive system of new coach Jennie Baranczyk, averaging 18.0 points. In fact, Williams has been strong on offense her whole Sooners career and she has an excellent motor. Defense is neither her nor Oklahoma's strength, but she is a dependable rebounder (7.5 RPG last season).
12. Minnesota Lynx: Celeste Taylor
Duke Blue Devils | guard | 5-foot-11 | senior
After spending her first two seasons at Texas, Taylor transferred and averaged 11.0 points and 5.5 rebounds for the Blue Devils. Learning defense under Longhorns coach Vic Schaefer helped her, and it's something she brought to Duke. Taylor has plenty of areas she can improve on as a senior -- reducing turnovers is one -- and if she does, she could get into the first round.