Among her many accolades, Stanford Cardinal point guard Jeanette Pohlen's Pac-10 Player of the Year award might best describe how much she improved even between her junior and senior years.
Although she wasn't the statistical MVP of her team, her improvement this season was as significant to Stanford's return to the Final Four as anything else - she became a more aggressive scorer, a more decisive passer, and the type of floor leader that some people might have had questions about Stanford possessing at all prior to the season.
However, it's hard to imagine a more disappointing end to what was a standout season for Pohlen: she committed 5 of her game-high 7 turnovers in the first half as Stanford lost a heartbreaker in the Final Four to the Texas A&M Aggies. Yet as disappointing as that end to her season must have been, at least one element of the game might have illuminated a broader pro potential than the casual fan might assume.
"We definitely struggled with their pressure," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "I thought Melanie Murphy was really the key to the game for us. And Nneka, being able to go inside to Nneka. We made Jeanette a shooter. She hit some big shots for us."
For those who have watched Stanford consistently this season, thinking about Pohlen as strictly a shooter might be a surprise as she has garnered so much attention for her improved point guard play. However, the way she plays point guard - decisively making simple and smart decisions - might be what bodes well for her as a WNBA shooting guard. The fact that she has point guard experience with an elite program only makes her a stronger shooting guard prospect. And perhaps that's why she ends up ranking so high among our shooting guard prospects despite being considered a point guard.
The ranking process:
- Similar to the mock draft, four Swish Appeal contributors (DishNSwish, M Robinson, Scott, and myself) ranked and/or sent commentary about the top shooting guard prospects in the draft based upon James Bowman's Boxscores rankings.
- Based on those rankings, each player was assigned a point value rotisserie style (#1 ranking = 9 points, #2 = 8 points, etc).
- I synthesized the individual commentaries on the players to provide a synopsis of each player.
The following statistics were used in my rankings of players, though not necessarily the others:
2-point percentage: There are quite a few talented 3-point shooters in this draft, but 2-point percentage is among the most important things for WNBA success because struggling inside the arc is a proxy for a limited scoring game. A solid 2-point percentage for a guard is in the 46%-48% range. This is what made Connecticut Huskies guard Kalana Greene such a strong prospect last season: her 2-point percentage of about 60% showed the ability to score extremely efficiently for a guard.
- Free throw rate: Similar to a low 2-point percentage, a low free throw rate is a reasonable proxy for a lack of aggression in driving to the basket. Perhaps you can see where this is going for shooting guards (and it especially applies to one in particular): a player with a high 3-point percentage, but a low 2-point percentage and free throw rate is probably a rather stationary spot up shooter in college which doesn't bode well for beating out players in a league with 12 teams of 11 players each.
- Offensive rebounding percentage: This gets at the same thing as the above shooting numbers - offensive rebounding, especially from a guard, requires a certain level of toughness and game awareness that the best prospects at any position seem to have. So an extremely poor offensive rebounder (around 3% and under) at any position - perhaps except for point guards - generally don't fare very well in training camp, much less as impact players.
Usage% and true shooting percentage: One thing that will come into play at this position this year is not only how efficiently you can score (true shooting percentage) but also how well you do so given the percentage of plays you use up for your team (usage percentage). On a perfectly balanced team, each player would use approximately 20% of a team's plays, so from that we can say that below 20% is possibly a less aggressive player where as over 20% is likely a bit more aggressive player (this is in general terms - other contextual factors can affect that as well). The best players use a lot of plays and score efficiently.
But it's not inherently true that a player who uses a lot of plays inefficiently won't be good - just the ability to create a shot is a skill that shows that a player is capable of creating scoring opportunities. So a low usage percentage but high shooting efficiency isn't inherently good - it might mean that the player lacks the creativity and/or skill to create scoring opportunities and dropping under 13% means you're nearly invisible on the floor as a scorer (you'll note that this also applies to one player in particular).
- Sample size: It's also worth noting that in addition to strength of competition, these players all played different numbers of games in different circumstances (e.g. the NCAA tournament). For Melissa Jones in particular, her numbers are those pre-eye injury.
Swish Appeal's Consensus Shooting guard prospect rankings:
1. Kachine Alexander, Iowa Hawkeyes
Perhaps the defining factor with Alexander is the fact that she is by far the most complete shooting guard in this draft, both offensively and defensively. In addition to easily being the best defender of these shooting guard prospects, her athleticism and toughness got her an absolutely outstanding 10.02% offensive rebounding percentage, which is better than some much more highly touted post players in this draft. That, among all the other things she did, is what helped her account for 28.20% of Iowa's overall statistical production, highest among any of these prospects.
However, if there is a concern about her, it's about how well she might score in the WNBA. Although she has the highest free throw rate of any of our shooting guard prospects (58.38%) and an average 2-point percentage (48.97%), she only shot 26% from the 3-point line. Limited range could be a problem, but she also offsets that well with the third highest assist percentage of this group (18.80%), which is impressive considering that the two above her were more heavily relied upon as distributors on their teams.
Alexander played in a system that probably limited all she could do offensively because she usually had to guard people bigger than her. But she probably has the best intangibles of the shooting guards, she's coachable, will play her role, is very intense, a winner and a true competitor. She could have a long career in the WNBA because she will gladly accept her role and give her best effort every play.
2. Jeanette Pohlen, Stanford Cardinal
There are actually a number of point guards in this year's draft who are probably better described as small shooting guards based on their scoring tendencies and low distributing efficiency. But Pohlen might be unique in that she has legitimate shooting guard size at 6'0" and shooting 43.6% from the 3-point line makes her among the best long-range shooters in the draft.
While people might question her ability to handle athletic defenders as a point guard, as a shooting guard, her ball handling and passing ability actually become a huge asset as a secondary playmaker and backup point guard on an 11-player roster. She navigates space extremely well off the ball and is extremely decisive as a passer, if not spectacular.
The question marks for Pohlen are in those statistics of aggression inside the arc: she had 11 offensive rebounds in 36 games, which is low even among point guards and although her free throw rate improved dramatically to 20.95%, it's still not particularly high.
Pohlen's staying power will come down largely to what system she is drafted into, but her experience helping to direct a more dynamic than sometimes assumed offense to the Final Four might help her more as a shooting guard prospect than a point guard prospect.
3. Italee Lucas, North Carolina Tar Heels
There was no agreement among us about Lucas - some of us felt like she's at the top, another felt she's a non-prospect. The obvious reason for that indecision is her 5'8" stature and assist ratio of 12.74%, which is well below college point guard level, much less any threshold for pro success at the point.
What stands out about Lucas among this group is that she's one of the few shooting guard prospects that can actually create her own shot with the highest usage percentage (26.57%) and at 5'8" a 2-point percentage of 51.54% is impressive relative to some other bigger point guards. However, that she has the lowest true shooting percentage of this group (53.23%) and the second-lowest free throw rate (15.39%) could be an indication that she's also settling for a lot of low-percentage perimeter shots
Nevertheless, there might not be a quicker shooting guard prospect in this draft. If her shot selection fits within an uptempo team's offense, she could have some good success in the WNBA.
4. Angie Bjorklund, Tennessee Lady Vols
The lack of agreement on Lucas is exceeded only by that of Bjorklund: we had her everywhere from the best shooting guard of this group to a non-prospect and pretty much nothing in between.
At 6'0", she has WNBA wing size and the skills to be an effective role player as a spot up shooter with a 45.10% 3-point percentage. Yet perhaps the reason for concern about Bjorklund lies with her inefficiency in creating her own shot at the college level: her usage percentage of 17.36% was the third-lowest among this group and both her free throw rate (9.50%) and 2-point percentage (41.00%) are the lowest, which indicate that she was very inefficient when trying to get things done inside the arc and that's not to mention her 3.20% offensive rebounding percentage.
Bjorklund will certainly be drafted based upon her reputation as one of the best prospects in her class coming out of high school. And although her numbers indicate that she might not be an immediate impact player, she has a shot to stick on a roster and make it in the league as a 3-point specialist in the right situation. The question is whether other less heralded prospects might have stronger pro potential.
5. Lauren Prochaska, Bowling Green Falcons
Prochaska leaves Bowling Green dominating the record books and will stand as one of the best players ever out of the MAC. What really stands out about her is how efficient a scorer she is as a player who accounted for 28.20% of BGSU's overall statistical production.
Prochaska has the second-highest true shooting percentage among this group at 60% and second-highest free throw rate of 56.85% - so contrary to the dominant perception, she is by no means the limited spot up shooter that others in this group might be. She's deceptively quick and extremely adept at reading defenses to find scoring opportunities, whether that be from the free throw line, mid-range, or 3-point range (38.33%). Nevertheless, an area of concern might be her 42.05% 2-point percentage - her shooting efficiency is oddly all three point shots and free throws, but not so much the things in between.
Like the others, in the right situation for a team looking for a shooter, Prochaska could be the pleasant surprise of this group.
6. Janelle Bekkering, Gonzaga Bulldogs
Bekkering is an intriguing prospect in that it seems that she could have more room for growth in the right situation and as she also gets more international experience with the Canadian National Team.
She might be among the better defenders of this group and among the more athletic, which bode well for her possibly making a training camp roster and impressing a coach. Perhaps most surprising is her 2-point percentage of 60.13%, second-highest among this group, which helped her to the third-highest true shooting percentage in this group at 59.88%.
The areas of concern for Bekkering might be her aggression: her usage percentage (16.96%) is second-lowest among this group and her free throw rate (16.31%) third-lowest. So that either means she's best-suited for a role player spot on a roster or perhaps at risk of scoring less efficiently against stiffer competition.
7. Melissa Jones, Baylor Lady Bears
The obvious knock on Jones is that she's not great at any one thing. However, the numbers suggest otherwise: she has the highest true shooting percentage (66%), assist ratio (31.59%), 2-point percentage (60.86%) and second-highest free throw rate (44.75%) and offensive rebounding percentage (8.90%) of this group. Rather than saying she doesn't show up statistically or that she's not great at any one thing, it might be more accurate to say that she does so much so efficiently and so effortless that people simply don't notice her impact - Jones is almost unquestionably the consummate "glue player".
The one glaring weakness in her numbers is her 13.07% usage percentage, which is probably why people don't notice her - that number puts her in the range of being nearly invisible at times. But in the right situation, a player with that skill set could become one of those coach's favorites in training camp if she gets a shot.
8. Brittany Johnson, Ohio State Buckeyes
Johnson has a nice blend of athleticism and size that make her an interesting prospect. She's a great three point shooter, shot nearly 50% as a junior and shot 44% as a senior. Due to the role she had to play behind Jantel Lavender and Samantha Prahalis, she was limited in what she could show at Ohio State. But the potential to be great was there and she might have been a go-to player on another team. She hit clutch threes but also showed an ability to get to the basket as well, which bodes well. But in order to make it as a pro, she has to get with the right team that's willing to truly give her a chance to not necessarily be the number one option but definitely a second or third.
Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):
Jori Davis, Indiana Hoosiers
Great scorer, knows how to put the basketball in the hole. Knows how to use her body well to create space for shots, very good body control. Can shoot it from the outside and can get to the rim. Stats are misleading because of the weight of carrying her team. Very savvy and nice pull-up shot. Averaged 19.5 pts, her field goal percentage and three point shooting needs improvement but definitely has skill. 39% from the field, 80% from the line, 29% from three.
Helena Sverrisdotir, TCU Horned Frogs
Probably very underrated because of the school she plays for and lack of coverage, but earned MWC player of the year as a junior. She doesn't have the best foot speed but very savvy with a good handle, good vision, and could possibly be a backup point guard because of her high basketball IQ and versatility at 6'1". She shot 45% from the field, shot 78% from the line and shot 38% from the three and can also can post up.
Kayla Tetschlag, Green Bay Phoenix
An interesting prospect because there she is at the top of this group in nearly every statistical category except 3-point percentage.