In the first edition of John Hollinger's NBA draft evaluator he made a list of key factors, red flags, and one anti-red flag that might actually apply quite well to a few of the top 2012 WNBA Draft prospects.
One positive, surprisingly, was if a player had a previous season that was better than the one just before the draft.
One thing that stands out in looking over the players we identified as the Top 10 2012 WNBA Draft prospects statistically based on their junior year statistics is that a number of them have had put up significantly inferior senior season statistics.
Applying Hollinger's finding about previous seasons for NBA prospects to the WNBA has to be stated with an important caveat: whereas college prospects for the WNBA are often 4-year seniors, college prospects for the NBA could be anywhere from freshmen to super seniors, with some analysts having even debating whether a player whose stock wasn't high enough to leave before their senior year is even that good to begin with.
But before getting back to that Top 10 list, it might help to look at a few reasons why these dips happened among some of the other prospects on our radar. Similar to the short list of point guard prospects posted the other day, these aren't so much "the next four players" after the top ten but a list of players who we've had the good fortune to watch in person or followed closely throughout their careers. More importantly, they all had very strong junior years that would have made them top prospects had they improved in this season.
So the question for each player, as an examination of this notion that junior year declines might not be bad indicators: Why did these players experience a decline in their senior years?
White is someone that really stood out nationally in the latter half of last season for the Aggies, even as WNBA draft picks Danielle Adams and Sydney Colson were making names for themselves as seniors. But the ability to hit big shots in big games while also helping to lock down opposing guards made White a clear prospect for this year's draft heading into the season, even if the presence of Adams and Colson made her statistically less significant to her team's success.
One of the things that made White particularly promising last season was her scoring efficiency: her true shooting percentage of 54.6% and 3-point percentage of 40% were simply outstanding. However, her production fell off considerably this season, although her scoring average remained relatively stable: her true shooting percentage fell almost exactly 10% and her 3-point fell nearly 15%. Fortunately for White's draft prospects, there's an easy explanation for this by putting her numbers in the context of the team dynamic.
Last season, Adams led the team with a team-high 33.52% usage rate, a 60.3% true shooting percentage, and a 33% free throw rate, which is almost a statistical way of saying she was an unstoppable force offensively. Meanwhile, Colson was the most efficient ball handler in the Big 12 and standout defender, creating turnovers that led to transition scoring opportunities for the Aggies. Even if you don't look at Colson as a scorer, White was able to play off her more senior teammates with a usage rate of 21.82%.
This season, that's no longer the case. White has been the focal point of the Aggies offense at many times and although Kelsey Bone has played well, she and White have about the same usage rates (team-high 25.69% and 24.51%). When usage rates go up - meaning the player is taking advantage more opportunities and thus risking more unsuccessful outcomes - scoring efficiency tends to go down, even for outstanding players.
Perhaps you see where this is going: White's decline can be almost entirely explained by the changes in the team's offensive dynamics. While her senior year numbers aren't that impressive, she showed what she can do in her junior when she's surrounded by other players to share the load. That could mean two significantly different things: it might suggest that she'd be an extremely efficient role player; on the other hand, some could say that if she can't play efficient basketball as the focal point at the college level, she won't be able to perform at the pro level where everyone is bigger, faster, and stronger. I tend to lean toward the former - White might not be a star in the WNBA, but she could probably become a solid complementary contributor on a WNBA roster based on how well she played her junior year.
I've actually been following Carter from afar statistically after watching her drop 49 points on Sacramento State as a sophomore back in 2009 at a tournament in Seattle.
Not only was it one of the most impressive scoring performances I've ever seen, but she was pulling off moves that you don't see often - albeit increasingly so - in the women's game: turnaround fadeaway jumpers, pull up jumpers, driving and double-pump fading through contact. Having not consistently watched much women's college basketball to that point, I figured she was as strong a future WNBA prospect as anyone and that if she could refine her game a bit, she'd be fine.
However, Carter ultimately put up similarly inefficient senior year numbers that White posted.
2011-12 scoring efficiency statistics for Brittany Carter & Tyra White.
Similar to White, Carter is relied upon heavily for scoring by her team and isn't much more efficient. So should Carter be getting more attention as a prospect?
White's outstanding junior year performance has been documented above. Unfortunately, Carter's output has been on the decline since averaging 19 points per game on 41.8% shooting in 2009-10, in part because she's gotten to the free throw line a lot less often (in her sophomore year at Memphis, her free throw rate was 38.9%). It's conceivable that her athleticism could make her a productive contributor in the right situation where she's not shooting so much, but the odds seem stacked against a player who progressively declined over three seasons.
Standish is another player who, like White, put up better numbers in her junior year than she did in her senior year. And like White, the reason could be explained by the loss of a dominant teammate who ended up being selected to the 2011 WNBA All-Rookie team. Of course, losing a point guard of Vandersloot's caliber will hurt any team and it undeniably hurt the Bulldogs this season as it took a win on the final day of the regular season to seal a title for the 2012 WCC regular season, which included two losses for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Standish's usage rate actually remained almost exactly same this season (25.74%) as it was last season (25.56%). But her true shooting percentage still dropped about 7% to 53% this season, including a 3-point percentage that dropped to 9.1%. Standish still has outstanding ball skills, but as more of a finesse player that decline in shooting percentages could make her a less attractive prospect for WNBA teams.
Having had a chance to watch Gonzaga in person this season, it's not that Standish has forgotten how to play basketball as much as her needing to do a lot more of the work to set up her own scoring opportunities; while playing with Vandersloot, there were times that she set people up so well that they couldn't help but score if they were ready for the ball. Gonzaga's offense as a whole is just considerably less fluid this season and Standish is now - similar to White - finding herself as the focal point of that offense.
That really makes Standish's WNBA potential harder to gauge, but it does suggest that the inefficiency during her senior year might just be the result of getting different types of shots in an offense that has struggled to establish a consistent rhythm without a future WNBA starter running the offense.
Today, Raterman became the first Flyers player ever to earn All-A10 honors in consecutive years, which neatly sums up a career full of program accolades. Although Raterman didn't win A10 Player of the Year, Kyle Soppe of A10 website Pickin Splinters recently wrote that, "There may not be a more feared player in the Atlantic 10, and with Raterman playing at such a high level, they can beat anybody in the country."
M Robinson has had the good fortune to see Raterman a few times over her junior and season seasons and provided the following insight:
Raterman has incredibly high basketball IQ, sees the play before it happens, very consistent. Her game is very reminiscent of Kayla Pedersen. At 6’1", she has great versatility, can play inside and out, makes up for lack of athleticism by reading defenses well, but one of her best attributes isn’t anything physical, it’s her intangibles. She has that "it" factor that elevates the play of everyone on her team; she has a very high rub off effect. Her performance in the A-10 championship spoke volumes of who Justine Raterman is as she led the team with 19 points and 6 rebounds. But what was most impressive was that she played the entire game on a torn ACL.
However, like Standish and White, Raterman's another person on our radar whose statistics took a dip in her senior season.
To be honest though, Raterman's numbers fell from extraordinary to just very good - any player that could maintain her 65.9% true shooting percentage from last year should be considered a top 15 prospect. Raterman's shooting efficiency dipped though, with her 3-point percentage in particular falling to 33.9%.
Her usage rate increased, albeit only 2% over her junior season, which could explain part of the decline. But otherwise, it just looks like Raterman had an off-shooting year. It's hard to say if that means more for her than other players - especially because she's still a solid shooter - but on the surface of it, Raterman is a player whose strongest asset as a WNBA prospect was in fact her shooting meaning this particular dip might be more significant than some of the others.
Ultimately, these players who experienced a senior year dip could just be players that need to be in the right situation to maximize their strengths rather than disregarding them altogether.