In the era of 11-player rosters in the WNBA, versatility would seemingly be of even greater value to general managers trying to maximize their roster spots when surveying the field of WNBA Draft prospects.
Sometimes versatility at the college level can merely be a euphemism for "Jill of all trades, master of none", literally a player who does a number of things about equally well but nothing exceptionally well. These players are often the players we call glue players that help make college teams successful but fail to stick on a WNBA roster.
Yet versatility can be a major asset for players that actually possess multiple threats that impact the game, the ability to find a way to consistently impact the game even when the opponent in front of them has taken something away, and ultimately help tilt the game in their team's direction.
The 2012 WNBA Draft has a few players that exhibit some form of versatility, whether it be the type that makes for a very good college player or that which ends up equating to a productive pro contributor.
For now, we'll look at two of the most versatile players in the nation that have received All-Conference honors and should be considered among the top prospects in this year's draft. Perhaps more interesting is that the pair embody both the type of offensive versatility that people easily take notice of and the defensive versatility that is easy to overlook but can be invaluable to a team at any level.
Although it might sound hyperbolic, what LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell said about senior LaSondra Barrett really isn't too much of an exaggeration.
"She has been unbelievable for us because there are not too many players in the women's game that can play one through five," said LSU head coach Nikki Caldwell. "She can play every position on the floor and she can defend every position on the floor. As the season has gone on, she has become more aggressive and put the team on her back. She's also made her teammates better. Her ability to distribute the basketball has made us better."
Barrett often brings the ball up the court as a point guard with the size to see over most perimeter defenders and initiate the offense, although her assist to turnover rate of 1.0 isn't necessarily a testament to standout playmaking ability at the next level.
But she can also anchor the middle when the Tigers choose to utilize a zone defense. When operating in the paint offensively, she's adept at not only finding gaps in the defense to score but also getting herself to the line at a rate higher than any major prospect in the draft (74.20%).
Yet for all her versatility, Barrett's biggest strength is perimeter shooting: her 40.7% shooting from the 3-point line is among the best in this year's senior class and, perhaps unlike some other shooters, has the size to get her shot off against bigger defenders at the pro level. Even if she's not a first round pick, the combined ability to handle the ball well for a wing and shoot the ball well has to make her an intriguing prospect for team's looking for an additional 3-point threat.
Having won the Big East Defensive Player of the Year award for the second year in a row and landing a spot on an All-Big East First Team the size of a WNBA roster, Peters' defensive ability is certainly no secret to those who watch the game closely although her contributions might be overshadowed by her higher scoring teammates.
Although defensive instincts can never be captured well in numbers, Peters' numbers paint an impressive story as summarized in part by Pete Byrne of WSBT-TV.
Peters is averaging a team-high 9.5 rebounds per game to go along with 52 blocks this season. She ranks second in the conference in rebounding and fourth in blocked shots (1.7 bpg). She has grabbed 62 steals and is averaging 12.2 points per game. Peters has helped lead a defense that ranks seventh in the nation, allowing 51.6 points per game.
A closer look at Peters' numbers makes her look like an even more impressive prospect.
Peters is actually first in the nation in rebounding percentage despite being second in the Big East in rebounds per game. Her block rate of 5.78% ranks 16th in the nation among forwards, no small feat. But the most important statistic for her pro potential might be her steal rate of 4.62%, also 16th in the nation among all forwards.
Steals don't necessarily separate good from great defenders, but in terms of pro potential, one conclusion that seems to be consistent among analysts is that steals do matter as one factor in projecting success, as best described by ESPN's John Hollinger when discussing NBA draft prospects.
Steals. Though perhaps the most worthless stat for NBA analysis, there's no denying that college players who get a ton of steals tend to fare much better in the NBA than their less sticky-fingered brethren. This is the one item that gets the most weight, actually -- it's even more important than PER!
The Courtside Analyst echoed this sentiment about steals (per 40), noting that Dave Berri found that steals were in fact one of only three relevant box score statistics for NBA draft prospects. Hollinger goes on to describe the NBA success of men's college basketball players who had 50 blocks and 50 steals, another milestone that Peters has achieved in consecutive years.
For now we'll suspend skepticism about how well this applies to the WNBA, but what Peters' steals do reflect is a player who has a defensive impact in more ways than one. She's capable of defending centers and playing entry passes, but also capable of stepping out to play perimeter players either in pick and roll situations or to disrupt an offense. When you combine that with the blocks, she's clearly a player with outstanding defensive instincts.
It might sound unlikely that Peters will have the same defensive impact in the WNBA that she's had at the college level, but it's hard to ignore that she's bound to find a way to contribute on the defensive end at the next level.
Barrett and LSU will be playing their first game of the 2012 SEC Tournament today at 7:30 p.m. EDT on FSN. Peters and the Fighting Irish will play their first game of the 2012 Big East Tournament Sunday at 2 p.m. EDT on ESPNU.
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