What Can We Expect Kelley Cain To Contribute To The New York Liberty?

The New York Liberty announced via Twitter yesterday that first round draft pick Kelley Cain has arrived in training camp, which is perhaps the first step in calming the fears among some fans that they completely wasted a draft pick.

Surely we'll learn more about what she offers the team as she spends more time in camp, but what might her numbers tell us about what she offers?

Well, not that much.

Unfortunately, college statistics won't provide an accurate picture of Cain because they're from the 2010-11 season in which she was battling injuries and eventually decided to give up her senior year because her body couldn't meet the demands of college basketball.

But there's also not a whole lot we can take from her numbers in Turkey this past year in terms of what might transfer to the WNBA either. So, for now, we'll do what we can with the college statistics.

And looking for similarities via SPI playing styles, only one comes up.

Player (School, Draft Year) Height S% P% I% TS% Oreb% Stl%
Kelley Cain (Tennessee, 2011*)
6'6" 4.5 3.3 98.8 58.65 12.10 1.4
Courtney Paris (Oklahoma, 2009) 6'4" 3.3 5.6 98.4 58.05 21.33 1.8

* These are the statistics from Cain's final year at the University of Tennessee for the sake of comparison.

This might be a bit of a surprising similarity and requires some explanation (or maybe a few reasons to take it with a grain of salt):

  • Paris obviously put up better averages than Cain, literally doubling the Lady Vols' center's points and rebounds. And even if you look at the per minute numbers, Paris was still the more productive player on the boards. That rebounding ability is what has allowed Paris to be even as productive as she is - college offensive rebounding like that from a center translates very well to the pros.
  • It is interesting that they were equally efficient scorers but Paris was a relatively high usage center at Oklahoma (24.49%) whereas Cain was more of a moderate usage player (19.20% usage rate). So Paris gets a small edge as a scorer on the basis of her ability to remain efficient with so many touches.
  • Additionally, Cain had a low free throw rate of 34.54%, which is below the 40% threshold that is normally the mark of a successful center prospect. Paris, in comparison, had a free throw rate of 48.08% in her senior year.
  • The two players had about the same assist ratios in their final years in college in addition to the almost even steal percentages. But Paris also had a considerably lower turnover ratio (10.34%) than Cain (17.7%), which isn't always a big deal but becomes significant if you consider that In short, Paris had the ball in her hands more - and drew a lot of defensive attention - but turned it over less.
  • Obviously, Cain is taller. That should help, but also makes the lower rebounding numbers stand out even more.

To summarize, in terms of the ratio of interior, perimeter, and scoring actions - what we're defining as "tendencies" - Cain and Paris were statistically similar in their final years of college. She projects into primarily an interior rebounder in the WNBA, who could be an asset off the bench. However, a closer look suggests a number of significant differences between her and Paris that don't bode particularly well for Cain and start to make what first looks like a close similarity statistically look much more distant on the court.

So let's not say that Kelley Cain is a taller version of Courtney Paris. But those two are in the 5% most interior-oriented players in the 5 drafts since 2008 and what we can say is that Cain's numbers don't stack up very well with a statistically similar player in that cluster who has yet to become a major contributor in the league since 11-player roster era began. On the other hand, that's the same cluster that current New York Liberty center Kia Vaughn occupied coming out of college - with similar numbers - and she did quite well for herself last year.

Anyway, all that brings us right back to the original point: Cain didn't play her senior year, her most recent experience was in Turkey where she put up solid numbers that are difficult to translate into WNBA production, and we don't know much about how much she's improved since her time at Tennessee. Even if there was a better comparison on paper, we wouldn't be able to say that much about her.

David Hooper of SB Nation's Rocky Top Talk commented on draft day that Cain's best year was her sophomore year and "had Cain been healthy, Glory Johnson would never have been the main post player for Tennessee." As well as Johnson played this season, that's an impressive statement.

Ultimately, Cain is more difficult to project than most players because there's a lot of uncertainty about her value as a prospect. But that might only feed into the notion that the first round selection was questionable, at best: there were other players available at that time that might have projected more clearly into WNBA players, even if Cain fits a need (rebounding) in a weak draft. And that only sets up another question: How many other teams were in line to select her? Could the Liberty have maneuvered to select Cain later than the 7th pick?

If Cain comes out and produces, the questions will inevitably disappear. But until we see her play, there are a lot of question marks about her, especially due to where she was picked in the 2012 WNBA Draft.

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