May 20, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Phoenix Mercury guard Samantha Prahalis (99) goes up for a layup pst Minnesota Lynx forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin (8) in the first half at Target Center. Photo by Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE.
Almost everyone I've talked to who follows the game closely considered the 2012 WNBA Draft to be somewhat uninspiring.
Sure it was widely considered a "weak" draft prior to it actually happening, but there's also a question of how well some of these players even fit with their rosters. Some players were drafted to teams that were already deep at their projected WNBA position. Some were drafted to teams that might need them to provide something that they haven't shown much of in college.
And if minutes matter in determining WNBA Rookie of the Year award - in terms of putting up the gaudiest statistics - there could be a more interesting rookie race than people expect.
The following is an alphabetical look at preseason candidates for the 2012 WNBA All-Rookie Team - based on draft prospect projections* and the rookie ranking framework I've used previously - and how well they might perform on their new teams.
Tiffany Hayes, Wing, Atlanta Dream
Although the Dream look pretty set position-by-position, in terms of style of play Hayes has an opportunity to come in and make a contribution to the rotation, maybe the best of any second round pick.
There wasn't a whole lot of news out of Dream training camp, but with the departure of Iziane Castro Marques the Dream will need some perimeter scoring help this season. The Dream had the lowest 3-point percentage in the league last season at 26.1% and Castro Marques' scoring during the playoffs helped the Dream overcome player absences in the playoffs with her shooting and speed in transition.
Their off-season acquisition of Ketia Swanier will help their backup point guard situation and Cathrine Kraayeveld will help spread the floor at the 4 spot. But if they are searching for scoring again this season, Hayes could step in on the wing to split time with Armintie Price who has never been much of a long-range threat.
Hayes suffered a broken nose during training camp and played less than three minutes in the Dream's preseason game against the Tulsa Shock so it remains to be seen how she'll fit in that rotation.
Sasha Goodlett, Post, Indiana Fever
Goodlett is in a really interesting situation in Indiana, a team that really needs some rebounding help.
Last season, Jessica Davenport and Tammy Sutton-Brown essentially split minutes at center while Shyra Ely and Tangela Smith split minutes at the power forward spot. This year, Smith has departed for the Silver Stars and Ely is out for the season with an ACL injury. The Fever will move 2011 WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings to the "4" spot, but you have to believe that there will be plenty of situations where they'll also move her out to her more natural perimeter position.
It's hard to look at the Fever's interior situation - particularly from the perspective of a team needing rebounding help - and not believe that Goodlett has a good chance to earn minutes based on the way the rotation has operated in the past. While Davenport has been a steadily improving player for the Fever, Tammy Sutton-Brown's rebounding percentage has declined and hit a career-low last season (10.2%) and her overall production over the last two years have been near career-lows.
Glory Johnson, Post, Tulsa Shock
Prior to draft day, it wasn't clear that the Shock had any minutes for a post player even if a player like Johnson was available.
The Shock's strength last season was arguably in the post and even with Elizabeth Cambage out for at least half the season due to the Olympics, the team was returning Kayla Pedersen and Tiffany Jackson as well as Chante Black who missed last season due to injury. Now that Jackson is also out for the season, the minutes in the frontcourt are wide open at least in terms of who we might have expected to start after last season.
There still might be some question as to how new coach Gary Kloppenburg might distribute that minutes - and how Cambage's potential return after the Olympics might affect that rotation - but Johnson has played well early on, which could bode well for the regular season.
Shenise Johnson, Wing, San Antonio Silver Stars
Big minutes might be tough to come by for Shenise Johnson with the Silver Stars, but that doesn't mean she won't have an opportunity to prove what she can do.
Although the two players who started at the "3" spot for the majority of last year are now gone, both Danielle Adams and Danielle Robinson showed last season that Dan Hughes is willing to rely heavily on rookies coming off the bench for big minutes - Robinson and Adams were fourth and fifth, respectively, in minutes per game last season.
Johnson will have to fight hard for minutes as the Silver Stars are somewhat loaded on the wing, but her game fits the style of play of the team that drafted her as well as any player in the draft. She was among the top distributors and defenders in the draft and did all the little things on the court at Miami to help her team win, including shouldering the bulk of the scoring load. By no means will minutes come easily for Johnson, but she's playing on a team that has relied heavily on ball movement and precision teamwork in the last few years and she fits that system well.
Nneka Ogwumike, Post, L.A. Sparks
The moment the Sparks got the #1 pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft, it was clear that they were in an odd position.
Ogwumike was quite clearly the top prospect in the draft for anyone that had seen her play over an extended period of time. But she's also a college post player that's coming to a team that currently has Nicky Anosike, Ebony Hoffman, Jantel Lavender, DeLisha Milton-Jones, and Candace Parker also capable of playing some combination of four or five. That's not at all to say that Ogwumike won't finish the season as the best talent of this rookie class but it could result in her putting up lower averages than other players who end up getting more consistent minutes with a more significant role in their team's success.
Ogwumike is already starting and will clearly become a strong rebounder and post scorer in the league, but it will be interesting to see how this particular Sparks situation comes together under new coach Carol Ross and how that affects Ogwumike's production.
Devereaux Peters, Post, Minnesota Lynx
Peters wasn't expected to get a whole lot of minutes for the Lynx at first and then forward Amber Harris got injured which essentially bumped her from the fifth post in the rotation to the fourth. The advantage of that for Peters is that she'll get a chance to get her feet wet more often in some regular season games, which could aid in her adjustment to league and give her more to build on than sitting at that fifth spot might have. The advantage for the Lynx is that they'll have the opportunity to see even more of Peters in game situations as they continue to focus on developing her for the future.
There's a good chance that Peters won't be one of the top five rookies statistically this season simply because she landed on a loaded team, but that doesn't mean she won't end up being among the best when we look back on this draft down the line.
Samantha Prahalis, PG, Phoenix Mercury
The Phoenix Mercury traded away 2011 starting point guard Temeka Johnson and do not have a true distributor that has started a full season at point guard on the roster. Although she might have competition for minutes at the spot with Alexis Gray-Lawson and even Alexis Hornbuckle on the roster, Prahalis began training camp running with the first unit and has as good a chance as any of the guards competing for the spot to dominate the minutes there.
Shekinna Stricklen, Wing, Seattle Storm
Stricklen is another player who was drafted with an eye on the future, but the very fact that she's a rookie who has snuck into Storm coach Brian Agler's top seven on opening night says something about her ability to play at this level - Agler is not exactly notorious for playing his rookies.
Stricklen projects as probably the purest scorer of any rookie in this draft and that could be a major asset for a Storm team that ranked rather low in offensive efficiency and 3-point shooting in center Lauren Jackson's absence last season. The major question for any player on the Storm - and why rookies might be expected to struggle to crack Agler's rotation - is how well she'll perform on the defensive end and that will probably dictate her minutes as much as anything.
Riquna Williams, G, Tulsa Shock
Williams was selected lower in the draft than most people assumed, but being selected by the Tulsa Shock might have been the best situation for her. The Shock needed scoring help and Williams was a volume scorer in college that projected as closest to a scoring perimeter player in the WNBA. The Shock were last in the league in offensive efficiency last season and last in the Western Conference in 3-point percentage. Williams shot about 36% from the 3-point line in her senior year at Miami and could earn minutes due to that as well.
The key here for Wiliams as compared to some other higher drafted rookies is that she was drafted by a team that appears set to give her ample opportunity to play and put up numbers, regardless of how efficient a scorer she is - her athleticism makes her a factor defensively and the alternatives on the wing haven't necessarily proven to be more effective than she might prove to be.
Note: These were determined during training camp even before preseason games started.
For more on the 2012 WNBA Draft, click here.