Julie Wojta's Versatility Should Help Her Find A Place In The WNBA

Julie Wojta's chances to make the Minnesota Lynx are slim, but her versatility might still allow her to have a future in the WNBA. Reid Compton-US PRESSWIRE

When we first set out to obtain game film of 2012 WNBA Draft prospects, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay's Julie Wojta was at the top of my list of players to watch.

Looking at the senior season college statistics most relevant to pro success alone, Wojta looked like a "draft statistics superstar": it's simply impossible to ignore a player with a true shooting percentage near 60% for much of the season, a 3-point percentage over 40%, an offensive rebounding percentage of 11.16%, and a steal percentage of 6.55%.

Although concerns about the strength of her competition made sense when trying to evaluate a player coming out of the Horizon League, numbers like that suggest that she could find a place somewhere at the next level even if it was "just" as a shooter.

And what you see when watching her is pretty much what Minnesota Lynx assistant coach Jim Peterson saw during her senior season, according to Mark Remme.

Petersen said he identified Wojta during the NCAA season as a player who has a particularly appealing skill set. She can shoot with efficiency, she can rebound the basketball and get to the free-throw line, and she has an intangible on the court that made her a noticeable prospect...Defensively, Petersen said she has the ability to guard multiple positions from the wing to the post.

Even if her numbers were "inflated" by playing opponents who simply couldn't guard her, Wojta had the profile of someone who could make the roster at the very least and possibly beat out a few players sitting on benches across the league.

On draft day, the gaudy statistics and versatile skill set weren't particularly persuasive to many teams other than Petersen's - Wojta was drafted 6th in the second round (18th overall) by the Lynx, who had six draft picks in 2012 and their entire 2011 championship rotation returning. And the most frequently expressed concern that might have prevented her from being drafted higher might have been what ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo mentioned in the WNBA's pre-draft conference call, as described by Jessica Lantz previously:

"[Wojta] will have to make the transition from the post to the perimeter and that's the hardest transition to make going from college to the WNBA, especially defensively. But she's a good tough player ... it comes down to the best fit for every player and the team that drafts them."

Finding prospects similar to Wojta

However, what immediately stands out when watching Wojta play - particularly in light of comments about the difficulty of her transition - is that she isn't exactly making the same type of transition as, say, Alysha Clark or fellow 2012 rookies Courtney Hurt and Lykendra Johnson, undersized college interior players who actually had to work on their perimeter game. The very fact that she's listed as a "G/F" on Green Bay's roster despite playing the "5" should be somewhat telling - there's nothing traditional about the way Green Bay plays and Wojta might epitomize that.

Wojta's SPI playing style numbers bear that out as well: she's a versatile player whose transition wouldn't quite look like the typical post-to-wing transition.

Player (School, Draft Year) Height S% P% I% TS% Oreb% Stl%
Julie Wojta (UW - Green Bay, 2012)
6'0" 21.4 71.4
58.2
58.31
11.16
6.55
Kelsey Griffin (Nebraska, 2010)
6'2" 17.6
40.2
84.2
65.73 14.15 3.6
Marissa Coleman (Maryland, 2009)
6'1" 34.9
57.8
60.1
57.93 9.1
3.16

SPI playing styles of current WNBA players who were similar to Julie Wojta in their senior years.

There actually isn't really a direct WNBA match for Julie Wojta in recent years. The closest comparisons by SPI between 2009 - 2011 were actually players who didn't make it in the WNBA: Ashley Barlow (Notre Dame, 2010), Megan Neuvirth (Creighton, 2009), and Jillian Harmon (Stanford, 2009).

What do any of those players have in common? Numbers aside, they were all versatile players who did a number of things well and seemed to be in the right place at the right time to make things happen, but also had a tendency to sort of disappear into the flow of the game at times. That's also something sort of pedestrian that tended to stand out about Wojta at Green Bay that speaks volumes about what she might be able to do at the next level, perhaps for better and worse: regardless of the statistical output, Wojta's performances look almost identical. She never really has a bad game - even when she falls below her averages, she's out there making positive plays for her team. She rarely makes mistakes, but might have been too deferential at times, which could be considered a mistake depending on the situation.

But what's most important about the cluster that Wojta sits in is that they're all players with a heavy perimeter orientation, which begins to address that major critique of Wojta that doesn't necessarily hold up to observation.

Not the typical post player

Wojta did not play the "post" in the ways we normally think of a post player playing. Offensively, she rarely posts up and goes to work on the low block, instead doing what everyone else on Green Bay does - cut, move, and work the ball for a good shot. The critique that she can't handle the ball might be true, but you wouldn't necessarily know it from watching games - hardly any Green Bay players take more than one or two dribbles once they get into their half court offense, often resorting to dribbling when passing or shooting isn't a viable option.

Defensively, Wojta was responsible for playing passing lanes in Green Bay's "buzz defense" scheme, more like a cornerback than defending the basket like a center; that explains why she had the sixth-highest steal rate in the nation (6.55%). Watching her defend 5'7" Eastern Michigan guard and Lynx training camp invitee Tavelyn James on a switch is also quite persuasive in support of Petersen's point that she could conceivably guard anything from wing to post.

In other words, Wojta looked far more like a wing playing the post in a wing's body rather than a post player in a wing's body; that should come as absolutely no surprise since she was recruited as a guard and used as a post player within Green Bay's concept. She's an athlete, which certainly allowed her to score baskets in the paint - whether they be on alley oops, drives, or putbacks - and find crafty ways to defend post players when necessary using her quickness and playing passing lanes, but it's hard to put her into that box of actually being a "post player".

Wojta's unique circumstances and versatility are a large part of what makes it hard to find anything but distant similarities to a prospect during the WNBA's 11-player roster era and that does highlight a worthwhile point: to some extent, her statistics are the product of a system although she's not entirely a player whose profile suggest she's a limited "system player". As Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said, she's the type of competitor that would run through a wall for her team if necessary and, as Petersen notes, has the versatile skill set to actually make something positive out of that mentality wherever the team needs; really, that's about the only way a guard could be so effective playing the "post" on a tournament team - she has to possess something special.

And though there isn't necessarily a direct match, the comparisons to Marissa Coleman and Kelsey Griffin above are interesting: they have both turned out to be "mixed" or "utility" players by SPI playing styles and have played on the wing yet neither had a stronger perimeter orientation than Wojta in college.

If you recall the formula for the SPI playing styles framework, Wojta's perimeter orientation might be slightly inflated by the fact that she recorded steals at one of the highest rates in the nation. But she was also a much more efficient distributor during her senior year, with an assist ratio just above 15% - a number higher than some wings drafted ahead of her - and a pure point rating (- 0.89) better than some players drafted to play point guard. She's clearly a skilled basketball player, but might just have to be on a roster she can grow into, so to speak.

"The hardest transition to make"

But that only sets up a question about her role in the league, given what looks to be a remote chance to find a place on the Lynx' opening day roster: is she versatile enough to find a place on any team other than a reigning champion without roster space? Or does she need to find the right system?

Although Coleman, Griffin, and Wojta are different players, it's not entirely unreasonable to believe that Wojta couldn't play a similar role on the perimeter in the WNBA even though she's a bit shorter. And although neither of those players have enjoyed All Star level success, they have started games for extended time and both play on the wing in the WNBA.

The best transition analogy for Wojta might be Griffin, who also knew coming into the league she would have to go through a transition from 4 to 3 and was able to make the move because she was such a skilled player. If we project Wojta into a WNBA wing, the major advantage she brings over Griffin is 3-point shooting - Wojta was a 40.8% 3-point shooter in college, Griffin a 25% 3-point shooter. And while we're on the subject of the Sun, Allison Hightower entered the league as a 5'10" 39.8% 3-point shooter without the type of versatility that Wojta would bring to the perimeter. I struggle to believe that Wojta couldn't contribute about as much - perhaps somewhere in between - those two players.

In other words, Wojta probably has a place in this league and possibly even more of a place than some of the players drafted ahead of her this season. Nevertheless, being drafted to a loaded roster like the Lynx who was unlikely to keep the majority of the prospects they selected means that Wojta will very likely be released.

When you look around the league at who's projected to make rosters, Wojta's potential release might be the strongest case for adding a 12th player to WNBA rosters; maybe she won't pan out, but a player that brings the type of skill and versatility that she does into the league is someone who could probably develop into a reasonably productive player. She offers plenty for a coaching staff to work with and, at least statistically, deserves a shot at the league.

In the meantime, the question is what she can gain from this experience in Lynx training camp that might help her in the future, whenever the right situation comes along.

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