The challenge to improve from junior to senior year: Four 2013 WNBA draft guard prospects

USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the 2012-13 NCAA women's basketball season, a few of us on the Swish Appeal team came up with a list of 13 NCAA Division I players whose development we would watch closely as 2013 WNBA draft prospects. This week we check in briefly on some of the guards on that list to get a better sense what's available in the draft. For more on the 2013 WNBA draft, visit our draft prospects storystream.

One of the things I've tried to do over the past two years is to figure out what we can learn about WNBA draft prospects from junior year statistics, which included selecting a few in each year to follow throughout the season a bit more closely in order to see how the numbers play out.

Thus far, what we've seen is that it's really hard to maintain production year-to-year, in part due to teams keying in on them in their senior year and sometimes due to a major cog on the team graduating and leaving productive juniors with more responsibility.

The four (non-point) guards we chose to watch this year sort of represent all of that: two of them needed to step up to be considered top prospects, two them needed to maintain what they were doing. The results, as you'll find below, have been mixed thus far.

Kelly Faris, Connecticut Huskies (5'11", G)

Year

2-point%

Oreb%

Stl%

PPR

Value Added

MVP

2011-12

51.23%

6.67%

4.25%

-1.21

7.03

16.42

2012-13

63.33%

7.61

5.09

4.25

7.2

13.88

Faris was a player who just had to improve in some way in order to make herself into a WNBA prospect.

And as you can probably tell from her huge jump in 2-point percentage, she has done that in a major way: improving by 12% in that category is an impressive leap for a guard.

Yet one problem still remains: Faris is still a low-usage guard (16.07%), meaning she doesn't create offense for herself at the level of the average WNBA prospect.

To be fair, her usage rate has improved from 13.5% last season to 16.07%, which seems small but is like going from nearly irrelevant in your team's scoring effort to somewhat involved, statistically speaking. The problem is still that wings with usage rates that low usually just don't make it. To put that in perspective, former UConn teammate Kalana Greene was doubted in part for reasons that relate to a low usage rate and her usage rate in her senior year was right about at 20%.

So that's why two other major improvements by Faris are a really big deal.

First, Faris' 3-point percentage has also jumped 10% to 41.5% on a healthy number of attempts, meaning that at the very least she could become a threat to spread the floor. Similar to what was said about Greene's pro potential - not to say they are similar players - the fact that she has become so efficient as a scorer helps to allay the concern about her usage rate.

But the second improvement that really stands out about Faris is that she has actually managed to become a more efficient distributor as well. As in, she's putting up numbers of an elite point guard prospect by creating assists more than two times the rate she commits turnovers, as indicated by her significantly improved pure point rating above. And really, her efficiency as a distributor stands out even more than her scoring efficiency - she has become an elite ball handler from the wing spot.

Does that mean she could be a WNBA point guard? Reasonable people could disagree on that, but it does suggest that she could at the very least become a useful player on the wing next to a scoring guard who can share ball handling responsibilities.

There will always be questions about Faris' ability as a scorer and she hasn't played herself into being an elite prospect who could fill a starting role right away, but her overall efficiency combined with steady improvement over the course of her career - in which she has been overshadowed by WNBA-bound teammates – is encouraging. What we know is that she can fill a supporting role next to elite players and do it extremely well, which is something that's actually a valuable "skill".

Tayler Hill, Ohio State Buckeyes (5'10", G)

Year

2-point%

Oreb%

Stl%

PPR

Value Added

MVP

2011-12

51.75%

3.32%

4.00%

-2.04

-1.55

12.95

2012-13

50.00%

3.48

3.9

-2.82

-3.56

15.31

The challenge that Hill faced entering the season was a test of her resilience: not only did she lose the star point guard who was responsible for a large chunk of the team's offense both as a distributor and scorer, but she was also left as an almost singular focal point for defenses to key in on.

And although the Buckeyes' have struggled just to keep themselves out of the Big Ten cellar - they needed a three game win streak just to get to where they currently stand at 4-8 in conference play - Hill has actually performed admirably given the circumstances. She has generally managed to maintain her efficiency level in key statistical areas and, as a college scorer, the fact that her 2-point percentage has remained high is a major plus. One question mark might be her 3-point shooting, which has fallen 10% to 31.9% this season. But again, that's what happens when you don't have Prahalis creating wide open shots for you.

Yet statistics aren't really sufficient to tell the story of Hill's season, as alluded to at the outset.

The thing that stands out when watching Hill this season is that she is asked to do so much for Ohio State: offensively, she draws the opposing team's best perimeter defender every game and has to be the focal point of any defensive game plan. Defensively, she's often responsible for stopping the opposing team's best opposing scorer – in their loss at home to Penn State, she was tasked with face guarding Lady Lions guard Maggie Lucas to deny her the ball. That she still puts up the numbers she does despite having so much responsibility is actually extremely impressive from a WNBA perspective.

On the other hand, the fact that she has gotten slightly less efficient as a distributor might be a source of concern for some, especially given Ohio State's early struggles in the Big Ten – it's reasonable to wonder what she can do aside from scoring and what she'd contribute if she wasn't option a, b, and c for her team offensively. However, watching her play is somewhat revealing. She does a lot of ball handling in pick and roll situations and, for example, in that game against Penn State the lack of assists certainly was not for lack of trying – she set her teammates up for plenty of quality scoring opportunities and they simply didn't finish them. And she still ended up with 28 points including 5-for-9 3-point shooting and 7-for-10 free throw shooting.

Overall, Hill is an elite prospect, not in the sense that she'll single-handedly change a team's fortunes, but that she could almost certainly contribute something to a rotation right away on both ends.

Anna Martin, DePaul Blue Demons (5'9", G)

Year

2-point%

Oreb%

Stl%

PPR

Value Added

MVP

2011-12

52.29%

5.16%

2.84%

-2.24

-2.42

12.8

2012-13

53.40%

2.33%

3.20%

2.91

-1.54

N/A*

* As she has missed a number of games this season, her MVP rating can't accurately reflect her value.

Despite maintaining a stellar 2-point percentage, Martin is our example of a player who needed to maintain outstanding numbers in order to put herself in the conversation as an elite prospect and hasn't really done so, even accounting for injuries.

Martin's statistical profile from her junior season and prior to her injury this season bears a loose resemblance to a 2012 first round pick that is actually helpful in figuring out what she might be able to do at the next level: Natalie Novosel, but much more efficient as a distributor and scorer statistically. That she has put up the kind of numbers she has above over two years in the Big East without a superstar point guard is actually quite impressive. She's able to finish around the basket, has a good build, and knows how to get her shot. Most importantly, she has become a much more efficient ball handler in the 18 games she has played so far this season.

The problem is that, like Novosel last season, her most obvious role would be as a spot up shooter and her 3-point percentage dropped nearly 10% to 32.6% this season. That's especially concerning because those two key athletic indicators - offensive rebounding percentage and steal percentage - are rather low, suggesting she might struggle with the speed of the game at the next level.

And coach Doug Bruno might have described a potential cause for the decline in an article by Phillip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune at the beginning of the year.

"Anna had received no preseason accolades and now all the attention was on her," Bruno said. "A lot of players would have wilted in those circumstances, but Anna came up ultra big."

Last season, Martin probably caught some people off guard; she wasn't catching anyone off guard this season as the reigning Big East scoring champ and when forced to take on an even greater role she did see a bit of a drop-off in scoring efficiency.

Where exactly Martin fits in this year's draft is somewhat unclear – guards who are "just" really efficient tend to get overlooked for flashier guards on higher profile teams and tend to get lost in the shuffle. But if a team is looking for a player who could possibly develop into a knockdown shooter if she returns to anything near what she did in her junior year, Martin could be an interesting fit.

A'dia Mathies, Kentucky Wildcats (5'9", G)

Year

2-point%

Oreb%

Stl%

PPR

Value Added

MVP

2011-12

44.98%

8.25%

4.67%

-3.28

0.59

13.76

2012-13

41.5

5.68

3.02

-1.05

-1.99

12.44

A'dia Mathies has all the physical tools to become great, but she needed to improve statistically this season to be considered an elite WNBA prospect and unfortunately went in the opposite direction.

What bodes well for Mathies is her athleticism and length, which makes her a potential defensive presence and someone who has the look of a slasher. She's a very good rebounding guard. Her 39.8% 3-point percentage is a career-high and is certainly something that will help her as WNBA general managers look at her profile - improvement over the course of one's career should certainly be considered a plus.

But the thing that continues to stand out as a concern for her is her relatively low overall scoring efficiency: she has a 2-point percentage below that of most successful WNBA prospects and doesn't get to the line all that often considering how athletic she is. Wing prospects who can't score efficiently at the college level just really struggle to crack WNBA rotations. The fact that her scoring efficiency and multiple other metrics have gone down in her senior year is also less than promising and has been the cause of quite a bit of agony for UK Hoops fans throughout the season.

Mathies' athleticism and starring role on a top 10 team will probably help her get drafted higher than some players with better statistics, but the track record of inefficient college scorers in the WNBA hasn't been great in recent years.

For more on the 2013 WNBA draft, visit our draft prospects storystream.

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