2013 WNBA Draft: Five rebounding interior players

USA TODAY Sports

To kick off our position-by-position look at 2013 WNBA prospects, we begin with a group of players who have defined themselves by doing something that generally transfers to both the NBA and WNBA extremely well: offensive rebounding. But what are the chances that rebounding alone will carry some of the key power forward prospects?

Power forwards are probably the easiest draft prospects to evaluate because their value can be reduced to two primary questions:

  • Are they taller than 6'1"?
  • Do they rebound well?

After that, being an efficient scorer helps but is not nearly as much of a make or break factor as it is for centers.

Since the 2009 draft when the league was reduced to 11 player rosters, any college power forward with an interior orientation in the 93rd percentile or above has a) been drafted and b) made a roster. If you expand things a bit to all posts, all but three in that range have made the league and two (Aneika Henry and Avery Warley) eventually found their way to a roster spot where they, not surprisingly, rebounded extremely well.

There is just still a well-defined role for rebounding power forwards and when you look at the last three WNBA champions they've all had a dominant rebounder at the four spot (Erlana Larkins, 2012 Indiana Fever; Rebekkah Brunson, 2011 Minnesota Lynx; Le'coe Willingham, 2010 Storm). And considering that the runners-up in that period (2012 Lynx and 2010/11 Atlanta Dream) have also been dominant rebounding teams, it's a clear skill that can get you on a WNBA roster (an interesting side note: Indiana was the one team in that period that was a dominant rebounding team during the season and Larkins' emergence is unquestionably a major part of why they won it all).

And when you look over those past teams and prospects it's one number that is really crucial for power forward prospects: offensive rebounding percentage. A player who wants to make the league can easily do so simply by helping get their team second chance scoring opportunities.

However, one thing that's interesting about this year's draft is that a number of these power forward prospects are either extremely turnover prone or unable to create assists which gave them an extremely low pure point rating (-5.00 or lower). It creates statistical profiles that we haven't necessarily seen at the power forward spot before, so it will be interesting to see where that goes.

"Rebounding interior forwards"

Anyway, since rebounding is such a strong determinant for WNBA success - I'd even say the strongest of any statistically - I've divided power forwards into "rebounding" and "scoring" players over the past two years to look at those who really made a name for themselves on the boards almost as "specialists" and those who served other functions as well. In the interest of consistency, we'll just use the same way of defining them as we did last season.

  • players listed as "forwards";
  • who generally had an interior rotation in the 78th percentile range or higher relative to other prospects from 2008-2012 as well as scoring tendencies under 50% according to the SPI styles framework;
  • and had usage percentages at 25% or under.

They had to fit all three of those to be included in this category. In other words, they're power forwards who tend to be stronger rebounders than scorers, though not exclusively non-factors as scorers.

The numbers

Name Height School TS% 2p% Usg% Oreb% Stl% Stl + Blk/PF PPR

Toni Young

6'2"

Oklahoma St

52.22

51.02

25.11

14.3

2.98

1.33

-3.03

Karisma Penn 6'2" Illinois 57.08 52.63 25.48 11.04 4.24 1.45 -7.43
Chelsea Poppens 6'2" Iowa State 58.83 52.10 24.40 15.41 2.15 0.45 -4.13
Destiny Williams 6'1" Baylor 56.04 53.66 20.42 16.31 2.45 0.85 -3.68
Alyssia Brewer 6'3" UCLA 50.77 47.82 24.44 11.20 3.05 0.69 -5.74
Sam Ostarello 6'2" Purdue 50.83 47.43 20.14 9.84 2.77 1 -2.86
Morgan Storman 6'1" Miami 54.12 48.63 25.01 11.70 3.7 1.23 -5.57

We'll take a closer look at that first five prospects.

Toni Young

Well, we've been watching Young all season and here we are at the end of the season and I'm still not sure what to say about Toni Young. But beyond the numbers, it's hard to shake the idea that an athlete of her caliber has enormous potential.

"Toni will bring a tremendous amount of athleticism as well as the ability to score and rebound to the next level," Oklahoma State head coach Jim Littell in a comment on Young to Swish Appeal. "She can run the floor, score on the box and at the high post and is an outstanding offensive rebounder."

And the offensive rebounding is clearly her biggest strength, which is why she has to be considered a rebounding forward prospect despite being right on the border of "rebounding" and "scoring": despite having improved numbers at around mid-season, her scoring efficiency ended up right about where it was last season and is rather low for a post prospect.

Year

2-point%

Oreb%

Stl%

PPR

2011-12

51.35%

11.85%

2.74%

-4.72

2012-13

51.02

14.3%

2.98%

-3.03

Toni Young's junior and senior year statistics.

Part of the scoring issue is that Young has an extremely low free throw rate for any prospect really (16.84%), but especially one who plays in the post. But that also reflects something that might be an asset for Young in the pros and why she's considered a first round prospect: unlike many of her post peers in this draft, Young scores in a variety of ways including driving to the basket, taking mid-range jumpers, and scoring on putbacks by jumping over people. All of that would help to explain a low free throw rate.

There is actually an example of a player who made a roster with a lower 2-point percentage than Young: Victoria Dunlap out of Kentucky, though the two are not otherwise similar except for outstanding athleticism. And Young would probably have to impact the game in a similar manner that Dunlap did with the Mystics: using her athleticism to make hustle players and score around people.

Ultimately, improving as an offensive rebounder is probably the best thing that Young could've done for her draft stock this year: it's a skill transfers extremely well from college to the pros and something that a team could use right away. And the fact that she's neither foul nor turnover prone like many of the other players on this list gives her a huge edge. If she can just defend, hit mid-range shots, rebound, and run the floor she could become a solid contributor.

Karisma Penn

Penn is also sort of on the border between being a rebounding and scoring forward, but her scoring tendencies are only in the 22nd percentile for a good reason: she gets more steals than most power forwards (which inflates her "perimeter" rating) and she complements that with a strong block percentage (4.8%, 55th in the nation). At 6'2", she's an athlete and who could become a presence on defense while also contributing some scoring on offense.

One thing going for Penn is that her tendencies are very similar to two other draft picks in recent years who have at least managed to make a roster, which is better than you can say for some players. But a look at those similarities also illustrates why Penn might have to fight to make a roster.

Player (School, Draft Year) Height S% P% I% TS% Oreb% Stl%
Karisma Penn (Illinois, 2013) 6'2" 22.94 38.5 80.29 57.08 11.04 4.24
Ify Ibekwe (Arizona, 2011) 6'2" 17.64 42 81.47 56 13 3.8
Kelsey Griffin (Nebraska, 2010) 6'2" 18.82 40.58 78.23 65.73 14.15 3.6

SPI similarities for Karisma Penn.

The Griffin comparison is rather surprising because I wouldn't immediately make that comparison, but it's useful in one sense: this is a group of athletic college power forwards who contributed to their team's success on both ends of the floor. Griffin did that while putting up outstanding numbers - some of the best of any forward over the last few years - and yet is still only a 12-13 minute per game player. Ibekwe, Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 - played 8 minutes for the Storm before being released.

If you buy that there's any sort of even surface similarity between Penn and those two - and I'm not sure I'd see that from watching them - then that doesn't necessarily bode well for the Illinois star.

One thing in particular that stands out about Penn compared to Griffin is her turnover ratio: Griffin's was 9.87%; Penn's was 16.34% this past season (and Ibekwe's was 18.14%). That turnover ratio isn't astronomically high compared to the other prospects in this group, but that combined with her creating assists at such a low rate (6.14%) is a bit of a red flag. But that's also why she's in the rebounding category and not the scoring one: if she finds a niche, it would probably be on the defensive end and the offensive glass, where she can earn second chance scoring opportunities for her team and free throw attempts for herself (her free throw rate of 59.90% is outstanding).

Chelsea Poppens

Poppens was one of the players we identified as a prospect to watch prior to the season and you can read more about her in our mid-season evaluation of those players to watch.

For the sake of taking a closer look at her, I'll also just update the table comparing her junior and senior years.

Year

2-point%

Oreb%

Stl%

PPR

Value Added

MVP

2011-12

50.50%

18.91%

2.79%

-7.08

2.79

13.67

2012-13

52.10%

15.41%

2.15%

-4.13

3.36

12.23

Comparison of Chelsea Poppens' junior and senior year statistics.

So one thing that really leaps out about Poppens is that her ball handling efficiency improved dramatically between her junior and senior years, which is the primary thing that could give her an edge compared to Penn. A large part of that is that her assist ratio of 11.56% is solid for a power forward even if she still makes quite a few turnovers as a relatively turnover-prone forward.

However, in addition to the turnovers and low free throw rate that might lead to questions about Poppens' potential, the very low ratio of steals and blocks/personal fouls rate should also be cause for some concern: she's a bruiser who picks up fouls just due to throwing her body around. For centers, a stl+blk/PF rate that low would be an immediate reason for exclusion as a draft prospect. For a power forward who attacks the glass the way she does, it's a risk but not necessarily a reason not touch her.

Destiny Williams

Williams has a bit of an uphill battle making the league as a 6'1" interior player, but she's an athlete, a very strong rebounder, and - for whatever it's worth - a more efficient ball handler than the others on this list.

Working against her is that she has a bit of a low 2-point percentage compared to 6'1" forwards in the past: Danielle Adams has had the lowest of any 6'1" forward prospect in the league last year (52.88%) and she has made a living as a solid 3-point shooter and passer in addition to her rebounding ability. Williams hasn't shown that type of 3-point range and shot just 60.3% from the free throw line. And the low stl+blk/pf ratio is also a concern.

Can Williams make it? She's probably got the best chance of the Baylor players under 6'8". Offensive rebounding is a valuable skill and at the very least we know that Williams can compete with the best in the nation on a team that lost just two games over the past two years.

Alyssia Brewer

Brewer might get a look from GM's who saw her defensive performance against the Stanford Cardinal in the Pac-12 tournament this year, but interior players with 2-point percentages under 50% just don't fare well in the league. And unfortunately, the rest of her numbers don't compare well to anyone else on this list.

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

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