The 2013 WNBA point guard class has plenty of potential beyond Skylar Diggins

Photo by Bruce Thorson | USA Today Sports

People spent a lot of time discussing Skylar Diggins and the "three to see" for good reason, but another significant story line for the 2013 draft class is that it features an even more promising point guard class than the highly touted 2009 WNBA Draft did. Not all of them have officially made rosters yet, but they have a good chance and their college statistics compare favorably to players of the past.

Over the years I've repeated the following as criteria for a successful point guard transition from NCAA Division I basketball to the pros:

  • College assist ratio of 23%.

  • College pure point rating of 2.5.

  • For those with PPRs under 2.5, a high usage rate (23%) combined with a points per empty possession rating of 1.8.

But it's confession time: most of those numbers were taken from data I'd gathered in 2009 and I was just sort of quickly cross-checking things to make sure things matched up. Those were seemingly hard lines at the time and there had been little to shake that up over the last four WNBA seasons. The primary reason for that is simple: with 11-player rosters there's less room for error and inefficient college point guards are one group among college prospects that just aren't making the cut for one reason or another.

When actually putting all the data together again after the 2013 draft, that criteria definitely hasn't changed and in fact some of the lines drawn look even more rigid.

You can click here to see a sampling of guard prospects dating back to 1999 and their relevant numbers to see how things have played out. And here's the main takeaway: it's a lot easier to separate WNBA roster caliber point guards from those that are unlikely to make it than it is to actually project the quality of a point guard prospect aiming to make the transition from DI ball, no matter what program they're coming from.

Danielle Robinson has been the quintessential example of what that is over the last five years and, quite possibly, over the entire history of the WNBA Draft.

The curious case of Danielle Robinson the point guard prospect

If you look at Robinson's senior year numbers at Oklahoma, she was undeniably a scoring point guard: yes, she brought the ball upcourt to initiate the offense, but she had a high usage rate, low assist ratio, and negative pure point rating. In the WNBA, not only has Robinson maintained a very high PPR, but she's also had a low usage rate and high assist ratio.

Ast ratio

PPR

Usage rate

Pts/empty

Oklahoma (2011)

19.5

-1.39

28.96

1.93

San Antonio (2011)

30

3.56

18.43

2.04

Danielle Robinson's senior year and rookie year numbers in 2011.

To put Robinson's trajectory in perspective, of all the NCAA D1 point guards who have started WNBA games consistently over the course of even one season since Shannon Johnson retired, Robinson had the second lowest college assist ratio meaning she created baskets for others the second least often (Ivory Latta had the lowest, coming in just under Robinson at 19.5%). In other words, relative to the style of play of her WNBA peers statistically, Robinson did an almost complete reversal of styles in her college to pro transition.

However, it's not actually that simple and I use the extreme case of Robinson to illustrate a broader point: the high-synergy Silver Stars didn't just teach Robinson to pass really quickly during training camp of her rookie year; the Oklahoma Sooners just demanded that she score more often.

As Robinson's high college usage rate suggests, she was the best ball handler on her team her senior year and her team's #1 scoring option. Oklahoma needed her to score so she did. More importantly, she did so efficiently. In the WNBA, playing next to the All-Stars like Hammon and Sophia Young as well as former Big XII opponent Danielle Adams, Robinson didn't need to score so she passed more often and, most importantly, more efficiently.

We can dissect the numbers further - particularly the value of an assist in measuring a college point guard's mentality - but the primary thing to keep in mind is that the measure of a good point guard is really contextual: how well did they perform given the demands of the system they were playing in and the teammates they were playing with?

If the smartest play is just to get the ball into the hands of a better scorer and get out of the way, a good point guard will do that. If a good point guard can score - given the situation and personnel they're playing with and against - they do that. But ultimately, what really matters is that they are able to bring the ball up the court and make those decisions efficiently, which quite simply boils down to not wasting possessions with turnovers or missed shots. When we're looking at WNBA point guard prospects here, that's essentially what we're trying to identify: players who did whatever they were doing efficiently.

But the reason to go through all that as a preface to this year's class is that this year's class has an opportunity to provide some additional insight into what makes a good point guard: there are a number of point guard prospects who were drafted in this year's class who either don't have a traditionally "strong" profile or have a quirk that might challenge the conventions of the past.

That actually starts with college superstar Skylar Diggins.

Skylar Diggins, Notre Dame

Throughout the year, folks here and elsewhere have not only discussed about whether Diggins will be worth all the hype she's gotten but also whether she'll even be a point guard at all.

While some laugh off the notion of her not making it as a point guard, Diggins' statistics - similar to Robinson's - definitely do offer support for those that suggest she's more of a scoring guard than a star distributor. And just to add to the arguments of those who don't believe Diggins will be more than a run-of-the-mill scoring guard, this SPI similarity has been pretty interesting to me:

S

P

I

Diggins (2013)

0.52

0.91

0.09

Ajavon (2008)

0.49

0.90

0.14

There's a reason I haven't posted or even mentioned that prior to this point: Diggins and Ajavon are different players, regardless of whatever similarity in tendencies is there. Most importantly, Diggins was a much more efficient distributor in her senior year. So even if this is an understandable comparison on paper, Diggins was a stronger prospect.

And her trajectory over the past three years might be even more important in demonstrating that she is a very strong point guard prospect.

PPR

Pts/empty

Ast Ratio

Usage

2013

1.21

1.81

22.98

28.05

2012

3.74

2.37

25.24

27.18

2011

-2.52

1.64

20.75

26.83

Skylar Diggins' point guard statistics at Notre Dame from 2011-2013.

Sophomore year numbers don't really matter all that much - two years is a lot of time for things to improve or become disastrous - but Diggins essentially went from posting the numbers of a borderline prospect to a solid one from her sophomore to senior year, while her responsibility as a scorer made marginal increases.

Yet what might be more interesting - and relevant to her potential - is that Diggins had a really strong junior year in between those two. Not the strongest year ever - Briann January had similar numbers at a comparable usage rate - but numbers that were clearly those of a starting distributor.

Diggins' senior year dip therefore points to something important: she actually adapted quite well to the needs of her team over the past two years, doing more while remaining quite efficient. Most importantly to the subject of how usage rates figure into the value of point guard prospects, very few high usage college point guards increase their usage rates in the WNBA; with less responsibility for carrying their team's offense, a number of point guards have seen their usage rates decline in the pros which leaves room to demonstrate their efficiency as a distributor more easily. That goes for everyone from Robinson to Samantha Prahalis to Lindsay Whalen and to a lesser extent Sue Bird.

Diggins has already shown the potential to do the same - become a more efficient distributor in the WNBA. The only question is how much the Shock will lean on her for the scoring ability that helped her lead Notre Dame to consecutive Final Fours and their first-ever Big East title.

Lindsey Moore, Nebraska

Lindsey Moore was without question the most efficient point guard drafted this year and could even be considered a steal for the already loaded Minnesota Lynx.

While Moore might not have gotten quite the superstar spotlight that Diggins got, here's one way to view her as a prospect: her senior year numbers were similar on the surface to Diggins' strong junior year numbers, but she was a much better 3-point shooter. Yet that has to be said with a caveat: Diggins had a much higher usage rate throughout her career meaning she produced more at the same rate of efficiency, which is just one more example of how strong a prospect she is. Moore, in contrast. put up those efficiency numbers while doing "less" in terms of the number of possessions she used up. Comparing her to past point guard prospects, her numbers are actually more similar to those of Kelly Miller who was nearly identical as a point guard coming out of Georgia in 2001.

Either way, you probably get the point: she definitely has a place in this league and will find a way to contribute no matter what her rookie year looks like.

Nadirah McKenith, St. John's

Nadirah McKenith was a point guard who flew a bit under the radar in terms of how she was discussed prior to the draft, but there's one thing about her profile that stood out compared to others: McKenith is one of a select group of high usage (23%+)/high assist ratio (23%+) point guards to enter the league. And I say "select" because every one of them has not only made the league but stuck around for a while, even if their level of production has been a mixed bag (Haynie, 2005; Mitchell, 2008: Montgomery, 2009; Vandersloot, 2011). Of course, that group looks a lot better when you add the likes of Samantha Prahalis, Diana Taurasi and (we'll assume) Diggins, but the point is that McKenith would be the first in that group not to make the league.

So what's the barrier? McKenith also wasn't overwhelmingly efficient in her senior year, either as a distributor or scorer; she'd be the only one in that "select" group above, to make it with a pure point rating under 2.5 or points per empty possession under 1.8. That also just means that she might bend he rules a little.

Returning to the example of Robinson (or Diggins), the question for McKenith is what will she do when she isn't asked to score so much? On the Mystics' roster - with veteran Crystal Langhorne on the interior and very efficient college guard Tayler Hill on the perimeter, not to mention Matee Ajavon and Monique Currie - there is no way McKenith would have anything near a 24% usage rate. That's why I loved the pick so much: we'll get to see if she can be a bit more efficient as a distributor when asked to do less scoring.

Of course, there's no guarantee a second round pick even makes a roster these days, but she'll be one to watch.

Alex Bentley, Penn State

Given the question mark about McKenith it might be surprising to some to see Bentley rated lower. The reason is simple: prospects with college assist ratios under 19% don't fare very well as WNBA point guards. And with Robinson being such an extreme case of radically increasing her assist ratio in the pros, really the prospect of becoming an efficient distributor at that level is low: Ivory Latta is holding down the threshold and she has had one of the lower PPRs of any point guard in the league over the past two seasons.

But the big problem for Bentley is that she has also been knocked for having an inconsistent jumper, which makes for a bad combination: her low assist ratio makes her very questionable as a distributor and if she can't knock down jumpers consistently, she could struggle to make an impact.

While her point guard numbers place Bentley somewhere in between the likes of Latta and Jasmine Thomas, who had similar question marks coming out of college, her SPI similarity numbers rate her as almost exactly similar to Robinson, which bodes extremely well: Robinson shooting range was also a concern and she still has only shot a handful of threes in her WNBA career thus far.

S

P

I

PPR

Ast Ratio

Pts/empty

Bentley

0.72

0.83

0.07

1.6

17.62

1.81

Robinson (2011)

0.73

0.84

0.06

-1.39

19.50

1.93

Thomas (2011)

0.78

0.73

0.16

-1.99

15.55

1.64

For impressions of Robinson and Thomas prior to the 2011 WNBA Draft, click here.

One of the things that Robinson had going for her was size, which when combined with her speed made her a threat going to the free throw line as well. Bentley, in contrast, had the lowest free throw rate of any point guard drafted this year, which really paints her as a inefficient jump shooting point guard. Again, not a very pretty picture.

Still, in contrast to a player like Thomas, Bentley was much more efficient as a college distributor and actually a more efficient scorer than McKenith. So we have to give her similar benefit of the doubt: if she's not as responsible for scoring offensively, can she become a more efficient distributor?

If nothing else, it wouldn't be the first time that the Dream have worked with a point guard with a suspect jumper. And with her ability to use her quickness to get steals - her 6.29% steal ratio was the highest of any player drafted this year - she has a chance to buck the trend of past players with low assist ratios.

Angel Goodrich, Kansas

Like McKenith, Goodrich is among that group of high assist ratio/high usage rate players who tend to find a spot in the league. Unlike McKenith, Goodrich was the only other point guard drafted this year with a PPR over 2.5, which means she's a very efficient distributor considering how much her team relies on her for scoring.

But she fell to the third round - after being considered a much stronger prospect by some throughout the 2012-13 NCAA season - for a reason: if Goodrich makes the Shock roster this season, she'll have the lowest points per empty possession ratio of any point guard currently in the league. And if you watched her games closely, the problem for her was scoring inside the arc: she's a player with a low 2-point percentage, but a solid 3-point shooter.

The upside for a player like Goodrich is a point guard who can get the ball upcourt efficiently, knock down threes when the ball rotates back to her, and just doesn't make mistakes. An example, based on height and style of play, might be Leilani Mitchell who has been at her best when she's able to knock down threes for the Liberty and takes care of the ball very well.

The trouble is that Mitchell was much more efficient as a distributor and scorer at Utah, even if the two players had similar tendencies as some of the top 5% purest distributors over the last five years (this is also a good time to mention a related point: setting aside concerns about size and being a mid-major player, Mitchell was an elite point guard prospect.)

S

P

I

PPR

Ast

Pts/empty

Goodrich (2013)

0.44

0.96

0.04

2.55

27.11

1.43

Mitchell (2008)

0.32

0.97

0.1

4.45

29.81

2.07

There's a lot to like about Goodrich: compared to some of the flashier college point guards around the nation this season, she dissected defenses with almost clinical precision. She's patient, she's decisive, and she controls the flow of the game extremely well, especially in transition. With the number of scorers the Shock have, they could use some of all of that, which makes her something of a steal for the Shock as a third round pick.

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