It was a pretty big weekend for Penn State senior Maggie Lucas.
In scoring 16 points to help PSU hand Michigan State their first loss of Big Ten play yesterday, she passed Big Ten great Stephanie White to move into 10th on the conference's all-time scoring list with 2193 points.
@swhitej2 Maggie Lucas has tied you for 10th in Big Ten scoring but I want you to know I appreciated every pt you scored for the Boilers!— CAROLYN PECK (@CAROLYNPECK) January 19, 2014
In shooting 4-for-4 from the free throw line, she maintained her 97% free throw shooting for the season and has a chance to finish her career as the Big Ten's all-time greatest career free throw shooter (interestingly, she's neck and neck with Purdue senior Courtney Moses who has an identical career free throw percentage of 90.47%). Having entered the season as the Big Ten's all-time career 3-point percentage leader, she still has a very good shot at finishing her career as the best 3-point shooter in conference history despite only shooting 33.9% so far this season.
So it should come as little surprise that Lucas was selected to the 21-player 2014 John R. Wooden Award Midseason Watch List that was announced on Friday along with a collection of women's college basketball's biggest stars - she will leave college with a solid argument for the title of the best scorer in Big Ten history. Yet of the 13 seniors on the list, Lucas is the one we haven't discussed much as a 2014 WNBA Draft prospect around here.
Lucas' reputation as one of the top shooters in the Big Ten - and the nation - almost guarantees that she'll get drafted. Her sub-par 3-point shooting this season has to be seen as an aberration in the context of her entire career. At 5'10", size won't be the obvious concern that it might be for some of the other scoring guards in this year's draft class. And what separates Lucas from some of the other top shooters in this draft is an outstanding free throw rate: she gets a little more than one free throw for every three field goal attempts she takes (36.45%), which reflects an ability to drive inside the arc and draw contact rather than just standing around the arc waiting for spot-ups.
But the question marks begin with Lucas' track record inside the arc.
Lucas has never in her four years at PSU had a 2-point percentage above 45%, which has been a somewhat critical indicator for WNBA success in the past. Thus far this season, she has a career-low 2-point percentage of 39.7%, which - if she makes a roster - would be the among the lowest senior season 2-point percentages of any player to make a roster in the last six drafts. When you link the career-low shooting efficiency - with the exception of her record at the free throw line - you have to wonder what's going on.
There are at least two possible explanations with implications for how to read Lucas as a WNBA prospect: first is that point guard Alex Bentley graduated. Bentley was a much more efficient distributor than current starting point guard Dara Taylor and that could obviously make a huge difference for a shooter like Lucas - having a point guard capable of driving and kicking the way Bentley did is a huge benefit to a 3-point shooter. Without Bentley, Lucas could be struggling to get looks she can make.
The second explanation might be a bit more optimistic: that Bentley's absence as a scorer makes things harder on Lucas as she is now almost the sole focal point of opposing defenses. This is one we can pretty easily quantify: last season, Bentley and Lucas were pretty much even as the players with the ball in their hands most often offensively (usage percentages of 24.76% and 25.94%, respectively). This season, Lucas has a team-high usage rate of 29.61% with Taylor a distant second at 22.65%. It's not quite as simple as saying Lucas is shooting more and thus making less; it's that PSU's offense is less balanced this year, which puts more pressure on Lucas and has resulted in a natural decline in efficiency.
Of course, the real explanation for Lucas' decline in scoring efficiency this season could be a combination of both of those things or neither - the above are just two explanations that stand out statistically. Either way, perhaps one could argue that on a WNBA team with a solid point guard and post presence, Lucas could thrive as someone who can spread the court with her 3-point shooting ability.
On the other hand, the presumed reason that a low 2-point percentage tends to be a harbinger of things to come for WNBA wing prospects is that it reflects - or stands out as a proxy for - an inability to create high-quality scoring opportunities for themselves inside the arc. For a player who has never shot over 45% inside the arc in college, that seems to be an even more significant concern - the WNBA is difficult to make with rosters set at 11 for college scorers who struggle with efficiency against NCAA defenses.
For more analysis on potential draft prospects, check out our 2014 WNBA Draft storystream.