WNBA roster expansion and the quality of the #12 spot

Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

The new CBA agreement will allow a 12 player maximum roster for teams, up from 11 over the past three years. What level of talent can one expect for a 12th roster spot?

On Saturday, the WNBA and the WNBPA - the union representing the WNBA players - agreed in principle to a six-year collective bargaining agreement. The new agreement will allow the expansion of the roster size from a maximum of 11 to a maximum of 12. (I suspect the minimum will stay at 11, allowing teams to carry either 11 or 12 players.)

The drop of the maximum from 13 to 11 in 2009 has been criticized by both players and fans. The union didn't like it because it kept players out of work. The coaches didn't like it because they couldn't hold a 5-on-5 practice with two players injured. The clubs didn't like it because the WNBA was very stingy with its hardship exemptions. A team virtually had to have four players injured before the WNBA would grant one.

However, there were other voices playing Devil's advocate. The argument against roster expansion went like this: the 12th or 13th players on a roster wouldn't have been very good anyway and would have earned virtually zero playing time. How much weaker are teams without those 12th or 13th players? Not very, goes the argument.

Therefore, I looked over the transactions of the 2013 season and asked, "if teams could have 12-players rosters in 2013, which players would be those 12th players?" Most likely, these hypothetical #12 spot players would have been the last players cut from an 11-player roster.

What follows is a list for each team of the players who were the final cuts on the 2013 roster - these players could have been 12th players if the rosters had been bigger. Each name is listed with the date she was cut. So how good are these players? Let's find out.

Atlanta: Cathrine Kraayeveld (5/22), Sydney Carter (5/22)

If the Dream had had 12 players, they probably would have kept Kraayeveld, an eight-year veteran. As it turned out, Kraayeveld had some basketball left in her - in July, she was signed by the San Antonio Silver Stars (now Stars) where as a hardship exception she played 22 games in San Antonio. Carter - who had been drafted in 2012 by Chicago and played one game for the Sky - would also be picked up as a hardship exception, who averaged 4.5 ppg and 2.8 apg in the six games she played in Connecticut. When Connecticut got its back court back, Carter was released.

Conclusion: Both of those players are legit 12th players.

Chicago: Ruth Riley (5/23)

Riley ended up on the Atlanta roster in June to fill the spot vacated by Sancho Lyttle while she was competing for the Spanish National Team in 2013. Lyttle was injured and never returned to the team after a 10-1 start, and Riley hung on all the way to the 2013 WNBA finals. A 13-year veteran, she only played 7.6 minutes per game, averaged 1.1 points per game and shot 31.6 percent, the worst average of her career.

Conclusion: Riley might be out of chances, even as a 12th player.

Connecticut: Johannah Leedham (5/23), Latoya Williams (5/23)

Leedham had been drafted back in 2010, but never played for Connecticut until 2013. She didn't do badly at all, scoring 5.3 ppg and averaging 16 minutes per game in three pre-season games. She hit 46.7 percent of her shots. After her WNBA tryout, she played for the UK in the the European Championships, averaging 18.3 ppg. She averages 8.2 points per game for Bourges in France right now; it's not out of the question for her to be invited back to some team in 2014.

Williams averaged 6.0 ppg in her three pre-season games with Connecticut. She's averaging 12.0 ppg/8.0 rpg for PEAC-Pecs in Hungary, which is also playing in Eurocup. Her team has made it to Stage 2 of the Hungarian championships.

Conclusion: Leedham is probably a legit 12th player, but I don't think Williams is.

Indiana: Jasmine Hassell (5/22)

Hassell had a very strange 2013 season. Let this webpage explain things:

* The Indiana Fever drafted Hassell with the 21st overall pick in the second round of the WNBA Draft on April 16.
* After going through training camp and playing in both preseason games, Hassell was waived May 22, two days before the start of the regular season.
* The Fever claimed her off waivers on May 24 as a replacement player to play in Indiana’s regular season opener while first round pick Layshia Clarendon attended her college graduation. Her contract was terminated the next day.
* Hassell returned to the Fever on June 21, signing as a replacement player while Katie Douglas missed time with a bulging disc in her lower back. She appeared in 11 of the team’s next 12 games.
* The Fever waived Hassell on Aug. 2, when Jeanette Pohlen returned from her knee injury.
* Hassell signed three 7-day contracts with the Seattle Storm, appearing in four of seven games.
* The Fever scooped up Hassell once again when she became available, waiving second-year forward Sasha Goodlett and signing Hassell to a remainder-of-season contract on Aug. 27.
* Hassell etched her name in the Fever record books, becoming the first player to wear two different jersey numbers in the same season (she wore 12 in two of her stints with the team and 21 in one).

Hassell averaged 1.8 ppg and 1.1 rpg in 8.5 mpg for the Fever, getting a chance to waive towels during the 2013 playoffs.

Indiana Fever GM Kelly Krauskopf claimed that Hassell had the tools to make in in the league. Hassell averaged 15.0 points per game for Elizur Netanya in Israel, but was replaced. She then went to Spanish Power Rivas Ecopolis, where she averages 6.0 ppg in 21.5 mpg.

Conclusion: She is a marginal 12th player. I'm sure she'll see time on someone's roster, but won't be very spectacular.

New York: Shenneika Smith (5/23)

Smith was a third-round draft pick for the Liberty, the last woman off the roster. She averaged 7.6 ppg over two Liberty preseason games. After the 2013 WNBA season, she found work with Uni Girona in Spain, but averaged only 4.5 ppg and 12.3 mpg. She now plays for the weaker Portugese league with Lombos Quinta, averaging 10 ppg in 26.3 mpg, but only shooting 40 percent.

Conclusion: Not a 12th player, and I doubt we'll see her again even on an expanded roster.

Washington: Shea Peddy (5/23)

After being drafted by Chicago in 2012 but being released in the preseason, the following year Shey Peddy played a couple of pre-season games for Washington. In her 15.5 mpg, she scored 6.5 ppg but only shot 33.3 percent. She is currently playing with the Flying Foxes, an Austrian team.

Conclusion: Two teams have taken a look at her, so I wouldn't count her out. But I think you're better off betting that she won't be back in the WNBA.

Los Angeles: Briana Gilbreath (5/20), Alyssia Brewer (5/20)

Gilbreath was one of the last two cuts for Los Angeles. A couple of days later, the Mercury waived Erin Thorn to pick up Gilbreath. She turned that into playing all season for Phoenix, averaging 4.4 ppg in 22.4 mpg with a 39.5 percent shooting average - and she started in 30 out of 34 of those games.

As for Alyssia Brewer, she scored 5.5 ppg out of two preseason-games, but didn't get picked up. She was signed to Bursa in Turkey, and she's averaging 21.6 ppg in 28 mpg for Bursa in the second division.

Conclusion: Gilbreath could be a 12th player anywhere, but with Brewer playing in the Turkish version of DII, I wouldn't count her as a 12th player candidate.

Minnesota: Shawnise Wilson (5/23)

Wilson played a couple of pre-season games for the Lynx, with 1.5 ppg in 10 mpg. She was signed for Ibaizabal, a first-year team in Spain's top league for the 2013-14 season. (As expected, they are at the bottom of the league.) She averaged 6.1 ppg in January. She averages 7.6 ppg in 25.4 mpg for the Italians, but Chieti is 0-17 for the season.

Conclusion: Her Eurostats aren't impressive enough. Yes, she plays for teams in the upper league in Spain and Italy, but they're awful teams. I don't see her making a WNBA roster.

Phoenix: Erin Thorn (5/22), Nikki Greene (5/22), Ify Ibekwe (5/22)

Thorn was waived to make room for Brianna Gilbreath. She ended up getting signed by the Fever as a replacement player under the hardship exemption, playing in six games for 1.2 ppg in 11.2 mpg. She has played 11 years in the WNBA and doesn't seem to be playing overseas - has Erin Thorn retired?

Nikki Greene, a 2013 draft choice for the Mercury did not play in the lone pre-season game against Japan. She ended up playing for Bichumi, a South Korean league team. The team is in fourth plac, and she appears to be scoring 5.5 ppg in 11.3 mpg.

Ify Ibekwe played 12 minutes in the only preseason game Phoenix had in 2013, scoring 6 points on 3-for-6 shooting against Japan. She played three games for the Seattle Storm in 2011. She played for the last place Ibaizabal team in Spain this year, scoring 12.5 ppg on 27.3 mpg up to December 2013, but doesn't have any games listed for 2014.

Conclusion: Thorn looks to have disappeared, Greene is in South Korea and Ibekwe doesn't seem to be making much of an impact. I won't count Thorn out just because she's been around so long, but Greene or Ibekwe probably won't be back.

San Antonio: Christine Flores (5/23), Ziomara Morrison (5/23), Yvonne Turner (5/23), Julie Wojta (5/23)

Flores had been drafted by Phoenix a year earlier, but only played two minutes in one San Antonio pre-season game. She would be signed by Israel's Elizur Netanya where she is averaging 15.8 ppg and shooting 49.2 percent this season.

Morrison has actually played as a bench player for the then Silver Stars in 2012, but didn't make the final cut in 2013. Turkish team Ceyhan brought in Morrison this year to replace Carolyn Swords, who was injured. she is averaging 14.6 ppg there over 18 games.

Turner played in two preseason games for San Antonio. She is now playing for Antakya, averaging 12.6 ppg over 19 games. Antakya is in the middle of the pack in the TKBL at 9-10.

Wojta played one game in the regular season for Minnesota. She would later be signed in June by the Silver Stars on a hardship exemption, playing three games and scoring only six points over those games. Wojta has been playing for Belgium team Belfius Namor, scoring 15.1 ppg over 15 games.

Conclusion: Morrison is a legitimate 12th player. One of the other three might be a legitimate 12th player as well, but I'll leave it your call as to which one.

Seattle: Chelsea Poppens (5/23)

Poppens was drafted in 2013, and showed up in two preseason games for the Storm. After DeLisha Milton-Jones was waived, Poppens played eight games for the Storm but only averaged 1.1 ppg over 7.9 mpg. She played in Australia with the Bulleen Boomers (fourth place at 14-10 in the Australian WNBL) and averaged 14.4 ppt with 7.3 rpg. However, she ruptured her ACL in January 2014 and is out for the rest of the season.

Conclusion: I could see Chelsea Poppens in a 12th player role. But it won't be this season.

Tulsa: Courtney Paris (5/23)

The first-round draft pick for Sacramento in 2008 was the last woman cut in Tulsa, probably to make space (figuratively) for Liz Cambage. Then she was resigned for a couple of games when Tulsa caught the injury bug, then waived again. After Tulsa traded Kayla Pedersen to the Sun, Paris finally got back on the roster, this time to stay.

All in all, she played 23 games, coming off the bench in 21 of those games. She only played about 12 minutes a game, with 3.8 ppg and 4.1 rpg. She is now playing for Mersin in the Turkish league, averaging 12.8 ppg and 11.8 rpg over 19 games. Her teammate and fellow starter? Her sister, Ashley Paris.

Conclusion: Courtney Paris could definitely be a 12th player. That's her tragedy.


Final Conclusion: Out of the twenty players from 2013 that were the last players to be cut from their teams, I believe that ten of those could be 12th players. More than one were picked up by other teams later on, and even if they didn't make significant contributions they were there longer than your typical cup of coffee.

So don't count out those 12th players as irrelevant just yet. Some of them could be playing for your team this season.

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