What makes for a successful center prospect?

Back in 2011, we looked at a set of 36 NCAA DI center prospects to figure out some basic criteria for what leads to WNBA success. The following is an update.

The bottom line is really that to make it in the WNBA as a post player, you have to be able to score efficiently - that was the chief criteria for successful post prospects from 2005-2009 when I looked at the position a few years ago and it has pretty much held up, with a few exceptions, as I described earlier this year.

That's part of why narrowing the field of prospects at the center position has been relatively easy. The other part is that there are generally so few true centers that are good enough college players to warrant consideration to begin with: for the most part, if you're on the radar at all it's for a reason you've done something impressive.

The following is a list of criteria that has held steady over the last few years.

  • Scoring efficiency (true shooting percentage): Out of those 36 drafted centers from 2005-2009, there did seem to be a pretty clear distinction between the shooting efficiencies of successful and unsuccessful draftees: on average, successful prospects had a true shooting percentage of nearly 60% while unsuccessful ones were almost by rule under 55% (the exception: Krystal Thomas, who had a TS% of 50%). The 55%-60% range - which includes Stanford's Jayne Appel, who has grown into a solid role as a defender - is a bit more of a mixed bag. But if we just lift that standard and apply it to the last four drafts, it really isn't much different or more forgiving: with the exception of players who have weight or conditioning concerns, being over 60% is a good place to be.
  • Low free throw rates (FTA/FGA): Post players with low free throw rates (under 40%) tend to struggle. The reason(s) for the low free throw rate does matter, but the low rate itself suggests reason to take a closer look at how someone is playing. Bone was the most recent notable exception and UConn's Stefanie Dolson figures to be the next, but it's also worth noting that Bone had a TS% at 59% and Dolson will almost certainly be over 60%. And for a player like Krystal Thomas, her 48.3% free throw rate was a positive to help mitigate her low scoring efficiency overall.
  • Personal foul efficiency (stl+blk/pf): This is an interesting one that isn't a strict rule, but players that fall under the successful centers' average of 1.05 (think of that as a steal and block per personal foul) have not fared well in the league, although a few maintained roster spots and, again, Kelsey Bone stands out as a major exception.
  • A low pure point rating: A low PPR doesn't make or break a prospect's chances of making a WNBA roster - even in the 11-player roster era - but it does suggest that a player might struggle at the very least. PPRs under -6.00 are generally a red flag for post players.
  • The Feenstra Rule: So what of James' "Katie Feenstra rule"? It should be interesting that 6-foot-6 center are not really even being drafted - Swords is the most successful one. Ta'Shia Phillips, who had outstanding numbers at Xavier, didn't stick.
  • Mid-major players: Given that the only mid-major player drafted last season was Delle Donne, it's probably not too surprising that mid-major centers haven't fared well either: Phillips was the only one from 2010-13, meaning general managers haven't even looked that direction of late.
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