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WNBA draft power forward prospects: How Amber Harris Affects the 2010 Draft

After Xavier University forward Amber Harris announced that she would be staying on campus instead of entering the 2010 WNBA Draft, someone emailed and asked how it might impact the first round.

Perhaps this might be the best way to put it - there might be only one true WNBA power forward in the April 8th draft and Harris would almost certainly have been drafted higher than her.

No disrespect to the other prospects, but Harris' absence has to be considered a bit of a letdown for a team like the Chicago Sky, which is picking fourth. Given that they traded All-Star power forward Candice Dupree on the day Harris made her decision, their need for depth in the frontcourt to back up center Sylvia Fowles is even more pressing.

"I still think we probably need another frontline player as a backup to add to the rotation there," said Sky coach and general manager Steven Key in a phone interview with Swish Appeal on Wednesday. "Probably a frontline player is our most essential need that I see for us for the upcoming season just because for the last couple of years Sylvia wasn't healthy and we kept an extra ballhandler at the time and in the end I ended up having to make some moves in order to really salvage the season because Sylvia was out for a third of the season for the last two years. So I think we're probably going to hedge our bets and try to get another post player."

Harris might have been the ideal fit for the Sky as constituted, giving the Sky a more perimeter oriented forward with solid ball skills to replace Dupree and complement Fowles in the post. While Stanford's Jayne Appel and Connecticut's Tina Charles are certainly outstanding talents, there is no doubt that Harris is likely one of the more dynamic and versatile talents in college basketball.

"I think she'd be a good fit," said Key when asked what Harris might offer a WNBA team. "I think at her size she has got great ballhandling skills. She's got a good touch - if you can get your own shot off and put the ball on the ground from the three point line and foul line in one dribble and be able to make a move and get some separation, then that's a skill that's definitely needed on our level. And it's not bad that she shoots a fairly good looking long-range ball."

With Harris out, Key said the Sky are leaning toward drafting a ballhandler at #4. And with them potentially looking for backcourt help, there's a strong possibility that no true power forward will be drafted in the first round, if we consider players like Middle Tennessee State University's Alysha Clark, University of Nebraska's Kelsey Griffin and University of Oklahoma's Amanda Thompson perhaps a bit undersized for the frontcourt in the WNBA.

Combined with Kansas State power forward Ashley Sweat's decision to pursue graduate school instead of the WNBA, it's possible that there is really only one true power forward prospect in the draft: University of Illinois forward Jenna Smith.

Jenna Smith, Illinois

Chasing the Title statistical summary:

"Smith ranks in my top 15 for every category and is number 5 overall on my list this season.  She is the best defensive rebounder I have tracked this year, with strong showings in WinScore and True Shooting Percentage."

Statistical commentary:

Jenna Smith's defensive rebounding numbers have been consistently strong all year, with a defensive rebounding percentage right around 22%. She's one of the most efficient scoring interior players in the draft by almost any scoring metric, though her usage rate is relatively lower than other college power forwards. Perhaps an underrated strength of Smith's game is her passing ability, with an assist ratio of just over 10% -- about the same as versatile college power forwards Griffin and Harris. Although at 6'3" she won't necessarily be a great WNBA shot blocker, her nearly two blocks a game demonstrates impressive defensive instincts as well.

Statistically, it's difficult to find a strong weakness for Smith - she does have a 10% turnover percentage, but that's counterbalanced with her ability to pass out of the post. Perhaps one might expect her offensive rebounding percentage of around 7% to be a bit higher, but overall her numbers are solid.

Quote from a coach:

LYNX: Cheryl Reeve Conference Call
How do you evaluate a player like Jenna Smith, and how do you factor in kind of a lack of team success and a few injury issues that she's had? - Anthony Zillas, Daily Illini

Reeve: I think Jenna Smith falls in the category of 'a good college player' who has to get into a right situation, meaning a team that really needs a post. It is competitive; you know, you have five posts on a team in most situations, and I don’t necessarily think it's a lack of team success that hurts her; Size wise, she's 6'2" or 6'3", she's decent size, she scores around the basket. Those are all good things. I think her biggest challenge is athletically, in terms of getting up and down the court and moving laterally.

- Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve in the WNBA pre-draft conference call


Overall, if Smith finds the right team that masks her weaknesses - she has struggled to defend more athletic posts - she could be a very solid contributor. She is easily one of the best in this draft at establishing defensive rebounding position in the paint and uses that same strength to establish scoring position on the block. She also has a mid-range jumper which could help her utilize her passing abilities in the high post for a team that wanted to play a high-low game.

Given the lack of true post players in this draft, it's hard to imagine Smith falling out of the first round. However, the fact that she was not on the WNBA's list of 14 invitees to the draft - assuming the invite list is representative of draft stock - might indicate that WNBA GMs are lukewarm on her ability in an environment where they are only allowed to carry 11 players on the roster.

Ashley Sweat, forward, Kansas State

Similar to Harris, Sweat has reportedly decided not to pursue a WNBA career in favor of continuing to pursue an education. But had she entered the draft, she might have been drafted on the basis of how thin the draft is at the power forward position. The one red flag for Sweat is her extremely low offensive rebounding rate of 4%, just under Alyssa DeHaan for lowest among all post players in this draft.

Transition Points:

For the record, as an educator, it is refreshing to see Harris choose college life over being a lottery pick this year and Sweat choose graduate school over professional basketball. Of course, the temptation to leave for the WNBA doesn't carry quite the bank account considerations that leaving early for the NBA does, but it's still nice to see players find a well-reasoned balance basketball decisions and life decisions.

For Sweat, perhaps her decision reinforces the value of Title IX as an opportunity for women to get an education with the support of their athletic abilities. For Harris, aside from the fact that college is by far the best time of one's life (Top Ramen included), her decision is great in that she stands to become an even better prospect for next year as she works on her game.

"The areas she probably needs to work on are playing hard all the time and keeping her stamina up, but I think those are two things she can easily overcome," said Key.