With the 2012 WNBA draft lottery order set Thursday and the NCAA regular season really getting going last night, this is as good a time as any to take a look at some of college basketball's top professional prospects.
James already put together a list of ten prospects to keep an eye on back in May, but with UCLA Bruins forward Jasmine Dixon falling to injury we're updating that list with an additional look at some key statistical indicators to keep an eye on throughout the season.
What makes a strong prospect?
James' list of prospects was determined statistically and for now we'll stick with that, adding other players based on observation. Last season, 11 of the 13 players James' draft rater highlighted finished the season on WNBA rosters and nine were drafted in the first round. Given that this year is widely considered a "weaker" draft, even that kind of success rate will be tougher with a preseason list but you have to start somewhere and there are ways we can try to pick out strong prospects.
Entering last season's draft, I described four (senior year) statistical factors that fairly consistently make or break WNBA Draft prospects coming out of NCAA Division I basketball: 2-point percentage, free throw rate, offensive rebounding percentage, usage rate/shooting efficiency.
As you might expect, the threshold varies by position: point guards and centers have a somewhat unique set of standards and exceptions; being a 6'6" player that has a high three point percentage isn't quite as important as offensive rebounding numbers. Nevertheless, in general the standards hold pretty well.
So as players embark upon their senior season with the WNBA Draft about six months away, we do have some benchmarks for where prospects stand now and improvements they could make that might help them make a WNBA roster. Of course, the key phrase there is "where prospects stand now and improvements": these are junior season statistics, which might give us some sense of what a player can do but don't necessarily predict what one will do in their senior season - these are not a final judgment on a prospects chances. And really, there is no clear way to make a final judgment on any player without watching them compete in training camp.
There's not a whole lot more to say about the nine healthy prospects from James' list in May, so I'll focus on the "replacement" for Dixon while adding a few statistical notes about the other players next week.
Top 2012 WNBA Draft Prospects in the NCAA
Player name/bio link, School (Height, Position)
Added: Lynetta Kizer, Maryland Terrapins (6'4", Post)
If it means anything to you - and perhaps this should be a subject of a separate line of investigation - Kizer played for the U.S. National Team this summer that won gold in China so she could be considered among the elite at her position, if nothing else. Also noteworthy from her bio is that she was All-ACC Second Team last season: ahead of her on the first team was Chicago Sky center Carolyn Swords and behind her on the third team was Phoenix Mercury center Krystal Thomas (36th and final pick of the 2011 WNBA draft, by the Seattle Storm).
Statistically, what bodes well for Kizer is that her junior year offensive rebounding percentage of 14% is pretty solid, meaning that she could be a rebounding presence for someone in the WNBA. However, her free throw rate of 29% and her true shooting percentage of 51% put her beneath the threshold of a prospect that will have a long career playing in the post, particularly in an era of 11-player rosters.
Cierra Bravard, Florida State Seminoles (6'4", Post)
Briana Gilbreath, USC Trojans (6'1", Wing)
Tiffany Hayes, Connecticut Huskies (5'10", Guard)
Glory Johnson, Tennessee Lady Vols (6'3, Forward)
Lykendra Johnson, Michigan State Spartans (6'1", Forward)
Shenise Johnson, Miami Hurricanes (5'11", Guard)
Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Stanford Cardinal (6'2", Forward)
Shekinna Stricklen, Tennessee Lady Vols (6'2", Wing)
Riquna Williams, Miami Hurricanes (5'7", Guard)