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2012 WNBA Draft Prospects: What To Look For From The Top 10 Prospects In The NCAA

USC Trojans guard Briana Gilbreath has consistently been one of the best defenders in the conference formerly called the Pac-10. But how strong is she as a WNBA Draft prospect? <em>Photo by Craig Bennett/112575 Media/</em>
USC Trojans guard Briana Gilbreath has consistently been one of the best defenders in the conference formerly called the Pac-10. But how strong is she as a WNBA Draft prospect? Photo by Craig Bennett/112575 Media/

On Friday, I revisited James' list of 2012 WNBA Draft prospects in the NCAA, adding Maryland's Lynetta Kizer in place of injured UCLA forward Jasmine Dixon.

With four of those 10 in action last night, a closer look at the statistical strengths and weaknesses of those top 10 based on their junior season performances and what they might need to improve upon before adding some players to the list.

Cierra Bravard, Florida State Seminoles (6'4", Post)

Bravard has all the numbers to suggest that she'll be a strong post prospect for the WNBA Draft. A true shooting percentage of 62.48% at a usage rate of 26.54%, and a free throw rate of 67%. What might help Bravard's case is better offensive rebounding (about 12% last season) and passing (a pure point rating of -8.04 is low even for centers) but overall, she's definitely one to keep an eye on.

Briana Gilbreath, USC Trojans (6'1", Wing)

Gilbreath is one of my personal favorites on this list and not just because she's a Pac-12 player: she is arguably one of the most versatile defenders in the country and she might have the size to make that translate at the next level.

Statistically, what immediately stands out is poor shooting: she had a true shooting percentage of 49.02% last season. To put that in perspective, the lowest true shooting percentage of any major (non-point) guard prospect last season was 53.23% (Italee Lucas). One thing that could bring that number up is her steadily improving comfort from the three point line in addition to improving free throw shooting. But it's pretty clear what she needs to do to improve her standing as a prospect.

Tiffany Hayes, Connecticut Huskies (5'10", Guard)

James already pointed out that Hayes will almost certainly get a look as a WNBA Draft prospect simply because she plays for UConn despite being so difficult to figure out.

There's not a whole lot that stands out about her statistical profile relative to other prospects, except that she had a team-high 45% free throw rate, which is a good indicator for a guard's ability to get to the basket.

But otherwise, the big question for her as a prospect is what James also noted: how will she perform without Maya Moore on the floor to both draw attention and open up opportunities for others?

Glory Johnson, Tennessee Lady Vols (6'3, Forward)

On the court, what immediately makes Johnson stand out is her athleticism - there aren't many players at her size and rebounding ability that can pick up a steal and dribble half the court on a fast break for a layup.

But what immediately stands out about Johnson statistically is that she was right behind Shekinna Stricklen for the lead in terms of the percentage of overall statistical production she contributed to the Lady Vols last season (Johnson: 17.70%, Stricklen 18.08%). That's really quite impressive considering that she did it in about five less minutes per game.

Johnson's numbers are impressive across the board, including a rather eye-popping 78.27% free throw rate (making them is another story, but even her 45.88% free throw production rate puts her squarely in the range of a strong post prospect). The one thing that stands out as something to improve on is her shooting efficiency: Johnson's 56.81% true shooting percentage is in a gray area that could be counterbalanced by the other things she brings to the court or - along with her free throw shooting - could suggest that she'll struggle to be much of an offensive threat at the next level.

As we discussed multiple times last year and already through the lens of what freshman Ariel Massengale brings to the team, having an efficient point guard could make a huge difference for the Lady Vols and that could mean better looks for a post player like Johnson.

Lykendra Johnson, Michigan State Spartans (6'1", Forward)

In Lykendra Johnson, we get another strong defensive player who was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 and her name will be all over the MSU record books by the time she graduates.

Although she wasn't the most efficient scorer in her junior season (54.82% true shooting percentage) it's actually encouraging that she maintained about the same efficiency last season while taking more than 100 more shots than her sophomore season. But the thing that really stands out is her rebounding: she finished last season with about a 16% offensive rebounding percentage.

The one thing that stands out as an area of improvement for Johnson is her ball handling: she had a turnover ratio of around 18% which is high for an undersized post player who might be asked to play further out from the basket in the pros. Johnson also faces the task of playing her senior season after giving birth in August instead of choosing to take a medical redshirt.

Shenise Johnson, Miami Hurricanes (5'11", Guard)

As noted at the end of last season, Johnson was arguably the Hurricanes' MVP despite teammate Riquna Williams' dynamic play and the reasons for that begin to point to what might ultimately make her the stronger WNBA prospect.

Johnson might immediately stand out as a strong defensive player due to her accolades and a 5.2% steal percentage, which makes her elite in terms of creating steals. Yet aside from her defensive accolades, Johnson was the team's most efficient scoring threat (58.62% true shooting percentage) when you take into account her ability to shoot the three, get to the line, and score very well from the field for a perimeter player. In addition, she did that while using the second most possessions on the team (26.81%), which makes staying that efficient impressive relative to other prospects.

The only thing that one might want Johnson to improve upon in her senior season is her ball handling efficiency (turnover ratio of 13.04%), but even that is a stretch.

Overall, Johnson is the type of complete player that will give a WNBA coach plenty to work with. But what stands out in watching her is that she tends to be a player that is around the ball when positive plays happen for her team on both ends of the floor and that intangible court sense makes her a promising prospect.

Lynetta Kizer, Maryland Terrapins (6'4", Post)

See previous post for analysis. (Not mentioned: Kizer is suspended indefinitely from the Terrapins)

Nnemkadi Ogwumike, Stanford Cardinal (6'2", Forward)

Ogwumike is generally considered the top prospect in this draft and it's not hard to figure out why. Her athleticism, outstanding footwork on the blocks, and work ethic have made her one of the most efficient post scoring threats in college basketball.

Despite the attention she gets down low and being the team's primary scoring threat (with a usage rate of 25.86%), Ogwumike had a true shooting percentage of 62.73%.

It's been a while since we've seen a power forward scoring threat with Ogwumike's track record come out of the college ranks - a few have come out of college and developed into starters once in the WNBA, but Ogwumike is arguably ahead of where any of them were as prospects.

Shekinna Stricklen, Tennessee Lady Vols (6'2", Wing)

While the majority of the attention in this draft class has gone to Ogwumike (for good reason), it's not a stretch to imagine that Stricklen could still have the most untapped potential in this class. The problem is performances like what we witnessed last night: as David Hooper of SBN's Rocky Top Talk said, she "absolutely disappeared in the first half."

Her junior season numbers were strong across the board, but just to put her ability in perspective I'm going to make a comparison that might seem like a stretch: looking solely at her statistical profile, she's actually one of the best wing prospects in the last five years, behind Angel McCoughtry and Maya Moore. In fact, she's literally percentage points behind Moore's senior season numbers in almost every draft-relevant category except one.

Now, let me be totally clear: I don't mean to imply that Stricklen is the same type of can't miss Rookie of the Year starter that Moore was in her first year. Aside from the fact that it's probably unrealistic to hold anybody to that standard, they don't play the game in quite the same way. The point, for those that don't know, is that she's an extremely talented player and when you compare her numbers to Moore's it becomes glaringly obvious what separates the two, but also where Stricklen has an opportunity to prove herself in her final year. And it really is just that one number that illustrates the difference.

The key difference between the two -aside from Moore rarely having the disappearing problem - is that Moore had a usage rate of 31.95% compared to Stricklen's 19.46%, which means that UConn relied on Moore to create offense at a rate well beyond average whereas Stricklen was more of a player who took the shots that came to her.

That Moore managed a true shooting percentage of 61.47% shooting the ball that often with every single opponent game planning to stop her is really quite remarkable (especially considering that she wasn't necessarily a frequent visitor to the free throw line and a lot of her offense came on jumpers). That Moore also managed a turnover ratio of 9.02% with the ball in her hands that often is almost even more remarkable for a small forward.

Moore was a more efficient ball handler, passer, and scorer than Stricklen last season by almost any statistical (or observed) standard so let's not go wild on this comparison. It's just a somewhat interesting lens through which to understand Stricklen's potential and pinpoint what it might mean for her to realize that potential - most players cannot possibly put up the type of numbers Stricklen did in her junior season.

With Stricklen's perimeter game improving each season and all the physical tools to be a lockdown defender, it's hard to know where she might stand as a pro prospect at the end of the season. But what you want to see more of is her carrying the team; what you might want to see less of is her going through stretches where that potential isn't immediately evident.

Riquna Williams, Miami Hurricanes (5'7", Guard)

Williams is the type of prospect whose ability to score will draw a lot of attention. She'll almost certainly be in the running for the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award for players 5'8" and under and four of the last five winners of that award were on WNBA rosters this past season and the award's track record for producing pros since the inception of the WNBA has been pretty solid.

But as a prospect, the question for Williams is similar to what one might have wondered about former Cal guard Alexis Gray-Lawson or Oklahoma State guard Andrea Riley: can she score efficiently at the next level? And if not, can she run point as a player under 5'8"?

Williams is one of those players who plays in exactly the way her stats say: she is focused on getting her shot first, can get her shot almost whenever she wants, and takes shots if she's given the smallest sliver of room. And that's exactly what we saw last night: Williams was 8-for-28 (28%, including 3-for-12 from three) and took almost 40% of her team's shots.

That's a lot. And it's both impressive in her ability to generate offense at such a high rate and problematic in that she does so so inefficiently.

Last season, Williams was a high-volume/low-efficiency scorer who had a usage rate of 33.2% but a low true shooting percentage of 50.38%. And although she kept turnovers to a minimum (about 10% turnover ratio) she only had a 10% assist ratio.

Williams will likely be a first round draft pick regardless of her numbers because she has been a leading scorer for a program that has only improved during her tenure. Nevertheless, the performance of past prospects might suggest that she'll either need to improve as a ball handler or become a more efficient scorer to be a productive player at the next level.