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WNBA Draft 2011 NCAA Center Prospect Rankings: Separating Good From Just Tall

The last thing a fan wants their team to draft is a center who's "tall and that's all".

The challenge is figuring out which players got by in college on nothing more than being bigger than their competition and which actually have skills that translate into pro success.

So a few questions to ask might be: Which players have developed a knack for simply overpowering college competition rather than demonstrating the skill to make an impact as a pro? Which players have the basic physical attributes to contend with WNBA competition during an intense professional season? Whose statistics might have been inflated simply because they were a primary scoring option?

Among this season's prospects, there are a few players who have put up impressive statistics in one way or another and yet each also has some sort of distinctive honor that they will bring with them into the WNBA Draft.

Of course, we all agreed that Australia's Liz Cambage was the top center prospect for this year's draft. However, Swish Appeal writers were unable to agree on which player was the next best prospect and the reason is simple: each of the center prospects in this year's draft have at least one glaring flaw that might lead someone to wonder whether their college success is a house of cards.

Nevertheless, with the help of insights from our writers who have paid close attention to the top prospects throughout the season and some statistical insights, we have come up with a ranking for center prospects despite some difference of opinion about who's #1.

The ranking process:

  1. Similar to our mock draft, four Swish Appeal contributors (DishNSwish, M Robinson, Holly, and myself) ranked and/or sent commentary about the top NCAA center prospects in the draft based upon James Bowman's Boxscores rankings.
  2. Based on those rankings, each player was assigned a point value rotisserie style (#1 ranking = 9 points, #2 = 8 points, etc).
  3. Each writer indicated which centers they felt were "non-prospects" so any player not receiving more than two votes was left off this list.
  4. I synthesized the individual commentaries on the players to provide a synopsis of each player.
  5. In my rankings, I also used some statistical insights, so consider the advanced statistics as merely 1/4 of what went into this process.

Statistical notes:

For those who are put off by statistics, I'll state the standard disclaimer: these are patterns, not correlations. We don't have a large enough sample to claim that these statistical rules are pre-ordained Truths delivered on slabs of granite from Heaven. And this also doesn't include any undrafted centers who made rosters, which could both expand the sample and what insight might be available. Yet for those who understand the limits of personal observation, it's interesting to keep the patterns in mind as a particularly talented group of centers enters the league.

Click here to see a description of those patterns.

Swish Appeal Consensus Ranking of 2011 NCAA Center prospects:

1. Ta'Shia Phillips, 6'6", Xavier Musketeers

Phillips bubbled to the top of our rankings and a large part of that is her size: she is a very physical, old school back to the basket center who might dish out more physical punishment than she has to adjust to from others. She is by far the best rebounder of this group with a rate of 16.03 rebounds per 40 minutes and her biggest initial impact in the WNBA might be on defense. Perhaps underlying that statement is where are collective concerns begin.

Phillips' 60.5% free throw percentage belies the fact that she has a limited range outside of the painted area right around the rim, although her 62.41% true shooting percentage obviously puts her in good company. She is strong in the post, but as with every one of these prospects she'll probably have to develop a wider array of moves against the stronger competition in the WNBA.

In addition, her one statistical concern is her personal foul efficiency which is just under average (1.04) for a successful center prospect. There could be any number of explanations for that, but it might lend further support to the notion that she will need to strike a better balance between power and finesse to reach her potential as a pro.

2. Jantel Lavender, 6'4", Ohio State Buckeyes

Lavender was the prospect that there might have been the least agreement on in this draft as people had her ranked anywhere from first to third. The source of disagreement appeared to sit with how she got those 22.8 points per game.

Lavender can get up and down the floor and has a nice mid range jumpshot to about 15-17 feet. However, while her physical tools - agility, size, stamina, and strength - stand out as reasons she might be a top prospect, questions surround the extent of her post moves and how well efficiently she'll be able to score at the pro level.

Yet in addition to how well she'll be able to score, the other question about Lavender might be how well she performs if she's not one of her team's top options: her value added rating of -0.95 is indicative of the type of player that's most effective as a scorer and her free throw rate of 30.67% ranks as the fifth lowest of any prospect in the past five years. As a center, that would ironically seem to describe a finesse player that isn't particularly adept at getting to the line, even though her 80% free throw shooting percentage is a good sign. Despite her true shooting percentage of 59.09%, she'll be bucking a few statistical patterns from her senior year if she is to succeed. 

3. Carolyn Swords, 6'6", Boston College Eagles

What immediately stands out about Swords is her outstanding hands and great touch around the basket that led to a 73.46% true shooting percentage, which will be the highest shooting efficiency of any center drafted since 2005 once her name is called. A large part of that is her free throw shooting: she didn't have the highest free throw rate among this group, but did have the highest rate of free throws produced (FTM/FGA) of any of these prospects. And although she might not be the fastest player drafted, gets good position in the pant and knows how to use her body to seal off defenders very well.

The major concern noted about her was how she'll adjust to the physicality of the WNBA and that might be evident with her personal foul efficiency of 0.91, which is well below that of any center since 2005 who has made it in the league. On the one hand, that could be a sign that she'll struggle to stay in plays defensively with quicker and stronger competition. On the other hand, her scoring touch might make her a strong enough asset to make that irrelevant.

4. Amy Jaeschke, 6'5", Northwestern Wildcats

What immediately stands out about Jaeschke is she can score (21.4 points per game) and does so with range (30.8% from the 3-point line). The problem is that she hasn't scored efficiently. Her true shooting percentage of 55.54% puts her squarely in the range of fringe prospect, her free throw rate of 32.61% is only slightly better than Lavenders as one of the lowest since 2005, and her rebounding rate of 9.98 per 40 minutes also puts her in short career company.

In addition to all that, the fact that she has the lowest value added rating of any center prospect in this draft at -1.75 suggests that it's unclear what she might offer if she isn't in a system where she can score. That's a bit surprising considering her 3.2 blocks per game.

Jaeschke could be an outstanding addition to a perimeter-oriented team looking for a player to spread the floor, but it will be interesting to see how she adjusts to both the physicality of the WNBA and not being her team's primary scorer.

5. Stefanie Murphy, 6'4" Boston College

As Swords' less-heralded frontcourt teammate, Murphy might seem like an odd player to highlight, but her numbers are solid and two or our writers rate her ahead of a couple of more prominent centers in the nation. She has good size for the center position in the WNBA and, like Jaeschke, has the ability to hit threes (33.89%). She's among the best passing post players to come out this season and could work well as a pick-and-pop type player.

However, statistically, warning signs exist with her extremely low free throw rate of 25.76%, a value added of -0.27, and a personal foul efficiency of 0.76.

Others prospects:

Paris Johnson, 6'4", San Diego State

Krystal Thomas, 6'5", Duke Blue Devils

Becca Tobin, 6'5", Arizona State Sun Devils

Louella Tomlinson, 6'4", Saint Mary's Gaels