Unfortunately, a few of the top NCAA prospects for the 2012 WNBA Draft that we identified statistically in the preseason didn't perform quite as well as one might have hoped during the season.
However, one thing remains consistent between then and now: even though this is widely considered a "weak" draft, the wing position might end up being the strongest and, at least from a statistical standpoint, the deepest.
The criteria for a strong wing prospect - players that could fill the shooting guard or small forward spots on a team - are pretty much the same as shooting guards. So again, 2-point percentage ends up being a pretty strong filter for success (players above the 45-47% range have done better than those below that range in the past).
However, the difference between these players and "scoring wings" is that they're a bit more versatile and their ability to do more than score on the court is what could help them make rosters - that's reflected in their relatively high "value added" ratings, which reflect an ability to contribute value to the team in ways other than scoring. As noted the other day, three key statistics for draft prospects tend to be 2-point percentage, steal percentage, and offensive rebounding percentage. Interestingly, all except one of the prospects below are rebounded at a similarly solid rate for the guard position (an offensive rebounding rate between 7-9%) so it's not a major factor that distinguishes these prospects. But two things that might: that steal rate, a proxy for athleticism more than anything else, and their ball handling efficiency.
Senior season statistics for wings in the 2012 WNBA Draft. Click here for explanations of these numbers.
1. Shenise Johnson
Johnson might be the player on this list we've written about least throughout this season, but she was one of the first on our radar and she first captured our attention as a draft prospect during Miami's 2010 WNIT run: what really stands out about Johnson is that she has arguably been Miami's MVP since her sophomore year. And watching her play illustrates that even better than looking at her impressive statistics.
She's among the most versatile defenders in the nation, capable of staying with college point guards and unafraid to mix it up with college posts down low. Not only was she Miami's top scorer in her senior year (17 points per game), but she also had the team's top pure point rating - and was the only Hurricanes player to have a positive PPR - and steal percentage. She has a strong claim as the most complete player in the draft.
The one area we identified as one to improve upon in the preseason was her turnover ratio and she did that, committing turnovers on 9.91% of her team's possessions which is impressive when you see how often she was responsible for handling the ball, running the offense and setting up others. She's become among the top wing prospects to come into the league in a few years and any team could immediately use what she offers.
2. Shekinna Stricklen
With all that Johnson did this season, it might be hard to see why there's even a question about who would go higher in the draft between her and Stricklen.
It's easy to critique Stricklen. She had a tendency to disappear for long stretches in a game. For all the obvious physical tools she has, Glory Johnson seemed to become the emotional leader in their senior year. In summary, things never seemed to fully come together as Lady Vols fans might have hoped; in some sense, drafting her is an investment in that potential to finally come together and become that dominant contributor that she's showed flashes of being at times.
That pretty much explains her negative value added rating and why she wasn't included on the scorer's list: it seems somewhat obvious that Stricklen can do more than she has. She's shown us that. The question is when she will and what situation might best foster that development.
The guys at Rocky Top Talk provided us with some excellent insight on Stricklen (as well as the other Lady Vols invited to the draft green room) that's worth a read if you haven't done so already - statistical descriptions of what she can and cannot do just seem to fall short.
3. Julie Wojta
I briefly mentioned before the NCAA tournament that Wojta is something of a "draft statistics superstar", but some context is required to fully understand what she might or might not do as a pro - to some extent, the statistics are the product of a system but she's not entirely a player whose statistics suggest she's a limited "system player".
What people seem to miss with the critique that she has to make the transition from a post player to wing is that Green Bay uses "post" players somewhat unconventionally on both ends of the floor. Offensively, Wojta doesn't spend a whole lot of time attempting to establish position on the block and score using post moves* but still had the top offensive rebounding rate in Green Bay's rotation (11.16%). Defensively, she plays the "5" but is using the instincts that a wing might use to play the passing lanes in their buzz defense to put up the sixth-highest steal rate in the nation while also grabbing a team-high 24.4% of the available defensive rebounds.
In other words, Wojta doesn't have to make the same kind of transition that a player like Middle Tennessee's Alysha Clark did two years ago, literally going from college low-post scorer to professional wing. She was recruited to Green Bay as a guard and she looks like a guard playing out of position in the post when you actually watch the games because Green Bay's system demands it. The better "transition analogy" for Wojta might be a player like Kelsey Griffin for whom their were concerns about as a tweener but whose college statistics showed a player whose athleticism would make the transition easier than most.
We had the opportunity to obtain game footage of Wojta in an above average game, average game, and below average game statistically and what really stood out is something sort of pedestrian that also speaks volumes about what she might be able to do at the next level, perhaps for better and worse: regardless of the statistical output, Wojta's performances look almost identical. She never really has a bad game - even when she falls below her averages, she's out there making positive plays for her team. Part of that is that Green Bay's system is so methodical that even the cross-court passes become predictable; part of that is that Wojta is extremely good at playing within the flow of the game, which bodes well for her as she moves to the pros and won't necessarily be a team's star.
4. Tiffany Hayes
Hayes' career came to a painful end against Notre Dame in the Final Four that maybe illustrates all of the concerns that doubters might have about her: when her team needed leadership, she struggled to impose her will on the game; Hayes might be the poster child for the team's struggle with confidence this season.
But her scoring numbers, similar to Kalana Greene's numbers coming out of college, are strikingly efficient and she might be yet another player in this draft whose game is perfectly suited for a perimeter role player that can provide a scoring boost and solid defender off the bench.
In the right situation, Hayes' numbers suggest that she can be a contributor even if she's not a star.
5. LaSondra Barrett
What's unfortunate about Barrett's statistical profile is that despite the versatility that allowed her to play positions 1-5 for LSU - sometimes alternating every few possessions - is that there's no major statistical strength.
She handled the ball, but has the lowest pure point rating on this list. She scored from multiple spots on the court, but has a sub-par 2-point percentage. Her rebounding rates are solid for a wing, but not outstanding. Their might be reason to question what elements of that versatility will actually transfer to the next level.
Nevertheless, she does exhibit a range of skills, which might be useful to a team given the 11-player roster limitation. Click here for more on that.
6. Natalie Day
Perhaps in a contrast to Barrett, Natalie Day is a truly versatile player.
I happened to see her drop 20 points in the second half at USF this season and it was an impressive performance. She has an excellent feel for the game and does an outstanding job of moving without the ball to find gaps in the defense to get off her shot. She is the top 3-point shooter in this draft and is notably the second best offensive rebounder (9.37%) on this list.
She too played multiple positions in college, but she did a number of things well although her pure point rating suggests a need to work on ball handling. The steal percentage and the way she attacks the offensive boards show an athleticism that could make her a contributor in the league. In our interview with her posted this morning, you'll note that she said she couldn't think of a WNBA comparison for her and that's not just because she's still learning about the league - she projects primarily as a 3-point shooter and when you compare her to similar players currently in the league, none of them demonstrated quite the athleticism she has.
Click here for the complete interview with Day.
7. Casey Garrison
We've already given Garrison props for scoring 20 points in a game shooting left handed because her right thumb was sprained. But as her numbers above illustrate, she's more than a fleeting highlight - Garrison is a well-rounded prospect who at least one WNBA team has taken a look at this season. And that's from a senior season in which she also battled an ankle sprain, broken nose, and a kidney infection.
The injuries sort of conveniently mitigate the potential knock on her that she performed poorly against more athletic teams than she encountered in the MVC conference. But from someone who has watched her play over the years is that she might coast a bit at times and struggle to impose her will on games. She could play a similar role on a team that Jenna O'Hea does for the Los Angeles Sparks - a wing who can handle the ball reasonably efficiently and knock down open shots - but she's kind of a mystery overall despite solid numbers for a guard.
8. Brianna Gilbreath
Click here to see our preseason analysis of Gilbreath.
* The best case against that argument might be the lob plays she runs and those can't be disregard as "post plays". They also involve her out-jumping bigger, slower opposing posts rather than overpowering them; even the post plays they do run are more of a demonstration of athleticism than being limited to the post.