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A preliminary draft board for the 2013 WNBA Draft

Last year, I posted an essay about the evaluation of draft prospects in terms of minimizing risk, drawing from principles outlined in the widely-read book Moneyball. Since then, I've set out to see if there are tangible ways to weigh a prospect's value by their level of risk relative to past prospects based upon a set of red flags and similarity ratings. The following is a partial draft board based what I've been able to put together.

Nate Shron

For those of you who aren't familiar, a "draft board" is not quite a "mock draft".

While a mock draft aims to project the draft order, a draft board aims to create a sort of hierarchy of draft prospects with the idea being that you'd select a player from the best tier available that best suits your team. In other words, it's a concrete way to determine the "best player available". Of course, every team will have a different draft board depending on their combination of background research, interviews, and standard scouting. My goal here is to create tiers based on levels of risk.

In short, I took that list of 70 players posted previously and determined each player's level of risk using the following:

  • Statistical red flags and indicators of success based on the performance of past prospects.

  • Similarities to past prospects based on SPI style ratings (for an illustration of what those ratings look like, Ed Bemiss of National Sports Rankings has worked up very statistical profiles for every player in the nation).

  • MVP ratings (14+ for "mid-major" prospects; 11+ for players from the "major" conferences).

Having looked at all of those players, I divided them into tiers as follows:

Tier 1: Players with no significant red flags and strong indicators of success.

Tier 2: Players who might have a few question marks, but have a strong similarity rating and some major strengths.

Tier 3: Players who don't have any significant red flags or major question marks, but also no dominant strength and no strong similarity rating.

Tier 4: Players who either have a major red flag or a similarity rating that doesn't paint them in a favorable light.

Tier 5: Players with multiple red significant red flags

Last year I did something similar in the days leading up to the draft by breaking players into rotation, roster-worthy, and unsuccessful prospects. This is similar in terms of how it's constructed - I'm trying to determine which prospects have the least risk of failure at the next level. The main difference is that whereas last year's list really was a board where I'd think a team should not take a player in Tier 4 before if someone from Tier 3 is still available, this year's list allows for some wiggle room - ultimately, we can't predict who will succeed at the next level with 100% accuracy and even then it's hard to project exactly how good they'll be or what role they'll fill even after they get drafted. The principle here is that teams try to minimize the risk to the extent possible - as alluded to above, there are some clear statistical signs that a player will struggle even if they have clear strengths. We can debate how to balance those strengths and weaknesses, but the goal is to make sure we've taken stock of them.

To get a preliminary list, I organized the players strictly by the numbers, ignoring what I had seen of them or knew about them (aside from heights). So in that sense, nobody here got a "tournament boost": even for those players that made it to the Sweet 16 or further, three games wasn't going to significantly change what they had done in the previous 30. What will probably change things is a closer look at each player position-by-position taking context into account a bit, looking for signs of improvement, and making a few additional adjustments (specifically for perimeter players) that might cast things in a different light.

You'll see a position-by-position reorganization of all of this weekend, but here's the rough draft of the first three tiers just to show you where things now based strictly on the numbers (organized by tier and alphabetically within tiers):

Tier 1

Brittney Griner

Elena Delle Donne

Tier 2

Skylar Diggins

Tayler Hill

Tier 3

Kayla Alexander

Layshia Clarendon

Tianna Hawkins

Chelsea Hopkins

Morgan Johnson

Lindsey Moore

Adrian Ritchie

Toni Young

A few notes

  • Morgan Johnson? This can happen when you go strictly by the numbers and ignore hype and reputation. Does that mean she's a first round pick and better than Kelsey Bone? I think you'd have a had time convincing anyone of that. Johnson has neither any red flags nor any significant strengths, as described briefly previously. She also doesn't have any strong statistical similarity to any prospect from the past five years. It's hard to know exactly what to do with a "solid" - neither glaringly flawed nor obviously strong - profile, but she had a good enough year statistically to warrant draft consideration somewhere. There aren't a whole lot of efficient, shot blocking, 6'5" women out there in the world.
  • Hopkins & Ritchie: There's a chance that both of them will end up being bumped down a tier as mid-major prospects, but they did meet the criteria for becoming successful mid-major prospects. So on first glance, there they are.
  • Hawkins: We're going to learn a little something about how much inefficient ball handling (i.e. a pure point rating under -5.00 or, in Hawkins' case, an assist to turnover ratio of 0.3) actually affects elite offensive rebounders this year - there are a number of them in this draft and Hawkins is chief among them. What I suspect in the case of Hawkins is that her efficiency - as a scorer and ball handler - will go up as her usage rate goes down in the pros. But for now, this will be a learning year and it's hard to knock her for that.
  • So what about Alex Bentley, Kelsey Bone, Kelly Faris and Sugar Rodgers who were invited to attend the WNBA Draft? We've discussed Bone's strengths and weaknesses previously, have mentioned Bentley here and there and will get to Rodgers in more depth. Brian McCormick had an excellent breakdown of Faris. But the story is essentially the same for each of them: though they have a major strength, they also have some major red flags.

    Faris has a number of major strengths - including her defensive ability, which isn't accounted for in the numbers - but if she makes a roster she'll have the lowest usage rate of any player to do so in the last five years (in plain terms, a low usage player is typically a player who either isn't very involved or passive in a team's offense). Guards with low usage rates just don't tend to make WNBA rosters. However, Faris was in a unique situation at UConn where she played a vital role without having to be an aggressive scorer and the fact that her numbers improved across the board when her usage did go up in her senior year is actually encouraging. So going strictly by the numbers is actually just unfair to her.

    Anyway, again, going solely by the numbers they're all in the next tier down.
  • A'dia Mathies: What works against her on paper is inefficient scoring. But she (and Rogers, for that matter) are a main reason why I am going to try to adjust the numbers for volume scorers to see what we can find.
  • Clarendon: Has been on our radar for most of this season. Glad the WNBA invited her to the draft.

Obviously this isn't a perfect process yet - I'm showing you three tiers because after that it sort of got messy (or messier, depending on your take on this rough draft). But I'm going to give it a shot and continue to refine my thinking next year.

For now, feel free to drop your thought on the tiers in this draft and who you think is getting left out of the discussion given the WNBA's recently announced list of invitees and even this list.

For more on the 2013 WNBA Draft, visit our draft prospects storystream.