Kelsey Bone's announcement that she will enter the 2013 WNBA Draft should not come as much of a surprise.
Setting aside her talent for a moment, she's due to graduate this year so this isn't about forgoing the opportunity to get her college degree. And when you look at this year's draft compared to next year's, there's no obvious benefit in terms of draft position: even if positions 1-3 are pretty much set in stone for this year's draft, a cursory look at next year's draft suggests that at least two players (Stanford's Chiney Ogwumike & Baylor's Odyssey Sims) will be considered the top two prospects and after that there's a whole host of players who could be in line for lottery picks.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves: the most immediate question is how Bone projects as a prospect this year and, depending on where you stand on that, whether an extra year of college ball would help her improve in some way.
Starting with the positives, Bone's greatest strength as a prospect is her scoring efficiency: comparing her to the top seniors in the nation, Bone's true shooting percentage of 58.96% ranks among the top 20 in the nation and just behind Baylor's Brittney Griner among post players. That she does that while being the primary focal point for her team's offense (a team-high usage rate of 26.95%, nearly 7% higher than the next highest player who sits at an average usage rate of 20%) is noteworthy. It should also be acknowledged that her scoring efficiency improved between her junior and senior seasons, which can't really be seen as a negative sign as someone who assumed even more scoring responsibility with the graduation of wing scorer Tyra White.
So when people say she's suddenly in the discussion as a lottery pick, that scoring ability should be the primary reason why: her impressive defensive rebounding percentage of 20% isn't all that significant to her draft value, she's not a dominant offensive rebounder with a percentage of 11.71%, and she hasn't been much of a shot blocker (her 1.2% block percentage puts her just outside the top 600 in the nation).
However, based on the WNBA success of past NCAA DI draft prospects, there are also two red flags that stand out for Bone: a very low free throw production rate (free throws made/field goal attempts) for a post prospect and a low "personal foul efficiency" (blocks & steals to foul ratio).
|Successful WNBA post prospects
Bone's key statistics. To read more about past center prospects, click here.
Before going forward, there are two caveats to the details of these numbers: first, those thresholds above haven't been updated to reflect the last three drafts although the thresholds have held pretty firm (with the exception of the pure point rating one, which seems to hold less significance than the others. Second, it should be noted that Bone is only in her third season of actually playing college basketball since she sat out a year after transferring from South Carolina - the numbers from these past prospects are mostly from players who played four years. Still, the numbers do raise some interesting questions.
To the extent that Bone's strength statistically is clearly her scoring ability, that low free throw production rate is interesting. Normally, a post player with a low free throw rate is one who either isn't imposing enough a physical presence to draw fouls from defenders or one that makes their living by avoiding contact (e.g. a lot of cuts to the basket in an efficient offense or jump shots). Suffice it to say that Bone is neither of those things, which makes the low free throw rate somewhat surprising even before we get to the point that shooting 64.1% from the line puts her free throw production rate so low.
How do we interpret that? It's hard to say. Bone is unmistakably a power player, who has the agility to get around defenders but the size and strength to simply go over or through them. So for a player that spends so much time scoring in the post with a power game, the lack of free throw attempts doesn't immediately make sense. But more on that later.
The PF eff number is even more interesting: Bone didn't foul out once this season, but was in foul trouble in five of her last 8 games, which includes three straight losses (Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and LSU) to finish the regular season followed by Texas A&M's SEC tournament run and two NCAA tournament games. However, that PF eff is more the result of her low block percentage (noted above) and even lower steal rate (1.5%, 1469th in the nation).
Do blocks and steals even really matter much? We can debate that, but for a post player who isn't necessarily an aggressive shot blocker it might be reasonable to wonder where those fouls came from and why she found herself in foul trouble quite a bit more often during conference play.
One of the interesting thing about Bone compared to past post players is that she's not the "pure interior" player whose primary strength is rebounding, which is a skill that transfers to the WNBA well. Instead, Bone is an outstanding scorer and, despite her low PPR, actually picks up more assists than many interior players who have entered the league in recent years.
That passing ability is a good and bad thing: on the one hand, it shows that Bone is a skilled big with the ability to play out of the double teams she saw, even if she wasn't a terribly efficient distributor. On the other hand, there really isn't a positive comparison (a prospect with similar tendencies who has lasted more than a season) for Bone among prospects in the last five years - former North Carolina teammates Jessica Breland and Chay Shegog popped up as similarities on the SPI spectrum. Bear in mind that Bone could be a more productive player with similar tendencies - for example, she has stronger numbers than Shegog in a few areas - but she also falls into a weird gray area of post players that have neither dominant rebounding or scoring tendencies.
Ultimately, the thing I always look for in taking stock of a player's numbers are contextual factors that might help to explain where these numbers are coming from - sometimes there's a longer story than the stats suggest and reason to believe a player could be either an exception to the rules or even change the way we see the rules.
If someone is going to defy the trends of the past, Bone is a good candidate to do it in this year's draft: there hasn't quite been a prospect in recent history quite like her in terms of the combination of physical gifts and scoring efficiency. There's also the possibility that she continues to improve when she isn't the focal point of her team in the pros.
The thing is about this draft that just about every player after the top two has some question marks - Bone's somewhat odd red flags are better than the very clearly bright red and furiously waving red flags of other players considered first round picks. So it's not unreasonable to argue that Bone could end up being the selection with the lowest risk for that fourth lottery pick. That just depends on how you read the entirety of her profile.