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2014 WNBA Draft recap: Three statistical trends among prospects drafted

The expansion of WNBA rosters figured to have an effect on not only who made rosters, but also how teams approached the draft. One skill in particular seemed to stand out compared to other drafts in recent memory: three point shooting.

Three point shooting might have helped both Shoni Schimmel and Theresa Plaisance get themselves drafted.
Three point shooting might have helped both Shoni Schimmel and Theresa Plaisance get themselves drafted.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

pilight already offered a look at some demographic factoids from the 2014 WNBA draft.

For the first installment of our post-draft analysis, we look at some statistical trends among the prospects drafted that stood out compared to past drafts.

The glut of shooting guards had to be resolved: There were a whole bunch of 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-10 scoring guards in this draft - many of whom would be best classified as "three point shooters" - and it figured that someone would have to drop not due to lacking talent but simply a matter of the numbers game. Unfortunately, with Indiana picking two posts in the first round and the Sky also opting to bolster an increasingly crowded post rotation, Tennessee's Meighan Simmons ended up being the casualty of that glut of scoring guards, tumbling down to the third round despite being invited to the draft.

The question of how many of those players will make rosters will be really interesting given their varying levels of college scoring efficiency; their performance in the league this season will add some more data to the analysis of future prospects: three point shooting guards simply haven't been getting drafted much in recent years, much less making rosters.

Three point shooters: Is it a coincidence that in a year in which rosters were expanded to 12 that more three point shooters were drafted? Although it's true that three point specialists at guard were a major casualty of the reduction to 11-player rosters, the bigger story of interest might have been that there were just more three point shooters available in this draft.

By my count, the number of perimeter players drafted who shot more than 45% of their shots from three point in their senior year was five (or six if you take Maggie Lucas' career three point rate into account) - not to say that they can't do other things, but it's a small group of players that even shows up on the radar shooting that many threes.

In the last six seasons, just two such perimeter players have lasted in the league for more than a year: Georgia Tech's Alex Montgomery (2011), an athletic 6-foot-1 small forward, and Stanford's Jeanette Pohlen (2011), who played point guard for a perennial Final Four team in college. You could include LSU's Quianna Chaney or Oregon's Taylor Lilley in that list as players who found themselves on a roster for a season, but they both showed the ability to handle the ball as well.

This season, Duke's Tricia Liston, South Florida's Inga Orekhova and Louisville's Antonita Slaughter stand out as the three from that group whose size might help them make an impression in training camp. Then you have Lucas, Vanderbilt's Christina Foggie, and Louisville's Shoni Schimmel - the latter two shooting more than 50% of their shots from beyond the arc in college - as players whose role will almost assuredly be in the backcourt alone.

Just having that many three point shooters drafted is an anomaly compared to recent years; if even three of the players from that group last on a roster for the season, this will be a landmark draft for the three point shooter in the 12-team/sub-13 player roster era. Clearly, Schimmel fits well in Atlanta, Liston could add another weapon to Minnesota's bench (which just seems unfair), and Phoenix (or Atlanta) were probably the best fits for Lucas as uptempo teams that could use a player who can spot up and fire in transition (and ditto, perhaps, for Orekhova).

The rise of the "stretch four" prospect: Staying with the three point shooter trend somewhat, posts who can hit the three got more attention than normal on draft day this year as well.

If you're not familiar with the term "stretch four", SB Nation's Patrick Hayes had a great article last year documenting its rise in the NBA over the past 20 years (and Bill Laimbeer's role in that revolution). And while you're getting caught up on that, you might as well familiarize yourself with the concept of a "stretch five" as well.

It's sort of weird to say that the value of the "stretchy" post is "rising" in the WNBA because one of the more appealing aspects of women's basketball is that skills are a bit more evenly distributed than the men's game has typically been meaning a number of posts have always had three point range. However, if you look back at the last six drafts, no more than three were drafted in any year (defining "stretch four" as a poor offensive rebounding college post over 6'2" whose primary asset is their ability to shoot from the perimeter).

So one of the things that stood out about this draft was that there were a number of stretch prospects that figured to be in the mix for a draft selection: I counted six before the draft and four (N.C. State's Kody Burke, Nebraska's Jordan Hooper, LSU's Theresa Plaisance, and Utah's Michelle Plouffe) got drafted with another one (Iowa State's Hallie Christofferson) getting picked up quickly after the draft. If you wanted to "stretch" the definition a bit further to posts who can shoot from the perimeter independent of three point ability, you might consider including UConn's Stefanie Dolson, USC's Cassie Harberts, or Kentucky's DeNesha Stallworth all of whom can shoot the long ball but do so a bit less often. In contrast, a quick count of the last six drafts came up with 8 (or 9, depending on how you define Elena Delle Donne) among NCAA-DI prospects.

What makes this an interesting type of player to look at - and possibly the reason they haven't succeeded or been given much attention previously - is that for the most part they've been considerably less efficient scorers than most other post prospects, lack either the strength or post moves to compete inside at the pro level, and don't rebound as well as other options. But with so many in the mix this year, could we see more players making rosters as stretch fours? Tulsa could certainly use the skills that Hooper and Plaisance offer and I'd give Kody Burke an outside shot at making Washington's roster given her skillset.

For more post-draft analysis, check out our 2014 WNBA Draft section.