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2015 WNBA Draft prospects: The promise and predicament of UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis

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We begin our look at red flags for 2015 WNBA Draft prospects with a focus on Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who has an elite skill counter-balanced by a number of potentially negative indicators.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is beyond compare because the WNBA simply has not seen a 3-point shooter quite like her.

Becoming the all-time leader in career NCAA Division I 3-pointers made and hitting 48.8% of her 248 attempts in her senior season already make her great. And adding to that is an interesting tidbit from Synergy Sports: she has ranked in the 95th percentile or above in the nation on guarded catch and shoot shots for the past two seasons, which accounts for many of her threes - she has a quick, high release and the size to get her shot off against most oncoming defenders.

I don't think anyone will dispute that she's mostly a spot up shooter, but she's an elite one playing on an elite team, so she's not as easily dismissed as some others. However, the WNBA has gotten to a point where one dimensional players barely get a chance to make the league. If Mosqueda-Lewis is going to make it in the league, it will probably be on the basis of her ability to do more than shoot and I think those strengths have to be highlighted when talking about her potential.

In addition to her shooting prowess, Mosqueda-Lewis is probably a bit of an underrated distributor: her assist ratio (the percentage of possessions on which she earns an assist) of 18.71% is a mark that a few WNBA point guard prospects struggled to make. That she does it without turning the ball over much (under 10%) is also a credit to her decision-making ability with the ball.

But perhaps more underrated has been her rebounding ability. Her offensive rebounding rate dropped from an outstanding 7.5% in her junior season to almost exactly 5% in her senior season, but those are still very good marks for a wing prospect and show that demonstrate her ability to affect the game in more ways than simply shooting the ball.

The predicament with Mosqueda-Lewis is whether that unique combination of statistical attributes in a wing prospect are enough to overcome a set of red flags that have absolutely doomed wings in the past, chief among them (ironically) the rate at which she shot threes in college to set the records she got. The big question facing her upon a close examination of her numbers is this: even if we do accept that she's the best shooter ever to enter the WNBA, will she be able to do enough otherwise (and defend well enough) to have a successful professional career?

Bear in mind, that "red flags" are not "the final nail in the coffin", but warning signs based on what past prospects have done — there are random exceptions, players who commit to development and change over time, or players who just find a coach who is able to get the most out of them once they get to the pros. These are just guidelines so we can get a better sense of the risk involved in selecting any one player.

So I'm going to begin this year's look at red flags for position with the wing players to further round out an assessment of Mosqueda-Lewis' WNBA potential.

Low usage players

For all we want to talk about how the WNBA is about fundamentals and teamwork, the draft record pretty clearly reflects that players with low usage rates — the percentage of plays a player uses while on the floor, which should naturally come to an average rate of 20% — in Division I basketball don't tend to be very "successful". Typically, falling under a usage rate of 18% at any position limits a players chances for WNBA success (with the exception of centers because their ability to score at a high rate typically depends on the efficiency with which their guards get them the ball, which is something alluded to the other day in discussing Kiah Stokes).

The reason for this might seem obvious at first: if you can't easily create a shot for yourself and aren't a point guard (who can create shots for others), you become a liability to an offense at the next level. But the more interesting observation is related to one Ken Pomeroy has made: these rates tend not to change much year-to-year in college. So when a player transitions to the pros, most players take a bit of a dip in usage rate.

There are very few exceptions for this on the wing and those that there are have really struggled in the pros despite having otherwise solid numbers (e.g. Kelly Faris, 2013; Kamiko Williams, 2013) if they make a roster at all. But even a 20% usage rate can indicate a limited player (e.g. Kalana Greene, 2010). For point guards in particular, high usage players seem to be all the rage so even a usage rate under 24% has been a warning sign for struggles in the pros. It's unusual for low-usage power forwards to even get drafted, so that's something we probably discuss more rarely.

In this year's draft, not only are there a few low-usage non-centers, but there are also a few players right at that 20% mark that might encounter a bit more difficulty in the pros than people seem to be assuming.

Notable past examples: Kelly Faris (2013), Kamiko Williams (2013), Kalana Greene (2010)

Examples from this year's senior class: Aleighsa Welch, South Carolina (18.4%); Bria Smith, Louisville (18.7%), Emily Cady, Nebraska (19.3%); Ariel Massengale, Tennessee (19.7%); Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (20.8%); Samantha Logic, Iowa (21.6%); Natalie Knight, Kansas (19.5%); Jude Schimmel, Louisville (16.8%)

High 3-point rates/low free throw rates: In plain terms, college spot up 3-point shooters who stand around waiting for the ball a lot and don't venture inside the arc often haven't really done well in the pros. More than anything, it goes back to a point made by vjl110 at SB Nation's Minnesota Timberwolves (and Lynx) blog Canis Hoopus: "getting to the rim and not relying on unassisted jumpers" of any type might somehow be important, though it's just unclear how significant that is without more data. If you're shooting a ton of threes, chances are you aren't getting to the rim much.

More specifically, players who shoot more than 40% of their total field goal attempts from beyond the 3-point arc and don't produce many points from the free throw line (a FTM/FGA rate of less than 23%) have not fared well at all, especially during the period when rosters were reduced to just 11 players.

By now, you probably see exactly how this affects Mosqueda-Lewis, who finished the season with a 3-point rate (3PA/FGA) of 62.7% and a free throw production rate of 8.5%. That's a whole constellation of red flags clearly working against Mosqueda-Lewis. What that brings into question — linked with the usage rate of 20% — is whether she'll be able to create her own shot in the league, which is also reflected in her low free throw production rate.

Free throw production only adds to question the problem with looking at free throw production on its own is that it has just been all over the map; the five lowest free throw production rates in the past six drafts (Quianna Chaney, 2008, 9.64%; April Sykes, 2012, 8.72%; Taylor Lilley, 2010, 8.48%; Kamiko Williams, 2013, 8.15%; Angie Bjorklund, 2011, 7.25%) all managed to make opening day rosters. Of course, none of them lasted longer than a season for various reasons so it's hard to know what exactly to read into that.

All of those concerns are only compounded by the somewhat limited ways in which Mosqueda-Lewis scored. In her junior season, 34.7% of Mosqueda-Lewis' scoring opportunities coming off of mostly-assisted spot-ups and 16.6% coming off of mostly-assisted transition baskets — in other words, more than half of her scoring opportunities were shots that were created for her by teammates or the situation. That number only increased in her senior season with 28.6% of her shots coming off of spot-ups, 24.2% in transition, and an additional 11.5% off screens — that's 64.3% of her attempts essentially created by others. Again, nobody has matched that in recent history, but consider that Duke's Tricia Liston was far less dependent on others last season and a bit taller and didn't make it through a full WNBA season despite being a 48.1% 3-point shooter in her senior season.

Mosqueda-Lewis quite clearly projects as an elite specialist who would certainly spread the court by forcing opposing defenses to account for her. The major predicament is that 3-point specialists essentially went extinct in the 11-roster era and barely made an impact last season — part of respecting the league is respecting the fact that it's evolved to a point where versatility is more valuable to most teams than doing one thing exceptionally well. She's yet another case where we might learn a bit more about what it takes to be successful in the league.

Notable past prospects: Angie Bjorklund (2011), Bianca Thomas (2010), Aaryn Ellenberg (2014), Christina Foggie (2014); Chassidy Fussell (2014), Courtney Moses (2014)

Examples from this year's senior class: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, UConn; Brittany Hrynko, DePaul; Natalie Knight, Kansas

2-point percentages under 45%: There are exceptions to this rule for players with exceptionally high NCAA senior year usage rates or elite athleticism that allows them to compete at high levels, but it's still rather uncommon for wings with low 2-point percentages in college to make it in the pros. For those looking for easily observable reasons for that, it's often a reflection of a combination of a player not being able to finish, not being able to get shots they can make, or poor shot selection.

Just for some perspective on the point about usage rate, the pro wing with the lowest 2-point percentage to stick on a roster since 2008 was Sugar Rodgers (2013) at 39.3%, but she was really more of a point guard in college who had to do absolutely everything. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (2013) went undrafted but has remained on a roster despite a senior year 2-point percentage of 40%. Last season, Maggie Lucas was the player of note in this category with a 41.2% senior year 2-point percentage.

All of those players were what Ken Pomeroy would define as "major contributors" with usage rates well over 24%; they're also reserves with PER ratings around 11 in their rookie years. Lower usage wing prospects without a specific skill (ball handling, shooting, or defense) can be expected to struggle quite a bit more.

Notable past examples: Angie Bjorklund (2011), Brianna Gilbreath (2012), Shenneika Smith (2013), Bianca Thomas (2010), Tyra White (2012), Aaryn Ellenberg (2014)

Examples from this year's senior class: Tia Presley, Washington State; Jazmine Davis, Washington; Daisha Simmons, Seton Hall; Tear'a Laudermill, Nebraska; Hasina Muhammad, Auburn; Ariya Crook, USC (2014)

Pure scorers: On the opposite end of the set of players who don't create many shots for themselves are the pure scorers who have no problem putting shots up. Of draft prospects with scoring tendencies in the 90th percentile or above in scoring tendencies by the SPI player styles framework — how I'm defining "pure scorers" — just four wings from major conferences have made a roster in the year they were drafted since 2008: LSU's Allison Hightower (2010), Penn State's Maggie Lucas (2014), Miami's Riquna Williams (2012), and Pittsburgh's Shavonte Zellous (2009). As there are 40+ players in that range — excluding players who primarily played point guard in college (e.g. Andrea Riley, 2010; Odyssey Sims, 2014) — that's not a particularly high success rate.

For some perspective about the type of players we're talking about, Mosqueda-Lewis is not classified as a pure scorer on the SPI scale (she is in the 72nd percentile) because she racked up quite a few assists and rebounds for a wing. So it's not just players we identify as being good scorers or whose primary strength is scoring — these are players who put up field goal attempts at a rate well beyond the norm almost to the exclusion of anything else (that we can count offensively).

Notable past prospects: Alexis Gray-Lawson (2010), Tavelyn James (2012), Italee Lucas (2011), Jene Morris (2010), Bianca Thomas (2010), Aaryn Ellenberg (2014), Meighan Simmons (2014)

Examples from this year's senior/draft class: Ariya Crook, USC (2014)