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2015 WNBA Draft prospects: Finding promising perimeter prospects

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The 2015 WNBA Draft is widely considered to be weak, but there are a few perimeter players flying a bit under the radar who are probably worthy of attention.

Illinois' Ivory Crawford hasn't gotten much attention this season, but she probably deserves more.
Illinois' Ivory Crawford hasn't gotten much attention this season, but she probably deserves more.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

You would be forgiven if you had never heard of Washington State senior Tia Presley.

In fact, the whole reason the photo above is someone other than Tia Presley is because there were only four photos including Tia Presley in our database dating back to 2011 and none of them centered her. This, of course, is a familiar challenge encountered in blogging about WBB but it's usually not that hard to find a photo of someone who played in a major conference and ended up on the Nancy Lieberman Award watch list.

But as the 2015 WNBA Draft approaches, Presley should be someone who folks at least consider as a prospect in a draft that was one of the weakest in recent memory before Notre Dame's Jewell Loyd and Minnesota's Amanda Zahui B. declared themselves eligible.

Presley's relative anonymity is understandable. Although Presley has been a key component of the steady rise of the Washington State Cougars over the past two seasons, she was playing at a school that hasn't made a NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991. In fact, the Cougars just cracked the .500 mark for the season for the first time this century this season while playing in a conference that is widely considered one of the weaker power conferences (and sometimes not considered a power conference in women's basketball at all, due to foolish East Coast Bias #WestCoastBias).

Compounding all of that is Presley's injury history, which kept her from even participating in the Pac-12 Tournament until last season when she absolutely blew up — having already suffered one ACL injury in her sophomore year, perhaps you wouldn't blame WNBA general managers for rating her low as a professional prospect. But the numbers she has put up in the final two seasons of her career really can't be ignored in a draft that is still something approximating a crap shoot after the two non-seniors who declared early.

Presley's 2-point percentage of 49% in her junior year was outstanding and squarely in the range of the type of efficiency you'd like to see from a successful WNBA player. That impressive efficiency inside the arc is a testament to Presley's ability to score in a variety of ways, whether it be off screens, spot-ups, or in isolation situations. When you combine that with the fact that she led the team in minutes and was second in usage rate (28.9%), teams still had to game plan for Presley or settle for getting lit up. The big takeaway is that Presley is a player who was able to create shots and do so efficiently while usually drawing an opponent's top defenders.

Presley wasn't quite as efficient in her senior season, which is somewhat surprising because she took less shots as dynamic backcourt mate Lia Galdeira took more.  But something else really stands out about Presley: according to Synergy Sports data, Presley drove left (49.5%) and right (50.5%) about equally, which is an uncommon tendency even among top point guards (especially in this draft) and demonstrates versatility as a scorer that surprisingly few guards enter the league with. As a player who rated in the 91st percentile in the nation in spot up shooting according to Synergy (1.056 points per possession), Presley appears to have potential to develop into a solid reserve scorer if she can continue improving her 3-point shot (which is something that probably happens a bit more often than fans give credit for).

Just to further reinforce Presley's potential as a rotation player, it might help to look at past prospects she is most similar to based on the SPI Playing Styles scale:

Player/school Year S% P% I% USG% TS% 3p%
Candice Wiggins, Stanford 2008 85 64 22 30.44 56.17 34.39
Tayler Hill, Ohio State 2013 88 59 21 31.17 55.7 31.5
Tia Presley, Washington State 2015 89 62 17 29 50.1 29.6

Senior season statistics for Tia Presley & similar prospects on the SPI Playing Styles scale.

Wiggins was such a good college ball handler that she's probably not worth comparing to the other two, but it's not entirely unreasonable to imagine Presley approximating something close to what Washington Mystics guard Tayler Hill has done thus far in her WNBA career. If we extend the comparison a bit, both even had more efficient junior than senior seasons (though Hill's is a bit easier to explain as the result of an increased usage rate after the departure of Samantha Prahalis and she had a much better, possibly anomalous, 3-point percentage).

To be sure, Hill was a better prospect coming out. But their similarities in style are close enough that Presley should probably be considered as valuable in this draft. Before you say that Hill, who was a better prospect, has only been a mediocre reserve guard thus far in her career, consider that the knock on this draft is that it's weak to begin with: if you can get someone who might have potential to become a rotation player, you should probably grab them. Presley is close, albeit not perfect.

As it turns out, Presley is one of a number of wing prospects that have sort of flown under the radar a bit while putting up some draft-worthy numbers throughout their careers. If none of them made it, it wouldn't be the first time that statistical illusions have fooled someone but if we're going to dismiss the draft as weak it's worth at least doing due diligence to eliminate those who might have a shot.

Wings

Steal percentage: One of the positive things that stands out about Presley is that her steal percentage took a bit of a jump from her junior to senior season: Presley jumped from 2.5% in her junior season to 3.7% in her senior year.

Although steals aren't a great indicator of "defensive ability", they have been known to be a sign of a combination of athleticism and basketball IQ among wings: players who pick up a lot of steals aren't doing so because they're not moving. Watching how Presley gets her steals sort of underscores the point: she got a good number of steals jumping passing lanes within Washington State's zone defense where she was often playing on the back line.

Of course, playing as much zone as Washington State has might have masked whatever defensive weaknesses she does have while allowing her to enhance her statistical profile a bit with steals. (But since we're talking defense, here's a random (and possibly irrelevant) fact that might amuse you as I push a prospect on you: Presley really liked to run at shooters and clap at them with her hands above her head, even if she was a few feet away and gave up on actually challenging the shot. I'm pretty sure all of her opponents except Oregon State's Syndey Weisse missed every time she did that). But if there's a common theme about Presley, she's an athletic player who knows how to get the most out of the tools she has.

Presley wasn't a dominant defensive player, but a high usage player with a solid steal percentage is a good sign of being able to compete against WNBA competition and she has that working in her favor.

Notable past examples: Odyssey Sims, 2014; Alex Bentley, 2013; Shenise Johnson, 2012; Angel McCoughtry, 2009; Riquna Williams, 2012; Monica Wright, 2010

Potential 2015 prospects: Syessence Davis, Rutgers; Ivory Crawford, Illinois; Brittany Hrynko, DePaul

Scoring efficiency (2-point percentage > 45%): 2-point percentage has been a big one for wing prospects in the past, though super athletic players volume scorers have been able to overcome a low 2-point percentage in college simply because of their ability to find ways to create shots (and normally at a lower usage rate).

Although the statistical significance is vague at best, a player with a high two point percentage is a) not inflating their scoring efficiency/production numbers with a whole bunch of wide open threes and b) they're finding shots inside the arc that they can make, which could be good (unless they just make a whole lot of uncontested fast break layups). A high 2-point percentage plus a high usage rate might suggest a player who was able to create high percentage scoring opportunities for their team, maybe not a sign of dominance but a positive.

In short, a high 2-point percentage tells you something about a player's ability to get themselves shots they can make aside from spotting up for threes.

Notable past examples: Bria Hartley, 2014; Kayla McBride, 2014; Alyssa Thomas, 2014; Tiffany Hayes, 2012; Maya Moore, 2011

Potential 2015 prospects: Laurin Mincy, Maryland; Betnijah Laney, Rutgers; Ivory Crawford, Illinois; Nikki Dixon, Clemson

Point guards

Similar to the situation on the wing, the situation at the point guard position is a combination of highly touted big names and a few lesser touted players who probably deserve more attention than they get.

And with the way the professional game is changing as a whole, so is the criteria for a successful point guard prospect. We went through the ends and out of that shift the other day, but today we'll take a closer look.

Usage rates: As discussed multiple times now over the past year, WNBA teams are tending to look for NCAA point guards with higher usage rates than they were in the past — the dynamic scoring point guard is in while the steady initiator who brings the ball upcourt and passes is out.

As described previously, there isn't even really a fuzzy distinction anymore: the majority of starting point guards in the league last season were "significant contributors" (usage rates over 24%) in college.The rest are either not getting drafted or struggling to stay on a roster for more than a year.

That makes the first step to earning a career as a WNBA point guard pretty easy.

Potential 2015 prospects: Brittany Hrynko, DePaul; Nikki Moody, Iowa State; Brianna Kiesel, Pittsburgh; Brittany Boyd, Cal; Ka-Deidre Simmons, Seton Hall; Amber Orrange, Stanford (is 23.2% close enough?)

Assist percentage: Once you're in that significant contributor range, demonstrating that you can also create shots for others as also been a huge positive for NCAA point guards in the past: similar to what others have found in the NBA, most of the top 15 assist percentages in the last five years have made the league. And really, most point guards with usage rates over 24% and assist percentages over 30% end up making the league.

Notable past examples: Odyssey Sims, 2014; Skylar Diggins, 2013; Angel Goodrich, 2013; Danielle Robinson, 2011

Potential 2015 prospects: Brittany Boyd, Cal; Nikki Moody, Iowa State

Major contributor/high passing efficiency: Those things don't negate the fact that efficient point guards are still likely to catch the eye of WNBA general managers, even if they don't stick around very long. Still, being what Ken Pomeroy defines as a "major contributor" (having a usage rate above 20%) is key but a pure point rating over 2.5 can also be a positive indicator for at least holding a roster spot for a year independent of the above.

Notable past examples: Lindsey Moore, 2013; Briann January, 2009; Courtney Vandersloot, 2011

Potential 2015 prospects: Samantha Logic, Iowa; Nikki Moody, Iowa State