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WNBA prospects to watch – PART I

There are a lot of good players coming up for the WNBA draft. Here are 10 of them.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Tennessee at Penn State - Diamond DeShields Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

*There is no particular order for the players listed below.

Diamond DeShields

PPG

Fresh: 18.0

Soph: 14.3

RBDS

F: 5.4

S: 5.2

ASTS

F: 2.6

S: 2.3

MINS

F: 27.9 (36gp/32gs)

S: 26.8 (36gp/20gs)

FG%

F: 42%

S: 39%

Initial Impressions

A baller. Unafraid of shooting or driving to the rim. Unafraid of anything, really. Good shooting technique, has a good rhythm. Keeps that elbow tucked in. A player in the Kobe-type mold; volume scorer, aggressive, and confidence through the roof.

Her numbers paint a less rosy picture. Poor FG%, worse 3pt %. Doesn’t bring much as a playmaker, with less than 3 assists per game. Came off the bench in 16 games at Tennessee, starting twelve less than at UNC, and had slightly worse numbers across the board. Presumably playing against bench units, and was the same player.

But, still: she has few mechanical deficiencies in her shot; I’d chalk up, from the limited game film I’ve been able to find, her bad shooting numbers to poor shot selection more than I do poor shooting skills. She’s also the size of a freaking Mac Truck; at 6’1 and playing the two guard position (essentially, if not in name), she’s bigger than Maya Moore.

Deeper… Impressions? Idk

According to the advanced stats, breaking down players per possession, Diamond DeShields has been a good on offense and excellent on defense. Her best offensive skills come in the half court, working best in spot up situations, and cutting off the ball. She’s excellent around the basket, but struggles with catch and shoot situations, and is especially poor in in unguarded situations (in a smallish sample size).

Defensively, using the same stats, she’s an unbelievable defender. She’s a ferocious man defender and a very, very good zone defender. She defends both spot up and iso situations at very good levels, and is essentially an octopus when faced with pick and roll ball handlers, off screen plays, and post ups.

If those stats transfer to the WNBA, people better watch out.

Alaina Coates

PPG

F: 12.3

S: 11.1

J: 12.1

RBDS

F: 8.4

S: 7.9

J: 10.3

BLKS

F: 2.2

S: 1.4

J: 1.3

FG%

F: 61%

S: 56%

J: 64%

MINS

F: 19.6 (34/1)

S: 21.1 (36/5)

J: 26.8 (35/33)

Initial Impressions

From her freshman year on, she’s improved her numbers, or kept them the same with a higher workload. Her field goal percentage went up eight points her junior year, when she started 28 more games and played 5.7 more minutes; that stat is expected to go down with more volume, not up, unless you’ve improved as a player.

Her points per game haven’t gone up, though, which is a little surprising. I’m tempted to chalk it up to more minutes against better competition; because she came off the bench so much in her first two years, she was working against worse players. However, I’d still like to see what she can do unleashed. She’s 6’4, and weighs 210 pounds; I’d like to see her take over and beat the crap out of people.

Deeper… Impressions? Idk

According to the handy dandy advanced stats, she’s one of the best offensive players in the draft. She works well in both half court and transition (though her transition opportunities have been less plentiful), and has graded out as excellent in post ups, cutting off the ball, offensive rebound put-backs, and as the pick and roll roller. She against grades out as excellent around the basket and in post ups.

On defense, the story is much the same. She’s not as good of a defender as she is an offender (just go with it), but that’s only because she’s a freaking earthquake with the ball in her hands. She’s a good man defender, but an excellent zone defender, which is great.

She is a top-level post defender (something that you really, really want from a player like her), and is also very good at dealing with spot up and iso attacks. Her one weakness is dealing with the roll man on the pick and roll; she’s only just okay at it, and in the WNBA, you need to be able to defend your assignment on the roll. But she has elite-level defensive skills everywhere else.

Kelsey Plum

PPG

F: 20.9

S: 22.6

J: 25.9

RBDS

F: 4.71

S: 3.7

J: 3.7

ASTS

F: 2.7

S: 3.3

J: 4.1

FG%

F: 39%

S: 43%

J: 41%

3PG

F: 84/221 (37%) [2.5/6.5]

S: 69/173 (40%) [2.1 / 5.2]

J: 78/234 (33%) [2.1 / 6.3]

FTPG

F: 203/240 (85%) [6.2 / 7.3]

S: 207/231 (90%) [6.1 / 6.8]

J: 266/299 (89%) [7.2 / 8.1]

Initial Impressions

Kelsey Plum reminds me of Diamond DeShields, but more accomplished in stats and awards. She shoots from all over the floor, and does so a lot; she also gets to the basket with a high frequency. She’s a scorer, plain and simple. Her ability to shoot threes, make from the line (and get to the line), and gun-sling makes her an enticing prospect. She’s a lefty, and she gets that shot off fairly quick.

Good leaper, but not the fastest player. Good quickness, but better at knowing what to do with it than overwhelming someone with it. Her field goal percentage is low, and she shot only 33% from three last year, but she also essentially shot 40% on a high volume of shots as a freshman and sophomore. Clearly accomplished, clearly unafraid, and clearly willing to step up to the challenge.

Deeper… Impressions? Idk

Plum works best, unsurprisingly, in the half court; she scores .871 points per possession, a number that puts per in the 86th percentile. That doesn’t mean that she’s not a top notch transition scorer, too, just that she is more effective when working within the more structured half-court offense.

Her best skill is as the pick and roll ball handler; she is, again, in the 86th percentile, scoring .834 points per possession. She’s an even better spot up shooter, scoring over a point per possession and landing in the 95th percentile.

She’s a good, but not great, jump shooter; she’s best around the basket and shooting runners. Her catch and shoot numbers are off the chart, scoring over a point per possession and actually shooting better guarded than unguarded.

On defense, she’s more mortal. She’s an average defender, mostly. She struggles guarding the pick and roll ball handler, is only average at dealing with spot up shooters, and works best when dealing with iso situations, though she doesn’t see them that much. She struggles the most around the basket, and does well when guarding medium-length shots.

Sophie Brunner

PPG

10.7

RBDS

7.4

STLS

1.7

MINS

28.6 (27/27)

Initial Impressions

Hard to draw conclusions based off these numbers, because I can’t find them for her before her junior year; however, I do want to highlight the steals statistic. I don’t usually put much stock in it, because so many variables can influence it, but I do think it’s impressive for a rebounding forward to average nearly two steals per game.

That, to me, signals that someone has good instincts and quick hands, both attributes that can help make up for other deficiencies, should she have them.

Deeper… Impressions? Idk

An excellent half court player, scoring .912 points per possession, which puts her in the 91st percentile of players. Offensively, she works best (and most!) out of post-ups, grading out as excellent and in the 90th percentile, scoring exactly one point per possession. She’s a very good cutter, works well in both transition and putbacks, and is an A-level pick and roll man.

Defensively, she works best in isolation and spot up situations. She’s a good man defender, and a good defender overall, but perhaps not a world stopper. She defends jump shots well, but post ups poorly, and is only average at guarding around the basket.

Shatori Walker-Kimbrough

PPG

19.5

RBDS

6.0

ASTS

3.3

FG%

54%

3FG%

55%

3PG

2.1 / 3.8

FT%

81%

FTPG

3.3 / 4.0

Initial Impressions

She’s a fearless shooter. Two people in her face, she takes her time and takes a mechanically sound shot.

Her numbers, sans any eye-test context, are eye-popping. Even for a guard, she’s a top-notch shooter. She takes four threes per game and makes 55% of them; that’s absurd. She’s also a good rebounder for her position, while a little low on the assists; she’s listed just as “guard,” not denoting between the one or two-guard, but it’s safe to say that, at worse, she’s a scoring point guard.

A 6’0 sweet shooting guard is welcome on virtually every roster in the world.

Deeper… Impressions? Idk

Lord almighty, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.

She’s a top-notch half court player, and a top notch transition player. She’s excellent at transition baskets, spot up situations, working as the pick and roll ball handler, playing off screens, and in iso situations. She struggles with put backs on offensive rebounds, but honestly, who cares?

She’s an excellent jump shooter, and excellent around the basket. Not the best at shooting runners, which, oh no, what a tragedy. She’s a great catch and shoot player, both unguarded and guarded, and is at her best from long range. What a player.

And hey, guess what! She’s also an excellent defender. She’s equally good at man and zone defense, and has worked very well guarding pick and roll ball handlers, iso attacks, and spot up shots. Her best defensive efforts jump against jump shots, and she’s merely good at defending around the basket.

She could be a real force in the WNBA. I can’t wait to find out just how good she can be.

Alexis Jones

PPG

15.0

RBDS

4.2

ASTS

4.4

3PG

1.8 / 4.5

3FG%

41%

MPG

30.3

Initial Impressions

Good numbers; good shooting percentage. Transfer from Duke, where she was a Second-Team Freshman All-American and All-ACC second team. At Baylor, she as a key player on an Elite Eight team, averaging the stats above.

The conclusions I can draw: she’s an effective shooter, a jack of all trades who can dish assists and grab boards, all while playing a shade over 30 minutes per game. One of my main concerns with her going forward as a WNBA player is her age. She’ll be a year older than many who come into the league; most players come in with four years anyway, but that extra year could affect her.

That’s nitpicky, really. I like her as a missing piece player; she can run a bench unit, or cover up weaknesses on a first unit. An NBA comparison: Andre Iguodala.

Deeper… Impressions? Idk

Alexis Jones, in the per possession numbers, looks like a much better player than just looking at the surface. She’s an excellent offensive player, and is very good in both the half court and transition. She’s at her best when working as a spot up shooter, though she’s good at basically everything except cutting off the ball and working with put backs. But those are small nits to pick.

She’s a top-notch jump shooter, and works well around the basket. She’s great at catch and shoot opportunities, especially when unguarded (a no-brainer, perhaps, but you still have to make the shots. She’s one of the best off the dribble, and excels far away from the basket and very close, with a slight weakness in the midrange.

Jones is also a very good defender. She’s a beast when defending spot up situations, and works almost as well when taking on pick and roll ball handlers and isolation attacks. She is, however, weak when forced to work off screens, and merely average when dealing with hand offs.

She’s good at taking on jump shooters, even better at taking people around the basket. She’s a competent defender who can guard another high caliber player, which, combined with her jack of all trades ability, makes her a valuable member of any team.

Nina Davis

PPG

16.3 (JR)

21.1 (SOPH)

15.0 (FRSH)

RBDS

6.1 (JR)

8.3 (S)

8.9 (F)

FG%

55% (J)

58% (S)

60% (F)

Initial Impressions

Another Baylor Bear who could go high in the draft.

Nina Davis is the platonic ideal of a scoring forward. She averaged over twenty points a game her sophomore year, while grabbing 8.3 rebounds per contest. Her numbers peaked as a sophomore, leading the Bears to another playoff berth, but dipped upon the arrival of Alexis Jones.

Davis actually got less efficient as a junior, even though she was taking fewer shots and being asked to do less; that is a little worrisome, but also could be statistical noise. If you’ve spent your whole college career as ‘The Guy,' having someone come in as a true counterpart could throw your rhythm off.

I wouldn’t worry about her too much. I’m a big fan of high-scoring rebounders (who isn’t, really), and think she could really contribute to a team right away. But the one thing that does worry me is her size. She’s listed as 5’11, which is a little undersized for a forward; she’ll overcome it, I think, because she’s grabbing 3.5 offensive boards a game, which indicates that she’s willing to mix it up in the paint, regardless of size.

Deeper… Impressions? Idk

Her per possession stats are just as impressive. She’s a great offensive player, working equally as well in transition as the half court. Her only struggle is working as the pick and roll ball handler, something that she didn’t have to do much as junior, but it’s interesting that she’s even a candidate to handle the ball.

Forwards don’t usually get enough possessions to qualify in that statistic, and it shows that the team trusts her abilities enough to give her a chance. Should she develop that further, watch out.

She works best in transition baskets and cutting off the ball, and scores over a point per possession as the pick and roll man. She’s a very good jump shooter, and excellent working both in the post and around the basket in general.

Defensively, she’s not quite as stout, but still very impressive. She works best at taking on spot-up offensive situations, but is merely average at the typical big man defensive areas like post ups. She’s worked against pick and roll ball handlers enough to make me concerned, as she’s only grading out as below average. She’s a lockdown-type against jump shots, and outside post ups, she works well in protecting the basket.

The further away she’s dragged from the basket, the more effective a defender she is, which makes sense because of her lack of size. She holds her own, but struggles against bigger, more physical opponents.

Shayla Cooper

PPG

13.3 (J)

10.7 (S)

RBDS

8.1 (J)

7.8 (S)

FG%

52% (J)

47% (S)

MINS

25.5 (J)

26.0 (S)

Initial Impressions

Hasn’t started much in her career, which is something that concerns me. She’s played at Ohio State for two seasons, and started eleven games total, all of them in her junior year. She’s played starter-type minutes both years, which suggests a logjam at the forward positions.

Her rebounding numbers are excellent, especially for the minutes she’s played. Her shooting percentage, number of points, and rebounds all went up after her sophomore year, despite playing in more games, playing against starting lineups, and yet playing .5 less minutes than she did the year before.

I’d like to see more ways to score. She doesn’t shoot threes, and she shoots very few free throws; she’s still efficient, but I’d like a little more versatility. But I’ll say this: she’s shown consistent improvements each and every year. It’s hard to knock that kind of work ethic.

Deeper… Impressions? Idk

Cooper is at the top of the food chain when it comes to offensive production, averaging well over 1.1 points per possession, and working best in the half court. She’s good at essentially every type of offensive play, but works best at things like posting up, isolation attacks, and cutting off the ball; there are many more, but you get the gist.

She’s a great jump shooter, and excellent posting up, and almost as good working in general around the basket. She’s good from all over the court, long, medium, or short.

But, and there is a big, big but–

She is a poor defender. She gives up nearly .9 points per possession, and is poor at guarding spot-up shooting situations. She’s a better zone defender than a man defender, but it’s equally bleak either way.

She’s got a lot of potential, especially in terms of her constant improvements. However, I’d like to see more over the course of her senior season.

Nia Coffey

PPG

20.3 (J)

15.8 (S)

15.3 (F)

RBDS

9.8 (J)

8.7 (S)

8.1 (F)

FTS

3.7 / 6.0 [63%] (J)

3.3 / 5.3 [62%] (S)

3.2 / 4.8 [67%] (F)

MINS – GP/GS

34.1 – 35/35 (J)

33.5 – 32/32 (S)

30.1 – 32/21 (F)

Initial Impressions

Nia Coffey is one hell of a player.

One thing that jumped out at me, right from the start, is the way that she improved her scoring and her rebounding and, well, virtually everything else, while playing less than one minute per game than she did the year before.

Diving into that, I’m a big fan of how she’s shot more free throws per game each year; as a scoring-type forward that doesn’t have much of a three-point shot (yet!), her ability to do more than just work in and around the paint is impressive.

The reason I put that (yet!) in there is because I do believe she has a chance to develop one. She’s not shooting a ton of threes, nor is she shooting them well, but she’s taken her fair share, which shows me that she at least believes that she has the range to step further and further away from the rim. I don’t know if she’ll ever develop a competent three-point shot, but I believe that she believes that she can, and really, that’s 70% of the battle.

Deeper… Impressions? Idk

Under the per-possession stats, Coffey isn’t as impressive. She’s merely very good, which is nothing to sneeze at, of course, but I am a little surprised. I expected her numbers to be off the charts good.

She’s surprisingly average at spot up situations, ranking in the 50th percentile, and has no excellent grades in any of the other offensive categories. She is a jack of all trades, and can work well in virtually any situation, if not be truly great at any one thing.

She’s very good off the dribble, and very good around the basket, but struggles with mid-range shots, and in catch and shoot situations.

Defensively, it’s even worse. She’s flat out average, overall, and has some very concerning numbers when guarding the pick and roll ball handler. She does anywhere from just okay to good in other defensive categories, but struggling to guard the pick and roll ball handler will not bode well for her chances at guarding forwards like Candace Parker and Elena Delle Donne and the like.

She struggles the most around the basket, but does well against jump shots. That’s at least a positive sign, as she more than has the size to protect the paint better; perhaps it’s just a matter of coaching, or small sample size. She can be a better defender, and she’ll have to be.

Makayla Epps

PPG

17.1 (J)

14.9 (S)

4.6 (F)

RBDS

4.8 (J)

4.6 (S)

1.4 (F)

ASTS

4.3 (J)

3.0 (S)

1.4 (F)

FG%

47% (J)

44% (S)

48% (F)

MINS – GP/GS

35.2 – 32/32 (J)

32.4 – 34/22 (S)

11.5 – 34/1 (F)

Initial Impressions

Makayla Epps, looking strictly at the numbers, shows one of my favorite types of trends: improvement with increased responsibility. That may sound like a no-brainer sort of thing, but there is something called the Peter Principle, which states that the promotion of a candidate is based on the abilities to perform their current role, and not on abilities relevant to their new role.

Essentially: Makayla Epps, having been given more and more responsibility for her ability to perform as an off-the-bench type as a sophomore, has shown that she can take on a different role adequately. She is not the same player in a different role, but a different player in a different role.

Her efficiency took a dip in her sophomore year, as she took on a massive jump in responsibility, but ticked back up as a junior. I don’t know what her ceiling is as a player, but I do know that I trust that she’ll reach it, whatever that may be.

Deeper… Impressions? Idk

The per possession numbers back up what the surface numbers say, in a big way. She’s an excellent offensive player, in the 92nd percentile, and works equally well in transition as in the half court. She’s best when working as a pick and roll ball handler, and is simply good to very good at essentially everything else.

In the medium and short areas around the basket, she’s at the top of her game. The further you drag her away from the hoop, the more she struggles, but she is still a very good jump shooter.

She’s a very good defensive player, and does best-guarding spot-up shooting situations. She’s merely average when guarding the pick and roll ball handler, and when forced to work off screens, but is good at taking on isolation attacks. She struggles guarding around the basket, and is of a hell beast when taking on jump shots. She excels in guarding jump shots in the mid and long range parts of the court.