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2021 WNBA Draft Watch: Kiana Williams leading the Stanford Cardinal back to the top of the Pac-12

The esteemed Stanford Cardinal program is no stranger to producing WNBA prospects. Lead guard Kiana Williams, who established herself as a lethal scorer years ago, has taken on more of a leadership role as a senior, and it’s hard to argue with the results.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Southern California at Stanford
Kiana Williams has a shifty, versatile offensive game that makes her effective both with and without the basketball.
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Stanford Cardinal have reclaimed their place atop the Pac-12 under legendary head coach Tara VanDerveer, going 19-2 in conference play and finishing the regular season ranked No. 4 overall by the Associated Press.

Kiana Williams, a 5-foot-9 guard from San Antonio, TX, is just one of several Stanford players to earn high marks in the Pac-12 this season. Unlike many seniors considered to be 2021 WNBA prospects, Williams has been a key player for her collegiate program since day one, arriving at Stanford as a highly-touted recruit and playing a consistent, important role for the Cardinal ever since.

Now that she’s a senior, Williams has been tasked with leading a prestigious program back to the promised land. So far, so good: The Cardinal are projected by ESPN’s Charlie Creme as a No. 1 seed for the 2021 NCAA Tournament, and Williams’ draft stock has risen amidst her team’s success.

Honors and statistics

Williams was ranked by ESPN HoopGurlz as a five-star recruit (No. 8 overall) in the class of 2017, favored slightly over big names like Dana Evans, Michaela Onyenwere and Rennia Davis. Her impact on Stanford was immediate: She was named a starter a month into the 2017-18 NCAA season and earned Pac-12 All-Freshman honors after averaging 10.4 points and 1.9 assists per game.

Since then, Williams has been a steady hand for the Cardinal, starting every game as Stanford’s lead guard and averaging no fewer than 14 points per game in any season. Prior to her senior season, Williams was named to the preseason All-Pac-12 Team, as well as watch lists for the Naismith, Wade and Wooden Trophies and the Ann Meyers-Drysdale Award.

As a senior, Williams was named to the regular-season All-Pac-12 Team, becoming the 14th player in Stanford history to earn such an honor three times. Her 1,709 career points scored ranks 10th in program history.

Internationally, Williams won Silver with Team USA at the 2019 Pan American Games. She also participated in trials for USA’s U16 and U17 teams from 2014 to 2016.

How she helps the Cardinal

Stanford v Oregon
Williams’ scoring ability has never been in question, but her growth as a floor general may be what determines her fate as a WNBA prospect.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

When it comes to Stanford Cardinal basketball, you rarely see any one player hogging the spotlight. That’s not the Tara VanDerveer way. And while Williams may be one of the most skilled players in the 2021 WNBA Draft class, her individual numbers aren’t those of a can’t-miss superstar prospect.

Of course, that’s only what the basic box score will tell you. According to Her Hoop Stats, not a single Stanford player recorded an assist rate over 20 percent this season, which speaks volumes about the approach VanDerveer’s squad takes to the game: everyone touches the basketball on every possession, and massive individual scoring or assisting outbursts are rare.

In a way, this approach suits Williams just fine. She’s modeled her game after several professional point guards, most notably Seattle Storm legend Sue Bird, who Williams looks up to for her knack for making clutch shots.

Just like Bird, Williams knows when to dish and when to shoot — and when she shoots, she can make difficult plays look easy. According to Synergy Sports, Williams has ranked in the 80th percentile or better in pick and roll scoring in each of her four seasons at Stanford, able to diagnose defenses and shift gears to finish with either an explosion to the rim or a smooth stepback jumper.

Williams can play without the basketball, too. Over half of her shot attempts have come from 3-point range, and she’s made 282 threes in her collegiate career, shooting just over 36 percent on them.

The term “combo guard” is often used in the basketball community as a detriment, but for Williams, her ability to play both guard positions is advantageous. We’ll see if WNBA GMs agree, and if they see her making a smooth transition to the pros; if they do, Williams could be a first-round draft pick in 2021.

Watch her play

As the No. 1 overall seed entering the 2020-21 Pac-12 Tournament, Stanford has a first-round bye and will play the USC Trojans on Thursday, March 4 (Pac-12 Network). If Stanford advances far enough — which wouldn’t be a surprise — it will play again in the tournament semifinals on Friday, March 5 (Pac-12 Network) and in the tournament finals on Sunday, March 7 (ESPN2).

All statistics and team records for the 2020-21 season are current through March 3, 2021.