Drafting is not a science, but one thing we can generally say about drafting interior players is that strong offensive rebounders at top NCAA DI programs can generally find a niche in the league, even in the era of 11-player rosters.
Yet even that bit of draft wisdom culled from looking across the results of the last five years comes with a number of caveats, including that turnover prone post players often struggle to make an impact if they make a roster at all.
This season, the issue that cropped up among the interior players we chose to watch due to their rebounding potential was turnover rates; not just the fact of committing turnovers, but how they committed those turnovers. A couple improved on that front and a couple declined, but they all have a unique story that might end up being related to those trends.
Below are brief descriptions of four of the players we looked at, including how turnovers figure into their value as prospects.
Tianna Hawkins, Maryland Terrapins (6’3″, F)
Swish Appeal’s Zack Ward has written so much about Tianna Hawkins that you should probably just go read that stuff either in our ACC section or our draft prospects storystream to get more details on her.
In short, we’re probably not the only ones who see her as an elite prospect.
But there is one thing that stood out in Maryland’s recent loss to Duke that might reflect a troubling pattern: Hawkins is extremely inefficient with the ball in her hands, as indicated by her low pure point rating. That does require a bit of unpacking though: Hawkins’ real “problem” isn’t an egregious turnover rate as much as a very low assist rate (5.88%). Either way, interior players with PPR’s that low don’t fare too well in the league even when they have other things going for them.
One explanation for interior players with low PPRs struggling in the WNBA could be that once they find themselves up against pro competition those inefficient distributing numbers show up as an inability to respond well to defenses that don’t allow them to score as easily. A contrasting explanation is that most rookie power forwards won’t have to worry about handling the ball as much when they’re no longer a go-to option on a pro team.
With Hawkins, I’d probably go with the latter and her offensive rebounding prowess combined with her scoring ability puts her near the top of this draft class.
Monique Oliver, Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6’2″, F/C)
Earlier this year I asked someone more familiar with Rutgers than I am about Monique Oliver’s pro potential and the answer I got in response was, “She has that boom/bust potential that Kara Braxton had, but on a smaller scale.”
That’s probably the best way to describe why she was on our watch list to begin with.
The primary thing that Oliver had going for her was that she was arguably the most valuable player on the team statistically, which was impressive considering she was on a team with 2012 WNBA draft picks Kadijah Rushdan and April Sykes, the latter of whom ended up making the Los Angeles Sparks roster. Having already put up solid scoring efficiency and rebounding numbers if she continued to improve she would’ve been squarely in the conversation for a first round pick. Back to yesterday’s exploration about how promising juniors perform in their senior years, there looked to be serious “boom” potential there for Oliver.
The problem for Oliver this season, as described the other day, is that she’s gone in the opposite direction and the most glaring concern is underlying her strongly negative pure point rating: as her usage rate went up about 5% this season (26.08%) her turnover ratio went up nearly the same amount to 19.35%. For all of the things she otherwise does well – her scoring efficiency is close to roster-worthy and her offensive rebounding numbers are solid – centers with pure point ratings that low typically struggle to make an impact in the WNBA unless they can defend.
Part of the issue for Oliver has been a run of injuries that has reportedly affected her play this season. Yet in this particular draft class, there’s quite a bit of depth for teams in the market for 6’2″ interior players. So the question is what has Oliver done to distinguish herself? The statistical answer is not very clear.
Chelsea Poppens, Iowa State Cyclones (6’2″, F)
One of the underrated pleasures of watching basketball games is watching great offensive rebounders work – the one thing they all have in common is that their brains seem to be wired to respond to the path of a ball coming off the rim faster than the average human being.
Poppens is no exception, but unlike players like Glory Johnson who get to the ball with elite athleticism or Devereaux Peters whose wingspan and uncanny ability to always be positioned well helped her get to the ball, Poppens does it with positioning and power – few players fight harder for the ball in the paint than Poppens and the numbers reflect that effort.
However, the red flag that should immediately leap out with Poppens is her negative pure point rating – moreso than being from a low assist ratio it’s the high turnover rate that has been a red flag. This season, it was even moreso how she has committed those turnovers.
Poppens commits a number of turnovers as she’s going into her move just after receiving the ball: getting it knocked away, losing the ball once doubles come, or traveling. The next thing that stands out as a 6’2″ power player is her scoring efficiency – her true shooting percentage of 57.1% is fine but a lot of that comes from her strong free throw shooting. Her 2-point percentage is low compared to past post prospects.
It’s definitely encouraging that Poppens’ free throw shooting and pure point rating has improved this season – she’s committing turnovers much less often this season – but the way she commits those turnovers has to make you wonder how she’ll respond to WNBA post defense where players are faster and stronger.
Ultimately, teams that really need rebounding help should probably give Poppens a look – as with most rookies, she won’t be looked upon as a primary scoring option and that might help her further cut down on the situations that lead to turnovers thus making her more efficient.
Toni Young, Oklahoma St. (6’2″, F)
Toni Young is arguably the best athlete in the 2013 WNBA Draft – if competing for the NCAA high jump title and in the Olympic trials mean anything to you – but she was the hardest player to figure out entering this season.
Swish Appeal’s Jessica Lantz has written about Young most often around here and a recurring theme that has come out throughout her career is the question of whether she has played up to her potential, which was probably captured best and most succinctly in an article back in March 2011.
Young closed the season averaging 19.2 points and 11.3 rebounds a night in the final nine games of the season. To start the 2011 calendar year, Young was performing at 65 percent of her potential, according to Budke. Her late season numbers indicate that percentage is climbing.
And that’s exactly the thing with Young: she can go from looking like a dominant player in one of the nation’s top conferences, if not the top conference over the last four years, to a player who seems to be just coasting along. Coasting, of course, being a player that doesn’t start on a WNIT team yet makes plays around the basket simply by jumping over opponents. Locked in, of course, is winning the 2012 WNIT MVP award as she led a run that many speculated was fueled by the memory of their fallen coaches.
Her numbers reflect that sort of up and down dynamic: among the elite players that we’d consider draft prospects, she doesn’t stand out as the most dominant and doesn’t have much to help her stand out from the rest aside from Olympic-caliber athleticism. Yet she’s solid across the board, has improved in key areas this season – most notably decreasing her turnover ratio to 7.27%, which is outstanding for a forward with the ball in her hands so often – and it might turn out that she’s a more effective second or third option on a team instead of the first option.
One major asset compared to some of her more earth-bound counterparts in this draft is that she has a face-up game that could make her a more versatile threat in the right system. And really, at 6’1″ without shoes, by her own admission, and a rather slight build facing up – or even making the transition out to the wing – might be necessary if she wants to make the league; not only is that a difficult transition but making the league as a 6’1″ forward is difficult. But the fact that she has done as well as she has handling the ball is a big plus for her.
Ultimately, Young’s career will almost certainly be predicated on finding the right situation, perhaps moreso than the average rookie.
And that’s perhaps the underlying issue for Young throughout her career: finding the right place for her. By all accounts, Kurt Budke’s Oklahoma State program was the right situation to help her grow. Now she needs a place where she can continue to maximize her potential.
For more on the 2013 WNBA draft, visit our 2013 draft prospects storystream.