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Courtney Hurt & The Difficulty Of Making The WNBA As An 'Undersized' Power Forward

posted by Swish Appeal
Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 12:50pm EDT

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In a Q&A with FeverBasketball.com before training camp, third-round draft pick Courtney Hurt said that, "rebounding is what got me playing time as a freshman and it just took off from there.”

For Hurt, the tenacity on the boards was both a matter of wanting to do whatever it took to help her team win and simply her desire to score. She finished her senior season at VCU ranked 9th in the nation in scoring (22.3 points per game) and first overall in rebounding (13.1 rebounds per game).

By the time the 2012 WNBA Draft rolled around, Hurt looked like a worthy draft prospect statistically - offensive rebounding tends to be a skill that translates well to pro success, if not always directly, and the way she scored suggested that she might be able to find a way to contribute to a WNBA offense.

The challenge was that Hurt is a 6'1" college rebounder, which typically requires the most difficult college to pro adjustment of any type of player. And after being drafted 34th overall by the Indiana Fever, she was among the first players cut this week. But even before the draft, there was reason for doubt about how much of Hurt's game would transfer to the pros, as I mentioned prior to the draft.

Nevertheless, her own comparison to San Antonio Silver Stars All Star and Texas A&M alum Danielle Adams does have the effect of drawing attention to that shooting efficiency: although Adams is also considered an undersized "interior scorer" in the WNBA, she had a 53% 2-point percentage. And although finding a direct comparison to Hurt isn't particularly easy, a common theme is that the players that 6'1" interior players that are on WNBA rosters tended to be much more efficient scorers in college than Hurt was at VCU.

Hurt's 48.35% college 2-point percentage wasn't necessarily insurmountable - watching game film of Hurt, she wasn't a back to the basket scorer that relied heavily on overpowering opponents. Aside from putbacks off of offensive rebounds, she was actually best when getting the ball in the high post and driving to the basket. She could shoot the three. She had a mid-range jumper. If any "undersized" power forward was gonna have a shot at making the transition to the pros, it seemed that she had a chance.

But what that 2-point percentage showed more than anything else was a struggle to finish through contact off those drives and after receiving the ball in traffic, somewhat ironic given the rebounding prowess. And for an undersized player, that scoring inefficiency poses a problem.

In recent drafts, a couple of 6'1" forwards have made the league with different levels of success. Danielle Adams is the obvious success story, but was a far more versatile scorer than Hurt at Texas A&M. Cal's Ashley Walker was shockingly efficient, but has struggled to stick on an 11-player roster thus far in her career.

Neither of those players was very similar to Hurt by the SPI playing style rating and really she doesn't have a direct match, but the closest match was interesting.

Player (School, Draft Year) Height S% P% I% TS% Oreb% Stl%
Courtney Hurt (VCU, 2012) 6'1" 51.1 8 79.7 53.02 16.57 2.5
Danielle Adams (Texas A&M, 2011) 6'1" 80.1 2.6 61.4 56.47 12.83 2.20
Jantel Lavender (Ohio State, 2011) 6'4" 54.1 7.6 77.8 59.09 7.9 0.6
Ashley Walker (Cal, 2009) 6'1" 53 21.3 68.3 60.79 12.42 2.75

SPI player similarity ratings for Courtney Hurt.

Is Hurt truly a 6'1" version of Jantel Lavender? That's not quite how to read these numbers - Lavender was far more of a low block scorer than Hurt and her rebounding strength was mostly on the defensive end (around 21% her senior year at OSU) rather than the offensive end.

What is interesting is that of the players that did have that set of tendencies during their senior years in college in recent years - Lade Akande (Butler, 2009) and Dominic Seals (Texas Tech, 2009) in addition to Hurt and Lavender - Lavender is the only one to have made it. And Lavender is also the only one who is 6'4".

In other words, that style of play - a player whose dominant tendency is rebounding - hasn't seemed to translate well for players in the 6'0" - 6'2" range. The same could be said to apply to players who are less rebound-oriented, but still show rebounding as a dominant tendency: 6'1" Lykendra Johnson, who was just cut by the Chicago Sky yesterday, and 6'0" Courtney Taylor (Houston, 2011) also fit that mold, although their rebounding tendencies are not quite as pronounced. They're truly players who played bigger than their size in college but maybe needed to actually be bigger to make it in the pros. Adams, as it turns out, is more of a one-of-a-kind player - a college post whose dominant tendency was scoring but complemented that with strong rebounding rates; her profile looks more like a wing's than a post.

Our pre-season statistics placed Johnson in the top 10 and my pre-draft statistics put Hurt pretty high on my draft board, despite the scoring efficiency caveat mentioned above (and in what is widely considered a weak draft, Hurt's rebounding really stood out). Even knowing that the transition from college 4 to pro 3 is difficult, we essentially made the same mistake twice because the numbers were impressive. We've learned something every year covering the draft and perhaps this represents this year's lesson.

For those who dismiss undersized power forwards without a second thought, this probably isn't news. Nevertheless, what is interesting is starting to lay out a more precise framework for analysis to explain what type of undersized players aren't making the league and why - both Hurt and Johnson were strong rebounders (and Johnson led her team in steals), but poor scoring efficiency at 6'1" hurt their value as prospects and is the common factor in both being released in the first week of training camp.

Their paths from college to the WNBA - and Walker deserves mention in that group as a player who was more perimeter-oriented in college, but has still struggled to transition to the perimeter full-time in the pros - could make a case for expanding rosters before expanding the number of teams in the league; that transition is difficult and although we don't know what their professional future looks like, we can say that part of what's needed is time to develop within the WNBA style of play.

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