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WNBA Draft Prospects: The Trials and Tribulations of the Undersized Combo Guard

posted by Swish Appeal
Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 1:45am EDT

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via CaliforniaGoldenBlogs.com

via CaliforniaGoldenBlogs.com

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For the sake of full disclosure: we here at SBN are big Alexis Gray-Lawson fans.

Of course, by we, I mean myself, and probably most of California Golden Blogs, with norcalnick and TwistNHook leading the charge. I'm a Berkeley native, they're Berkeley alums/fans, we are all Pac-10 supporters and some of the performances Alexis Gray-Lawson has put together in her senior season have been nothing less than jaw-dropping. Although you obviously didn't see her in the NCAA tournament, she did lead a freshman-heavy team to the WNIT championship. I won't speak for them, but if I could create a site titled, "DraftAlexisGrayLawson.com/org/net" I probably would.

However, one of Gray-Lawson's accolades stands out as perhaps the pivotal accolade for her pro potential: the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award.

On the one hand, it's a good sign - 10 of the past 12 past winners of the award were contributors on WNBA rosters this past season. On the other hand, the award is granted to players 5'8" and under, which of course makes it difficult to project a position for a dynamic scorer like Gray-Lawson.

"I think there's no question she'll be drafted," said Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve in the WNBA pre-draft media conference. "I think first it's just a matter of which team is selecting her, but it's deep - it's a very deep draft - and it's going to go on teams' tastes."

As it turns out, there are quite of few players sitting in Gray-Lawson's position - players who tended to be prolific scorers in college, but may have to demonstrate that they can play point guard in the WNBA. While some of them - including Gray-Lawson - have been the lead ballhandler for their teams at times, the question for all of them is how effective they will be when they are suddenly faced with bigger defenders at the next level. And compounding the challenge, it's already considered a guard-heavy draft.

"I think the guard spot is going to be the toughest spot to make a team," said ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck. "I think that because there are so many experienced perimeter players right now - and you gotta remember that the Sacramento Monarchs suspended operations, so you have 11 less spots this year - which makes it tough...At that position, it's extremely competitive."

We know these players can score, but in evaluating them, but their challenge will be standing out among an already loaded position. So it seems reasonable to ask the following questions: how good is their decision making - can they balance the risk of making plays vs. making mistakes? How well do they get others involved in the offense? To what extent might they be a "ball-stopper", a player who looks for their own shot at the expense of getting others involved?

Of course, many of these players were asked to score as much as they did for one reason as another so it's possible that they have playmaking abilities that we simply haven't yet seen. But what we can look for some statistical indicators and statistics we have plenty of.

Combo/tweener guards:

1. Andrea Riley, Oklahoma State

Freelantz has already written about Riley from a Big 12 perspective and suggested that not only is Marion Jones interested in Riley, but Riley is interested in the Tulsa Shock. That, of course, was before Tulsa traded their #7 pick. With that development, it's not entirely clear where Riley might go.

"She'll be great in a system with a coach who uses a lot of screen-and-rolls because she's so good coming off the screen-and-roll," said ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo. "She's a small guard who can obviously score, who is going to have to change her game a little bit and be more of a distributor, but she has that in her arsenal, so again, with some of these guards, if she went seventh to Tulsa, you wouldn't be surprised but you also wouldn't be surprised to see her go early in the second round."

To be fair, what separates Riley from the rest of this bunch is that she did run point in college, which might give her a bit of an edge come draft time. However, her usage percentage of around 40% was significantly higher - almost 10% -- than any major draft prospect and her assist rate was right around 17%. Riley is clearly the purest pure scorer of this bunch and close to the purest in the draft. However, her ability to get shots off could be an indicator of pro potential.

However, as one might expect from someone who shoots so much - and had the green light to shoot whenever from wherever she wanted - Riley's shooting percentages do not necessarily indicate a strong pro scorer. In addition, as well as much as she does score generally, she had a 2 point percentage of under 40%, which means she's not necessarily converting high percentage shots either. At her size, one might also expect a low rebounding rate, which she also has at just under 4% (reb/40).

So as a player who clearly has point guard experience and ball handling skills, the question about Riley is how she might adjust to drastically changing her tendencies. There may be no way to know for sure until she takes the court, but of this group, she might be more well-suited than others.

2. Alexis Gray-Lawson, California

Between Swish Appeal and CGB, there is already plenty written about Alexis Gray-Lawson floating around SBN. So there's nothing "new", except that word is Gray-Lawson is an early to mid second round pick.

But the question for Riley is probably more pertinent for her: can she change her tendencies and run point in the WNBA?

3. Taylor Lilley, Oregon

A player that has played for Paul Westhead and can hit eight or nine threes a game is clearly well-suited for the style of play for at least one team in the WNBA. Of course, whether she fits that team's needs is another matter. 

For more on Lilley, please click here.

4. Alexis Rack, Mississippi State

Rack was Mississippi State's leading scorer by a significant margin and their main scoring option, with a usage rate just under 30%. The reason she's sitting in this group is that her tendencies place her squarely in pure scorer range.

Rack gets to the free throw line at a reasonable rate and has mediocre shooting efficiency numbers as a result of her three point shooting. The question, of course, is at 5'7" can she continue to score as often as she did while also distributing the ball more - her assist rate of about 18% is beneath the threshold of a WNBA point guard - and cutting down her turnover rate of 16.15%.

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