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The WNBA Draft: A deep dive into a shallow pool

by Clay Kallam on Apr. 5, 2012

Just as in the NBA, Lottery Land and the Promised Land are not necessarily the same thing: There just isn’t enough WNBA-ready talent to heal the sick and raise the almost-dead (yes, we’re talking about Tulsa).

In 2013, three the-cavalry-is-coming prospects will make three teams better immediately, but Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins aren’t in the April 16, 2012 draft, and thus the chances of franchise resurrection through the addition of a college senior start and stop with Nnemkadi Ogwumike, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick.

And even a not-bad L.A. team isn’t suddenly going to be boosted into favorite status by picking Stanford’s mobile, hard-working power forward. Ogwumike and star Candace Parker play the same position, though both will start, so the Sparks would have improved more with any of the 2013 lottery picks (all positions of need) than with Ogwumike.

But that’s the story of the 2012 draft, which seems destined to be one of those classes that time will soon forget. That said, of course, there are always surprises, and players will emerge who no one thought could make it in the world’s toughest league, but pre-draft, even Seattle, which picks second, is rolling the dice rather than counting on a significant contributor.

So who is available after Ogwumike that might have an impact on a WNBA roster?

Miami’s Shenise Johnson certainly looks like she can fit on a roster, as she filled up the stat sheet on a nightly basis in the ACC. Especially impressive are two numbers: 141/71 A/TO and 8.0 rpg. That combination of ballhandling and physicality is rare, but the 5-9 Johnson’s three-point percentage is an unimpressive 29.8%, and guards who don’t have a perimeter game struggle to score in the WNBA.

Still, it’s a good bet that a Johnson will go to Seattle with the second pick, as the extremely athletic Glory Johnson of Tennessee is also lottery-bound. She may not go with the second pick, as despite her physical skills, she has never developed a mid-range jumper, and looks to be a little short (6-2) and slight to be an effective WNBA power forward. That 39/85 A/TO is also troubling from a forward who isn’t going to be a go-to player on the block.

Glory’s teammate Shekinna Stricklen is also a likely lottery pick, but there are questions about her shooting (43.2% from the field) and defense at the WNBA level. She has the size for a wing (6-1), but had more turnovers (73) than assists (65) at Tennessee so it’s unlikely she will be able to take care of any ballhandling chores. But you know, you have to draft somebody, and all of a sudden, we’re running short of options.

Sammy Prahalis has the flash to be a star in the WNBA, and she would be a Diana Taurasi-like player every opposing fan loves to hate, but she’s not physically imposing and her decision-making, though improved, still needs work. Like Stricklen, she’s not a great shooter, and for a player who’s been marketed as the next great point guard, having an A/TO below 2.0 is not a good sign.

OK, we have one sure thing in Ogwumike (at least as much as any rookie is a sure thing), and three question marks, which isn’t exactly what teams are hoping for when they’re in the lottery. But sadly for the rest of the WNBA, it goes downhill pretty quickly from there.

Of course there will be players who exceed expectations, and yes, almost all of the first-rounders will make a roster, and many from the second and third rounds, but from this vantage point, the best that can be hoped for will be complementary players – and heading that list is Tiffany Hayes.

Hayes flamed out in the NCAA semis, but as a secondary piece, she should be just fine in the WNBA. She can shoot it, she can defend, she can handle a little and she’s been well-schooled at UConn. On the right team, she could be a very valuable piece, but if she’s cast as the lead guard, the show probably won’t be a very good one.

Riquna Williams will get some serious consideration, as she has three-point range and plenty of athleticism, but her overall shooting percentage was just below 40, and she was suspended just prior to the NCAA tournament for violating team rules. Now, no one is talking about what happened, but depending on what precisely the violation was, it’s possible she could drop out of the first round. Or, it’s possible she could go number four.

In fact, all we’re talking about from here on out will be possibilities, because the combination of teams needs, coaching biases and perceptions about production vs. potential create a bewildering matrix of maybes.

For example, let’s take LSU’s LaSondra Barrett. She’s listed at 6-2, which means she’s 6-1 at best, and she averaged just 12.8 ppg on 40.8% shooting. She did get 7.1 rpg, and offset her 107 turnovers with 92 assists, but that is hardly the resume of a franchise-saver. Still, she’s most likely a first-round pick, as is Khadijah Rushdan, listed at 5-9 (and we know what that means), who has a 102/86 A/TO and made just three three-pointers all season. But again, you have to pick someone.

How about the mid-majors? Green Bay wing Julie Wojta is getting some love for her 19.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 116/87 A/TO, and so is Kayla Standish, the 6-2 Gonzaga forward. Standish, though, has no apparent perimeter game, and it’s hard to see her thriving against the WNBA’s brand of paint defense, while Wojta’s question will be her ability to defend on the perimeter.

We could go on, but from here on out, it’s like tossing darts blindfolded. Lynetta Kizer? Why not? Cierra Bravard? She’s 6-4 -- sure. Natalie Novosel? Slow guards sometimes find a home. Sasha Goodlett? OK, you can start saying “Who?” now, and we’ll start saying “Goodbye.”

Yes, there will be surprises in this draft, and if history is any guide, there will be more than just one solid WNBA starter chosen April 16. But figuring out who that might be will take just as much luck as winning a real lottery – and WNBA teams were hoping for better odds than those.