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Multi-Tool Wings in 2023 WNBA Draft
By Mark Schindler
The 2022 WNBA Finals were a great spectacle in talent and tactics, with the Las Vegas Aces ultimately winning the title in four games over the Connecticut Sun. The clashing of styles was drastic.
The Sun closed game four with a lineup including four frontcourt players as Vegas countered with a four-guard look. It was breathtaking basketball. The Sun were dominant with their big-to-big passing, well-executed high lows, and crashing the offensive glass, and yet, the Aces stretched them to the limits and their ultimate breaking point.
Ghost screens in spread looks hit in a way with regularity that is relatively new to the W.
While the W has seen numerous great offenses (the 2019 Mystics immediately come to mind), no team has played quite like the Aces.
Vegas set the second-greatest offensive efficiency rating in league history with overall pace ramping up slightly across the league; it feels like we’re on the precipice of what happened with the NBA immediately after the first Warriors’ run.
First-year coach Becky Hammon, formerly an assistant with the Spurs, implemented a primarily 4 out 1 in approach with the ability to truly go 5 out at times and be guarded accordingly. That aspect is key, it’s not that the principles didn’t exist, but rather that they’re being further adopted as talent in the league enters and adapts with the skill sets that allow for those principles to shine.
It’s worth noting just how talented the Aces were (they’re more talented now, which is wild), deploying five All-Star caliber players in their best lineups.
Four of the five could credibly dribble, pass, and shoot and Dearica Hamby was a savvy ball mover, screener, and DHO operator, greasing the context for the offense even though she struggled from three on the year.
It’s going to take more than one off-season to disperse and disseminate this ideological shift around the league, but that arguably makes getting on top of that movement yesterday all the more important.
Looking ahead to the W Draft, who are the incoming complimentary players with diverse skill sets that can become part of a rotation in the near future and how can we identify them?
Using our database and global search tool, I put in parameters to search the power conferences in Division 1 and my own measures to find a mold between archetypes. I capped PSP (Pure Scoring Prowess) and usage percentage to filter out most primary initiators, while also putting a high emphasis on DSI (Defensive Statistical Impact) and secondary importance on 3PE (3 Point Efficiency) and FGS (Floor General Skills).
I also filtered to a minimum height of 5’11 to include mostly 2’s and 3’s; hybrid wings or scoring guards.
In essence, sorting out for players who carry secondary usage while having the ability to play off of the ball, make a positive defensive impact, and bring some secondary or tertiary playmaking.
Having multiple tools in your toolbox is only going to become increasingly important in the coming seasons.
When filtering from 2018-2022 for senior seasons, we get a good picture of projection.
Lexie Hull went 6th overall in the 2022 Draft, Stephanie Watts was drafted 10th overall in 2021, and is back in the league with the Los Angeles Sparks this season. Christyn Williams was drafted last season by the Mystics and looks to make a mark for them this year after missing her rookie season due to a knee injury.
Sam Thomas was a fairly low-usage player her entire time at Arizona, but a knockdown 3-point shooter and an extremely promising defensive player and prospect. She’ll be a second-year player for Phoenix in 2023 after going undrafted in 2022, but earning a contract with the Mercury in training camp.
Point is, this is an interesting group that’s all largely been back half of the first round or later and has made an impact as pros to a varying degree.
Why did I filter out primaries? It’s my own philosophy, but it’s easier to find role acceptance and comfort for players that already excel more in an off-ball role. You’ve already spent much of your time keeping tabs on, understanding, deciphering, and projecting the likely lottery talents and bets at primary options.
Automatically, we’ve deduced a really interesting and productive group that’s eligible for the coming draft. Coming in with an idea of archetype and role, you can create a curated scouting list or watch list.
How you approach some of the numbers is an essential part of understanding them; While Brea Beal has significantly low usage and PSP, it’s worth making sure you dive into why. South Carolina plays a fairly average to slow-paced offense that is predominantly inside-out and post-heavy at all times; understandable given that they have arguably the best post player and post rotation in the country.
What you derive from the context and feel of Beal’s offensive ability in watching will play a large determinant in how you feel about her draft status.
For another example, let’s take Taylor Mikesell, having a stellar season for Ohio State. The Buckeyes play the 11th highest pace in Division 1 while also fullcourt pressuring and playing perhaps the most aggressive defense in the country. That’s not to denigrate Mikesell’s DSI, but it’s worth noting that a scheme that empowers aggression and pace can ratchet up the likelihood of a player having defensive impact plays. The contrary point can induce lower DSI as well, although not as drastically.
Mikesell has an 82 DSI this season (pretty high) and had an 85 DSI during her sophomore season at Maryland. Maryland also plays an aggressive junk defense that mixes in presses and ball screen blitzing at times. While at Oregon for one season, her DSI was 61 (fairly average and a large drop year to year).
Again, deciphering and feeling out what that means to you as a scout and organization is key!
Let’s take Abby Meyers out of Maryland to dive into some film.
Meyers, a transfer out of Princeton, has been one of the most impactful transfers of the college season. Maryland plays at a high pace much like Ohio State, but her DSI has remained consistent throughout her career even with scheme change.
She’s a combo guard by nature but listed at 6’ and with solid strength and a good feel for the game, I could see her as more of a combo wing (⅔) than the combo guard she’s been at the collegiate level.
Oft in the right places defensively off the ball and on rotations, Meyers is capable of holding her own against lesser ball-handlers in isolation and on drives. However, it’s worth noting that she’s better at using her length and chest to ride drivers out to the rim and into help, not inherently bad defense; it can be part of a scheme but requires the right personnel. I wouldn’t ask her to lock down opposing ballhandlers, and neither does Brenda Frese.
She’s susceptible to quick change of direction due to her hip flexibility (step-throughs and euros) but largely mirrors fairly well.
Covering large swaths of ground isn’t her strong suit, but with good hands and instincts, I generally feel optimistic about her defensive ability at the next level even though she’ll have limitations. Her offensive impact and potential can’t be undersold.
Meyers is a 38.9% (120/308) shooter on high volume and variation her last two seasons, and her three-point shot is what opens up the rest of her game and makes her such an impactful off-ball player with on-ball utility.
She hits off movement, on pull-ups, can screen and flare out to shoot, and is seemingly always capable of finding her balance and hitting even heavily contested shots.
With that kind of shot versatility and accuracy, the paint is opened up due to shot gravity and how defenses must contest.
Watch here as Meyers runs off and Iverson cut into an empty corner Pick and Roll.
Meyers uses her jab threat and guile, with the potential of her shot, to open up the roller as the screener flips and rolls into vacated space.
Meyers is a quality playmaker, and while she doesn’t have the requisite first step and acceleration to routinely generate paint touches and dish the rock without a ball screen, her shooting opens up the ability to win with change of pace and craft. It’s a hard diet to live on, but with the touch, she possesses from all areas of the court, it’s a healthy diet.
Why does this matter?
As offenses likely start to proliferate towards more ability to play spread out with an emphasis on quick and quality decision-making, implementing a player like Meyers who can potentially shoot, screen, dribble, pass, and stay alive on defense adds an incredibly valuable player to a rotation.