WNBA Prospect Watch: Junior Class Stand Up

WNBA Prospect Watch provides readers with a heads up on the nation’s top collegiate players. This installment focuses on the three juniors who we project as the first three picks in the 2013 WNBA Draft.

by Brandon Clay / @peachstatehoops

Skylar Diggins from Notre Dame and Baylor’s Brittney Griner squared off a week ago. Currently the No. 1 team in the country, Baylor came away with the 94-81 win in large part to Griner’s 32-point, 14-rebound performance while playing all 40 minutes. Diggins more than held her own for an Irish team that was No. 2 going into the contest with 27 points in 36 minutes but struggled against pressure finishing with 7 turnovers. Meanwhile, Elena Delle Donne out of Delaware has been outstanding early this season leading the Hens to their first ever national top-25 ranking. Her signature performance so far is dropping 40 points and snatching 12 boards en route to a road victory over then No. 11 Penn State.

Here’s a look at their play so far this season:

Elena Delle Donne, 6-5, PF, Delaware

Strengths: Field goal percentage, long range shooting, clutch offensive player

Areas To Improve: Defending her position

Evaluation: Originally the consensus No. 1 prep prospect in the Class of 2008, Delle Donne signed with UConn before reversing course going into her freshman season choosing to go to school close to home. She sat out the ‘08-09 season. Her game has not regressed in the least bit playing in the Colonial Athletic Association as opposed to the Big East. We see her skill set as comparable to Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks). Delle Donne can score the ball inside or outside and routinely makes tough shots off one leg like the 2011 NBA Finals MVP does. She has been nothing short of spectacular through the first seven games of the season averaging 29 points a game in 32 minutes while shooting an incredible 58 percent from both the field and the three-point line. Like Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker was in the 2008 Draft, Delle Donne is a redshirt junior meaning that she could enter this year’s WNBA Draft if she chose to do so. Ironically, the Sparks won the Draft Lottery last month and the Delaware product would appear to be a lock to be taken with the first overall selection.

Upcoming Key Games: December 11 at Wake Forest, December 19 at Providence, December 29 vs Maryland

Skylar Diggins, 5-8, PG, Notre Dame

Strengths: Ability to create for teammates, capable scorer at the point, competitor

Areas To Improve: Three-point percentage

Evaluation: A left-handed point guard, Diggins has emerged as arguably the best floor general in the country regardless of class. She has shown that she can distribute the ball with 43 assists to 24 turnovers giving her a solid assist-to-turnover ratio of almost 2. At the same time, she is averaging just shy of 18 points a night while shooting 52 percent from the field. That’s an unusually high rate for a guard at any level especially for one who, like Diggins, has already faced three teams ranked in the pre-season top 25 (Baylor, Duke, Southern California). Going forward, her three-point percentage will need to improve into the mid to high 30s. Right now, it’s hovering around 28 percent. That said, she was on the USA Basketball World University Games team this summer and from the first day of the trials in late May, Diggins was able to separate herself from the other point guards on the roster with her energetic play.

Upcoming Key Games: December 10 at Purdue, December 18 vs Kentucky

Brittney Griner, 6-8, C, Baylor

Strengths: Shot changer and blocker, rebounds both in and out of her area, finishes around the rim

Areas To Improve: Passing out of the double team, 12-15 foot jumper

Evaluation: Simply put, Griner is the most dominant player in the college game today. She was good enough to workout with the USA Senior National team in Las Vegas and appears to be a frontrunner for a spot on the 2012 Olympic team. In a lot of ways with her height and instinct on both ends, Griner is a one-of-a-kind post player. She’s improved her game each season and has gotten off to a blazing start this year averaging 24 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks per game. She’s shooting 63 percent from the floor and more importantly, almost 73 percent from the free-throw line which allows Baylor coach Kim Mulkey to keep her on the floor in late game situations. Barring injury or illness, pencil Griner in as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft regardless of whether Delle Donne returns or not.

Upcoming Key Games: December 11 vs St. John’s, December 18 vs UConn