WNBAinsidr Rookie Report
By Cayla McMorris
Rookie of the week: Diamond DeShields, Sky
DeShields may arguably be the closest player to MJ in the league right now, and that’s not just because she played at North Carolina. Her game says it all. DeShields being a taller guard has the advantage to post up smaller guards, blow past slower defenders, shoot and pull-up. She has the entire package, but her biggest challenge will be consistency. DeShields is not like most rookies, her coaches are looking for her to be an impact player right away. She started her first two games of the season and is averaging 24.5 minutes per game. In her regular-season debut against the Fever, she netted 18 points and grabbed 8 boards while carrying her team to their first win. Her impact shined bright, but it was a little dim against the Liberty on Sunday, where she only scored 7 points, grabbed 5 rebounds while also having 5 turnovers. There is a huge consistency gap between her first and second game, where she made as many shots in her first game as she attempted in the second game. DeShields left college early to pursue a professional career overseas in Turkey. So, she has experience playing at the professional level, which is why her adjustment should be easier. Not only should her experience ease her adjustment, but her skills should too. She is a mismatch for most of her defenders and not a lot of players are as versatile as her. Therefore, consistency will be her biggest difficulty this year but if she plays like she did against the Fever, the Sky will definitely be a team to make it to the playoffs this year.
Monique Billings, Dream
Billings is an athletic 6-foot-4 forward, who averaged nearly a double-double (15.3 points and 9.5 rebounds) at UCLA her senior year. She brings athleticism and hustle and has a motor that never stops. Although she only played 10 minutes in her debut against the Wings and didn’t score, Billings did show up in the rebound section on the stats sheet. That speaks volumes to her game and that she looks to do the little things rather than scoring, which many coaches love. Billings will need to look to score more when she’s in.
Alaina Coates, Sky
Coates, who was drafted second in the 2017 WNBA Draft, made her debut against the Fever on Saturday. Although she has played limited minutes, she has made an impact every time she stepped on the floor. In her first two games, she has averaged 13.5 minutes and 6.5 points, while shooting 100 percent from the floor. Given that Coates hasn’t missed a field goal, she has missed a few free throws, going 1 of 4 from the line over both games. There is definitely room from improvement in this area and rebounding. For Coates to be 6-foot-4, it would be nice to see her transfer her game at South Carolina to the pros. At South Carolina, she averaged a double-double, 13.4 points and 11.1 rebounds her senior season.
Gabby Williams, Sky
Williams, the fourth overall WNBA draft pick, is another rookie that is going to have to adjust quickly to the pro level since she is starting at the forward position. Williams and DeShields are the only two rookies that have started both games this season. And like DeShields, her skills and abilities will aide her transition because she can defend on the perimeter as well as in the post. At UConn, Williams won the 2017 WBCA Defensive Player of the Year and AAC Defensive Player of the Year and typically had the task of guarding the opposing team’s best player. In her first WNBA game against the Fever, she guarded Candice Dupree, a 12-year WNBA veteran and sixth time WNBA All-Star. She held Dupree to only 14 points which helped her team claim the victory Saturday. Her quickness and ability to zoom past bigger defenders is another advantage that will allow her to have success in this league. The area for improvement for Williams will be her consistency to make mid-range jumpers and extending her range. The pro level is a lot about pick-n-rolls so her being able to take advantage of late switching opportunities by knocking down open jumpers will help elevate her game to the next level.
Linnae Harper, Sky
Harper went undrafted in the 2018 WNBA Draft but was invited to the Sky’s training camp. Her senior year at Ohio State she averaged 14.4 points and 8.4 rebounds as a 5-foot-8 guard, which made it difficult for defenders her height to guard her because of her strength and athleticism. She hasn’t played any minutes yet for the Sky, which is most likely due to the guards that are playing in front of her. Harper will need to work on extending her range and being able to knock down perimeter shots consistently. Defensively, Harper shouldn’t have much difficulty in that area given that she made both all-defensive teams for the Big Ten and SEC in college. Her strength allows her to defend guards who may try and post her up because they may see her as a mismatch, but she can definitely hold her own and her quickness will allow her to stay in front on the perimeter. Harper is that grit and hustle player that will bring intensity that most coaches want in their players.
Lexie Brown, Sun
Brown was the ninth pick in the WNBA Draft, and averaged 19.4 points her senior season at Duke University. Although she only played 10 minutes, her shooting was very effective as she shot 50 percent from the three-point line in her season debut against the Aces. Her minutes may be limited due to veteran point guard, Alex Bentley, who plays her position, but Brown’s playing time should increase over the season because of her ability to shoot and knock down long-range jumpers. Brown is also a long and quick guard who can defend on the perimeter.
Azura Stevens, Wings
Stevens, like her other former UCONN teammates, Williams and Nurse, is expected to be an impact early. Despite her coming off the bench, Stevens is the sixth man and is averaging 16.5 minutes per game. Along with Liz Cambage, Stevens being 6-foot-6 brings height to the Wings, which makes it difficult for opposing teams to score over her. Her mobility and ability to drag her defender beyond the low-post creates mismatches for slower defenders. Stevens' strength may be an issue when having to guard in the post.
Hind Ben Abdelkader, Fever
Abdelkader a 5-foot-8 guard, went undrafted in 2017 but was a free agent and was picked up by the Fever this year. Abdelkader’s experience in the Polish Cup is helping her transition to the WNBA and she is currently averaging 19.7 minutes per game. She is a quick and crafty guard who can create for herself, which will help elevate her game in the WNBA. Passing and defending quicker guards are areas Abdelkader will need to improve on.
Stephanie Mavunga, Fever
Mavunga is a 6-foot-3 forward that was drafted 14th in the WNBA Draft. Mavunga has guard-like skills, which allows for mismatches in the post; she can hit the short jumpers, rebound and she finishes well at the rim. She is going to have to work on defending faster forwards like Nia Coffey and defending bigger post players like Britney Griner.
Kelsey Mitchell, Fever
The No. 2 pick in the WNBA Draft and second all-time leading scorer in the NCAA is definitely a true scorer, and isn’t afraid to let if fly. During her first game against the Sky, Mitchell shot eight times in only 14 minutes. Even though her field goal percentage was 25 percent, Mitchell is capable of making the shots she takes. In her next game against the Mystics, she went 5-for-11 from the field and shot 75% percent from the three-point line in 26 minutes. Her ability to create for herself by changing speeds and shooting from long distance will make her pro career easier. The area that may be difficult for her is being to able to guard veteran point guards who may be just as quick or quicker than her.
Victoria Vivians, Fever
Vivians is a stronger guard who worked on extending her shooting range and increasing her three-point percentage to 40 percent as a college senior. During her senior year at Mississippi State, she averaged nearly 20 points and 5 rebounds, and her ability to score on each level will help her at the pro level. Her minutes are limited due to the guards that are playing in front her, but she is a versatile guard that has the skill set to take her defender to the basket and finish well with her strength. She can also pull-up and shoot the three. Defensively, Vivians might struggle with being able to defend quicker guards.
Raigyne Louis, Aces
Louis is a 5-foot-9 guard who was drafted 28th overall and averaged 16.1 points at LSU. She is a player that can get to the basket and rebound well for her position. Her biggest area of improvement will be extending her range outside of the arc and consistently being able to hit perimeter shots.
Ji-Su Park, Aces
Park is a 6-foot-3 center from South Korea who was drafted 17th overall. She has had experience at the professional level and has played in the FIBA world championship since 2012. Her pro experience will help her to adjust to the WNBA much faster than most of the rookies, since she has played against most of these players. Also, her ability to put the ball on the ground as a post player gives her an advantage to blow past centers. For Park, continuing to expand her game outside of the low post will be an area for her to work on.
A’ja Wilson, Aces
The reigning 2018 National Player of the Year and the top pick is the face of the Aces. Wilson started right away and is averaging 31.5 minutes and scored in double figures both games (14 points against the Sun and 16 against the Mystics). Wilson’s presence is hard to guard because she is a mobile and versatile center. Not a lot of post players can drive to the rim like she can and shoot the short mid-range jumper. A challenge that arises for Wilson will be her ability to finish with her non-dominant hand and consistency. Her first game she struggled from the field, 3 of 13 , but shot 80 percent from the line. Against the Mystics, she shot 34 percent from the field, and only 50 percent from the line. Focusing on finishing at the basket will increase her consistency and continuing to dominate on the boards will help bring some wins home.
Maria Vadeeva, Sparks
Vadeeva is a 6-foot-4 center from Russia and played with her current Sparks teammate Nneka Ogwumike for the Dynamo Kursk club team. She was drafted 11th overall in the WNBA Draft and for coach Brian Agler, he feels that “she has maturity beyond her years, she can finish and she starts on the best team in the best league in Europe" ( LA Time article). Vadeeva probably hasn’t seen the floor yet due to veteran post players, Ogwumike and Jantel Lavender, who play her position. But her experience at the pro level and already playing with her current teammate Ogwumike will help her transition into the WNBA.
Karlie Samuelson, Sparks
Samuelson is a taller guard that can shoot the lights out. She was invited to the LA Sparks training camp, where she was waived then picked back up due to Candace Parker’s injury. In 2017, Samuelson averaged 12.4 points and shot nearly 50 percent from the three-point line her senior year at Stanford. Not much has changed. Against the Lynx, she shot a total of six times and all of them were threes. In her second game against the Fever, she shot 75 percent from 3-point range. Since Samuelson is a taller player and will have slower defenders guarding her she will need to improve on blowing past those defenders and expanding her shot selection to more than just three-pointers. Also, defensively her length is something she can take advantage of, but being capable of guarding quicker guards is an area of improvement.
Kia Nurse, Liberty
Nurse, who was the No. 10 pick, has had an impact right away. The 6-foot guard started her first game against the Sky where she played 29 minutes and led the team in scoring for the majority of the game. She finished with 17 points and shot 50 percent from the field and 100 percent from the line. Nurse’s strength and aggressiveness allows her to be one of the better defenders in the league. Nurse will need to stay a consistent shooter in order for her team to have success.
Mercedes Russell, Liberty
Russell is a 6-foot-6 post player who averaged nearly a double-double at the University of Tennessee (15 points, 9.2 rebounds). In her WNBA debut against the Sky, she scored 3 points and grabbed 1 rebound in 14 minutes. Offensively, Russell will need to be more aggressive in scoring and rebounding and defensively, Russell will need to work on guarding stronger and more physical post players.
Marie Gülich, Mercury
Gülich is a long 6-foot-5 center who brings height to the team. Just like her teammate Britney Griner, Gülich adds length and alters her opponent’s shots in the lane. At Oregon State, Gülich was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, where she accounted for 25 double-doubles and 193 career blocks. She brings mobility and defense in the center position. Strength and being able to guard bigger and stronger post players will be an area to improve for Gülich.
Imani Wright, Mercury
Wright is a 5-foot-9 guard from Florida State and the 26th overall draft pick. She was the second leading scorer at FSU (16 points per game). Wright brings quickness and defense to this veteran Mercury team. She hasn’t seen the floor due to the veterans that are in her position but at Florida State she showed the ability to score and defend. Wright needs to continue to work on her 3-point range to become a consistent shooter at the pro level.
Jordin Canada, Storm
Canada, selected fifth in the first round, brings a different element to the game with her speed and ability to defend on the ball. in her season debut against the Mercury, she shot 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point line. Her quickness and craftiness with the ball allows for her to create her own shot and with that she will be able to adjust quickly in the pros. Also, with help from legendary Sue Bird, Canada will be able to adjust into a leadership role fast.
Teana Muldrow, Storm
Muldrow a 6-foot-1 forward from WVU and the No. 29th overall pick by the Storm, is a physical post player that has a nice mid-range jumper. Her minutes may be limited due to the veterans in her position, but she has the ability to score and rebound (she averaged 18.9 points and 8.6 rebounds in college). For Muldrow, working on counter moves and post defense will be areas for improvement.
Ariel Atkins, Mystics
Atkins is a taller guard at 5-foot-11 which makes it hard for smaller guards to defend her. The No. 7 pick in the WNBA Draft averages 17 minutes and 10 points for the Mystics and is very effective from the field. Atkins can score efficiently with her ability to attack the basket well, but in order for her to have success in the pros, she needs to work on extending her range and becoming an efficient shooter. Also, using her height and length to rebound will bring her more minutes and success in the league.
Myisha Hines-Allen, Mystics
Hines-Allen, the No. 19th overall pick, is a 6-foot-2 forward who averaged nearly a double-double (14 points, 9.6 rebounds) at Louisville. Hines-Allen is extremely athletic for her position with guard-like skills and in order for her to dominate, she will need to work on her perimeter game. She is undersized for her position so being able to knock down perimeter shots consistently will allow her to take advantage of bigger defenders and open driving lines where she dominates at.