2004 WNBA Draft Analysis: Centers

Somebody call Scooby Doo and company, because the centers in the 2004 WNBA Draft are a mystery. Check out one source, and you'll find that Vanessa Hayden is a dominating inside presence and Nicole Ohlde too soft to star at the WNBA level. Check out another, and it will say that Hayden's weight will keep her from ever being a major contributor and that Ohlde's soft touch around the basket will more than overcome concerns about her rebounding. Still another might call Georgia's Christi Thomas the best prospect in the group. It's enough to drive a team looking for a center crazy - unless, of course, they trade for one.

Hayden might be the wild card of the draft, with various mocks placing her anywhere from the fifth pick to the bottom of the first round. In turn, where she goes may have a domino effect on Ohlde's and Thomas' status. It's not inconceivable to imagine a scenario, as STORM.WNBA.COM did in its last mock draft, where only one center is taken in the top ten picks. Or they might all go in the top ten. You never know.

After trading yesterday for 25-year-old center Janell Burse to pair with incumbent Kamila Vodichkova, the Storm is probably out of the market for centers with its second-round pick. However, the team has said it will select the best available player, and it is true that a team can never have too many centers.

Vanessa Hayden
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 19.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.3 apg, 52.2% fg, 3.6 bpg
The measurements: 6-4, 224
College: Florida
The skinny: Few WNBA prospects generate as much debate as Hayden. Opinions on her vary from future star to a future out of the league. Statistically, Hayden was very impressive as a senior at Florida. Amongst the players listed in STORM.WNBA.COM's stats breakdown, none rated better overall than Hayden. That's in part due to biases for rebounders over shooters and for inside players, but Hayden was clearly an outstanding player at Florida. Her per-minute rebound rate is tops amongst those prospects, and she was one of the nation's leading shot-blockers during her NCAA career. Hayden's 52.2% shooting is relatively poor for a player who spends so much time in the basket. Hayden's conditioning is the biggest concern. While she played a reasonable 27 minutes per game, Hayden was often slowed by her weight, and she'd be a poor fit for a fast-breaking team. Hayden's stock has been hurt by an injury she suffered weeks before the draft. Hayden could miss a significant part of her rookie season. She also missed 10 games as a junior because of a fractured fibula, and injuries could be a recurring problem from her.
Storm outlook: Despite the concerns, she'll be a first-round pick.

Nicole Ohlde
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 17.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.8 apg, 57.0% fg, 1.7 bpg
The measurements: 6-4, 180
College: Kansas State
The skinny: Ohlde ranks only slightly behind Hayden when it comes to prospect debate, despite being a first-team All-American last season (Hayden was the second-team center). Offensively, Ohlde is unquestionably talented. She shot 57% from the field last season, knocked down nearly 70% of her free throws and averaged 3.8 assists per game - only slightly less than Alana Beard. The questions come elsewhere. As a senior, Ohlde averaged a paltry 6.7 rebounds per game, making her rebound rate as poor amongst frontcourt players as her passing rating is good. Ohlde did do a better job on the boards as a junior, averaging a solid 9.0 rebounds per game. Still, her lack of toughness is a concern and could also keep her from being as efficient on offense.
Storm outlook: Sure first-round pick.

Christi Thomas
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 13.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 53.9% fg, 77.2% ft, 1.5 bpg
The measurements: 6-3, 185
College: Georgia
The skinny: Thomas' stock has been rising as concerns have arisen about both Hayden and Ohlde. Perhaps Thomas' best asset at this point is that she is a well-rounded player, without any glaring strengths or weaknesses. Going by the WNBA's listings, height could be a concern (Thomas was listed at 6-5 at Georgia), and Thomas did not exclusively play center for the Bulldogs, often playing alongside 6-6 Kara Braxton before Braxton was thrown off the team midway through last season. Thomas can score in the post, is a good rebounder, an outstanding free-throw shooter and can block some shots. That's a nice mix. Thomas will probably never be a star, but could have a solid, dependable career.
Storm outlook: Likely first-round pick.

Lindsay Taylor
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 16.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 55.8% fg, 2.0 bpg
The measurements: 6-8, 200
College: UC Santa Barbara
The skinny: The key statistic here is simple: 6-8. There aren't a whole lot of WNBA players that tall; only 7-2 Margo Dydek is taller. As long as Taylor could tie her shoes and walk without tripping on her own feet, she'd be a WNBA prospect. She's much better than that, averaging 16.1 points and 7.3 rebounds in just 24.8 minutes of action per game. However, Taylor was facing relatively weak Big West competition, and it's a bit of a concern she didn't dominate more than she did. Taylor was effective as UCSB advanced to the Sweet Sixteen this season, averaging 14.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in the two wins, before being held to 2-for-11 shooting as the Gauchos lost to UConn. Taylor may be a project at the WNBA level, but the upside is as big as she is.
Storm outlook: Possibility at 19.

Tera Bjorklund
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 18.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.2 apg, 58.7% fg
The measurements: 6-4, 175
College: Colorado
The skinny: Bjorklund has a remarkably similar skill set to her Big 12 counterpart, Ohlde. Like Ohlde, she is an efficient offensive player who shot an outstanding 58.7% from the field and 74.0% from the line and handed out a solid 2.2 assists per game. However, she is less productive on defense. Though Bjorklund's rebound average doesn't make it obvious, she's a poor rebounder, grabbing only slightly more boards per 40 minutes than Ohlde. She's also not a shot-blocking threat, sending back less than one a game. Bjorklund could be a very valuable reserve, especially if she can translate her high-percentage shooter, but she's a second-round pick.
Storm outlook: Possibility at 19.