2004 WNBA Draft Analysis: Guards

Would it be fair to describe 2004 as the year of the guard in women's college basketball? Probably. The Naismith Award essentially came down to a vote between Connecticut's Diana Taurasi and Duke's equally outstanding Alana Beard (with Taurasi capturing it for the second straight year). Taurasi's Huskies advanced to the Final Four by "upsetting" a Penn State team led by high-scoring Kelly Mazzante, while Beard's Blue Devils were themselves upset by Lindsay Whalen and the Minnesota Golden Gophers (who later lost to UConn). In Conference USA, Houston's Chandi Jones claimed her third straight Player of the Year honors, while Guiliana Mendiola earned the same honor in the Pac-10 during the 2002-03 season.

Besides Mendiola, the other five players are locks to be taken in the first round of this year's WNBA Draft, quite possibly all in the top ten picks. While the quality drops off after this group (how could it not?), the guards in the 2004 Draft are what make it, by consensus, the best amateur draft in the league's seven-year history.

That's fortunate for the Seattle Storm, who could be in the market for a shooting guard to pair with point guard Sue Bird in its backcourt of the future.

Diana Taurasi
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 16.2 ppg, 5.0 apg, 3.9 rpg, 45.8% fg, 39.2% threes, 2.1 a/to ratio
The measurements: 6-0, 170
College: Connecticut
The skinny: It hasn't been the greatest senior season for Taurasi, who was beaten out by Beard for ESPN.com's Player of the Year honors before winning the Naismith Award and saw her UConn Huskies slip to the second seed, but it could end on a high note with UConn's third straight title. Taurasi remains the unquestioned top prospect in this year's draft, and it would be the biggest surprise in WNBA history - bigger even than a last place team winning the championship the following year - if she was not the first pick of the draft by the Phoenix Mercury. Taurasi is a terrific shooter and scorer, an underrated ballhandler, and a tenacious competitor. The question is when, not if she'll be a WNBA All-Star.
Storm outlook: She'll be here in a Mercury jersey on May 18 (preseason) and then again on June 3 and September 15.

Alana Beard
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 19.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.9 apg, 49.6% fg, 2.4 spg
The measurements: 5-11, 160
College: Duke
The skinny: The loose consensus - until the Naismith - was that while Taurasi was the better prospect, Beard was the better player as a senior. She's got the numbers to prove it. Beard was a higher scorer and a better rebounder, shot a better percentage from the field and had more steals. A fine defender, Beard has been All-ACC Defense each of the last three years - she's also been ACC Player of the Year and first-team All-American all three years. She had "only" 2.4 steals per game this year after averaging 3.3 as a sophomore. Beard is not the playmaker Taurasi is, but in most any other year she'd be the first player taken and as it is she won't slip below two.
Storm outlook: Washington visits July 17.

Lindsay Whalen
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 20.9 ppg, 5.3 apg, 5.1 rpg, 52.1% fg, 41.2% threes
The measurements: 5-8, 150
College: Minnesota
The skinny: When Whalen broke two bones in her shooting hand midway through Big Ten play, the shockwaves could be felt throughout Minnesota. Without Whalen, the Golden Gophers slipped to a seven seed, but they got their star back in time for the NCAA Tournament. And what a tournament it's been. Led by Whalen and junior center Janel McCarville, Minnesota advanced to the Final Four, where the run was finally stopped against Connecticut. Whalen is an incredibly versatile player who ranked in the NCAA's top twenty in both scoring and assists last season and has added rebounds to her repertoire this season. Whalen is a tweener in the best sense of the word, with enough size to play two and the ballhandling ability to play the point. She has pushed herself likely into the top five, with the hometown Lynx trying to move up to get her. The only concern is turnovers, 3.7 per game this season.
Storm outlook: Probably gone by six, but a strong candidate for the Storm if she's still around.

Chandi Jones
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 22.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, 42.0% fg, 36.6% threes, 3.1 steals
The measurements: 5-11, 154
College: Houston
The skinny: In a word: Scorer. Jones has been averaging 20 points per game since she first set foot on the University of Houston's campus, capped by 27.7 points per game as a junior, tops in the nation. Jones has been named Conference USA Player of the Year three years in a row, although the presence of Taurasi and Beard forced her to second-team All-American. Jones did not have an outstanding senior season, seeing her shooting percentage and scoring average both drop under heavy defensive pressure. The level of competition she faced in C-USA is also something of a concern. Still, Jones' scoring ability makes her a potential top five pick.
Storm outlook: A strong candidate at pick six.

Kelly Mazzante
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 20.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.6 apg, 40.1% fg
The measurements: 5-11, 155
College: Penn State
The skinny: In a word: Scorer. At 2,919 points, Mazzante is the all-time leading scorer in Big Ten history. (Jones, incidentally, scored 2,692 points, though her per-game average is higher.) Scouts marvel at Mazzante's ability to create her own shot and her quick release. The downside is that Mazzante's shooting percentages have been dropping throughout her career, down to 40.0% this season. Mazzante also isn't a major factor defensively, on the boards, or with her ballhandling despite good size at 5-11. As in the case of Jones, Mazzante remains valuable for her scoring, with the upside that she improves her field-goal percentage dramatically when she is no longer the go-to player.
Storm outlook: Another strong candidate at pick six.

Toccara Williams
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 15.6 ppg, 7.1 apg, 5.6 rpg, 34.5% fg, 4.1 spg
The measurements: 5-9, 145
College: Mississippi State
The skinny: The next Ticha Penicheiro? Williams isn't that good, but she has a similar - and highly intriguing - skill set. Williams is only the fourth player in NCAA history to record 1,000 points, 600 assists, 500 rebounds and 400 steals - blowing past most of those marks. You may have heard of two of the other players - Penicheiro and Dawn Staley. Blessed with incredibly quick hands, Williams led the NCAA with more than four steals per game last season and averaged better than four per game for her career. Williams is a fine passer, who ranked sixth in the NCAA - and third amongst major-conference players - in assists. Despite playing the point, Williams also grabbed better than five rebounds per game. Scoring is the one area Williams does not excel in; she lacks three-point range and shot a dismal 34.5% from the field overall. She needs only get that up to about 40% to become an incredibly valuable WNBA player.
Storm outlook: Possible second-round pick.

Giuliana Mendiola
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 21.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5.5 rpg, 51.0% fg, 39.7% threes
The measurements: 5-11, 174
College: Washington
The skinny: On statistics alone, Mendiola clearly belongs with the top five prospects, if not above them. Mendiola completed an outstanding career at the University of Washington with a tremendous senior season, and the list of players who averaged 20 points, five rebounds and five assists is a short one indeed (Whalen is likely the only player who can make the same claim). However, WNBA scouts question Mendiola's ability to translate that at the WNBA level because of her athleticism and a perceived lack of speed. The relatively weak competition in the Pac-10 and the Huskies' failure to make the NCAA Tournament two of the last three years also hurt Mendiola's stock.
Storm outlook: Possible second-round pick.

Erika Valek
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 8.8 ppg, 4.0 apg, 3.8 rpg, 41.1% fg
The measurements: 5-6, 146
College: Purdue
The skinny: Unfortunately, the lasting image of Valek's Purdue career may be her missing a layup at the buzzer as the Boilermakers lost to Georgia in the West region semifinals in Seattle last month. That's not fair, since Valek's career has been much more than one moment. Valek earned his year's Frances Pomeroy Naismith award as the best player 5-8 or shorter in the NCAA. Valek's best year was her junior season, when she averaged 14.0 points (the only time she averaged double-figures) and just under five assists per game. A four-year starter, Valek is a fine leader at the point.
Storm outlook: Possible second-round pick.

Sara Nord
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 17.3 ppg, 6.5 apg, 4.1 apg, 41.2% fg, 38.9% threes, 2.04 a/to
The measurements: 5-5, 145
College: Louisville
The skinny: Nord is an outstanding passer who led Conference USA in assists all four seasons, being named All-C-USA first team all four years as well. Nord holds Louisville's and the conference's all-time record for career assists with 846. Nord can score too, boosting her scoring average to better than 17 points per game this season. She has range on her jumper. The biggest downside with Nord is her 5-5 height.
Storm outlook: Likely will go after the Storm's second-round pick.

Valerie King
(WNBA.com profile)
The numbers: 16.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 39.9% fg, 41.7% threes
The measurements: 5-10, 152
College: Cincinnati
The skinny: King is a three-point specialist who barely shot better from two-point range (40.8%) than she did from beyond the arc (39.9%) at the University of Cincinnati. Because of her three-point prowess, while King shot just 39.9% last season, her adjusted field-goal percentage - which treats a three as 1.5 field goals - was an even 50%. King's best season was 2001-02, when she shot better than 40% from the field for the only time in her college career and also nailed a cool 43% from downtown while averaging just shy of 20 points per game. King is clearly a streak shooter; she scored a Conference USA-record 46 points last season and holds the C-USA tournament record with seven threes this year against Houston. She can carve out a living for herself coming off the bench to bomb away, but she probably won't be taken until late in the second round.
Storm outlook: Likely will go after the Storm's second-round pick.