2006 Small Forward Prospects
At the small forward position, the 2006 WNBA Draft gets serious. Not one but two small forwards in this year's draft come with impeccable NCAA credentials, including appearances on the AP All-America First Team and Player of the Year awards in their respective conferences. Had Monique Currie opted to leave Duke after her redshirt junior season a year ago, she might well have been the top overall pick. But in the 2006 Draft, Currie is overshadowed by Seimone Augustus, the nation's 2005 AP, Naismith and USBWA Player of the Year. Augustus will likely be the first name called next Tuesday in Boston, but she and Currie (along with Cappie Pondexter and Sophia Young) can be expected to battle all year for Rookie of the Year honors.
The crop of 2005 rookie small forwards took a hit when Kendra Wecker, taken fourth overall by San Antonio, tore her ACL during the Silver Stars opening game. In that sense, the league is adding three top-five picks at the small forward position this season, with Wecker back on the court and suiting up for the U.S. Women's Senior National Team in their recent training session. Despite Wecker's injury, the most productive rookie small forward came from San Antonio - it was Shyra Ely, the Silver Stars second-round pick slated to back up Wecker, who averaged 4.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game and was effective in the second half of the season.
Storm Outlook: The Storm lost a rotation player at small forward when Alicia Thompson opted to retire at season's end. Natalia Vodopyanova, who contributed at times as a rookie, would get the first chance to fill Thompson's minutes, but it's still uncertain as to whether Vodopyanova will return this season because of the World Championship. Depending on what the Storm is hearing from Vodopyanova, adding a small forward with more size than starter Iziane Castro Marques is certainly a possibility.
The measurements: 6-1, 170
The skinny: When Augustus fell awkwardly late in Saturday's LSU win over DePaul, the entire WNBA collectively held its breath, only to breath a sigh of relief when Augustus was able to return to the game shortly thereafter. In all likelihood, the Minnesota Lynx were as nervous as anyone. Augustus figures to be the Lynx's top overall pick next Tuesday, and she'll be a huge addition on the perimeter for Minnesota, giving them a multi-talented player capable of dominating a game. Augustus has averaged 23.0 points per game this season on impressive 57.6% shooting and can get to the basket to set up easy shots for herself and others. It was Augustus' defense that took center stage on Monday, when she took a charge from Stanford's Candice Wiggins to punch LSU's ticket to the Final Four for the third straight season. Augustus should be an instant star in the WNBA, and from there the sky is the limit.
The measurements: 6-0, 170
The skinny: Currie's WNBA stock might not be as high as last season, not so much because of anything she's failed to do but because other players have overshadowed her during her senior season. ACC Player of the Year and a First Team All-America pick as a junior, Currie finished second to Ivory Latta for ACC honors and was a Second Team AP All-American this year. Surely, Currie would trade it for the opportunity to win a national championship, which she'll get this weekend in Boston. Currie hasn't been brilliant in the NCAA Tournament, including a rough outing Tuesday against UConn as she was held to 14 points on 3-for-12 shooting. Currie isn't emphasized in the Duke offense, giving her the potential to do more at the WNBA level. She's a more polished perimeter player than Augustus and could play either small forward or shooting guard as a pro.
The measurements: 6-2
College: North Carolina
The skinny: The third top small forward who will be on display in Boston this weekend, Atkinson isn't a big-time scorer like Augustus or Currie but will be valuable in the WNBA nonetheless. An All-ACC Defensive Team member, Atkinson has great size for a small forward at 6-2 and is a fine one-on-one defender. She's also a major contributor on the glass, leading the ACC with 8.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore. The ACC's Rookie of the Year in 2002-03, Atkinson has continued to play a complementary role as the Tar Heels have built one of the nation's top teams, but she's been very efficient on offense this season, shooting 56.1%, and is used to the role she'll play in the WNBA.
The measurements: 6-3, 160
The skinny: Widely considered the top high school senior in the nation four years ago, Strother never developed into that kind of superstar at UConn but was a quality player nonetheless, earning All-Big East First Team honors the last two seasons. At the WNBA level, Strother has some valuable characteristics as a role player. She can space the floor, making 83 3-pointers as a senior and shooting 37.5% from downtown in her career. At 6-2 or 6-3, Strother has great size for the small forward position and might even be able to play some shooting guard and power forward. Strother's quickness will be an issue defensively on the perimeter.
The measurements: 6-0
The skinny: Turner may have done as much as anyone to improve her WNBA Draft prospects during the NCAA Tournament. On Sunday, Turner's game-winning 3-pointer capped a 27-point effort against Georgia. Against Duke on Tuesday, Turner had 19 points and 12 rebounds despite battling cramps late in the game. Had she been healthy and on the floor, UConn might be playing on this weekend. Turner reminds me a lot of Ely - a post player on a deep, talented team who will likely have to make the transition to the wing in the WNBA. Including Sunday's game-winner, Turner hit just 12 3-pointers this season, but she shows good form from downtown and can put the ball on the floor a little bit.
|OTHER SMALL FORWARD PROSPECTS|
Emily Faurholt, Idaho - Kennewick native started career at Seattle Pacific, averaged 25.4 ppg as sophomore to lead NCAA Division I.
Elizabeth Strunk, Wake Forest - Two-time All-ACC Second Team pick averaged at least 13 points, five boards last three seasons.
Liad Suez-Karni, Villanova - 24-year-old Israeli named First Team All-Big East; good perimeter shooter.
Aya Traore, Purdue - Native of Senegal has quickly developed into Second Team All-Big Ten performer after coming to U.S. as exchange student at age 17.