Basketball Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Ann Meyers breaks down the guards available in this year’s draft.
Based on the players she has watched over the course of the season and in preparation for the upcoming WNBA Draft, Ann offers her insight and scouting reports for the top guards in the class of 2004.
Diana Taurasi is the real deal for me because she does everything. She can play point guard and shooting guard, I think she leads her team in blocked shots and her defense is often overlooked. She plays way ahead of time. Talent-wise, she is our Larry Bird. From a marketing perspective, she is our Lebron James.
I think Diana will make an immediate impact. This is the biggest impact college graduate that will have joined the WNBA. It will be interesting to see who Phoenix surrounds her with. I would find it difficult to believe that they would trade her or the pick because she is a marketing dream.
Unfortunately, despite the expectations about how good she is, you have to also have people around her that know how to play with her, similar to the situation Pete Maravich was in. He played wonderfully for his dad, but if you didn’t understand how to play with him, it was very difficult. Phoenix has Penny Taylor, Plenette Pierson, Anna Deforge, Adrian Williams, so it will be interesting.
She is very savvy and understands what needs to be done, but she could get frustrated if her team struggles. With a new coach, there will be a new system and the team will take some time to mutually adjust to one another. Chemistry is always an issue. Everyone on her team will have to back off and say ‘lead us.’ She’ll be asked to lead right away. But she is very vocal- a California kid, though you’d think she was from the east coast.
Alana Beard changes the game on both ends of the floor. She can defend any of the one, two or three positions on the floor because of her range. She will give her new team versatility because of her ability to rebound as well as her ability to put the ball on the floor. If Alana has one weakness, it is probably her three-point shooting, though even that has improved tremendously. She has also worked on going to her right. Some people have talked about her making a transition to play point guard for her team, depending on the personnel, and she will need to be more consistent at the next level.
Some of the early teams may make their picks based on need. Washington has a loaded backcourt in Stacey Dales-Schuman, Coco Miller, Tamicha Jackson and Annie Burgess. Maybe they will draft and trade. There are a lot of options and possibilities and teams are going to carefully assess their needs. I am not so sure that Washington’s needs are in the backcourt, but because of the publicity that many of the college players get, can Washington afford to not take Beard?
At 6-2, Nicole Powell gives you versatility because she can play four positions. People on the west coast have compared her to Magic Johnson because of her size and she has some of that same little bounce and style that Magic has. She has three career triple-doubles and almost came up with another in the Tournament, but fell one assist short. She is a passer, a rebounder, a three-point shooter and a pull-up jump shooter. She puts the ball on the floor gets to the free throw line.
Some people have said that Powell should go first because she is from Phoenix and has the same ability as Taurasi. She may be a better rebounder and post-up player than Taurasi and she knows how to take the smaller player down low. Nicole has the same kind of range and has done great things with less of a supporting cast. But how could a team pass up Taurasi? It’s like when Portland passed up on Michael Jordan for Sam Bowie.
Chandi Jones is a shooting guard, but a lot of people think that she can play the point guard position in the WNBA. Some team might try and make her a point guard depending on the personnel that the team has. She is a great athlete with a lot of speed, and she is a scorer. The more time she spends in the WNBA and the more she learns and matures, she will eventually be able to switch over and play both positions well.
I would not be surprised if Connecticut picks Lindsay Whalen as a point guard. At 5-8, she is exciting and has the ability to play the one and the two. In the NCAA Tournament, the two teams that everyone was absolutely spellbounded by were Connecticut because of Taurasi and Minnesota with Lindsay Whalen. She played the NCAA Tournament fresh because of her time off with the broken hand. She sets others up extremely well, she is a tremendous ball handler, is tough as nails and is quite a vocal leader. And she’ll lead by example. She has good range on her three-point shot and is both a great penetrator and distributor of the ball.
In the WNBA, Kelly Mazzante will have to play the two-guard. I don’t see her playing the three. Wow, she has scored a lot of points. She is very confident – a great kid. She’ll want to do her best, and it’s just a matter of fitting in with the right team for her. She is not a scorer, but a shooter. She only averaged 1.5 assists per game, so when the ball is in her hands, you know it’s going up. Minnesota’s Katie Smith is that kind of a player, but Katie Smith is as strong as a bull, and Kelly is not as strong. Kelly really got banged around against Connecticut in the NCAA Tournament. I think she’ll be a late first round pick.
I also think that Tasha Butts has a good chance. Her having to play point guard this year really helped her a lot. It will definitely help her chances of sticking in the WNBA with a team and being a vital part of that team. She now has versatility, not to mention that she is a tremendous defensive player, is very strong and can hit the three-point shot. I also like Auburn’s Le’Coe Willingham a lot. She plays bigger than her position, at times, and she will get drafted because she is such a great athlete and a very good defensive player.
Teams like New York, who are looking for a point guard, might take a look at Purdue’s Erika Valek in the second round. She is the type of player that someone will bring into camp and give a chance, as is Amber Obaze because she can score. There are not too many point guards available. Doneeka Hodges could play the point if she had to. She can really shoot the three and took over at point guard when some of her teammates came out of the game.
Ann Meyers' frontcourt prospect analysis.