ESPN analysts Rebecca Lobo and LaChina Robinson discussed the strength of the draft class, individual players, and team expectations on a media conference call.
Q. If you can speak on this draft; what kind of draft can we call this? Seems on the surface it’s a guard-laden type of draft and not a lot of big names that stand out, but in your assessment, what do you call this draft this year?
REBECCA LOBO: I’d say it’s a solid draft. It’s interesting because if all of the players who could have declared had declared, it would have been considered a much deeper draft, but I’d say it’s a solid draft and definitely deep in the guard position. Last year there were teams kind of looking for the wing position, and it wasn’t there in terms of numbers. This year there’s a ton of wings that are now available, so definitely stronger when it comes to guard play and solid when it could have been really, really deep.
LaCHINA ROBINSON: I agree with Rebecca. I think it’s definitely a solid year for the draft. I don’t think there’s going to be one player that comes in and really just blows anybody away. I think the game is obviously bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic than we’ve ever seen it and I think its harder to come in and really have an impact right away for those reasons. But I think we have some very talented pieces that can come in and get a team over the hump that’s looking to get into the playoffs or increase the quality of depth of a team that’s already amongst the best in the league.
Q. Rebecca, let me ask you about Brionna Jones. How do you think her game translates to the next level in the WNBA, and what team do you think might be a good fit for her? And then LaChina, I’ll ask you the same question about Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.
REBECCA LOBO: Brionna obviously had an incredible college career, and I think she’s an interesting one because ostensibly I think her game definitely translates. Her efficiency, her ability to rebound, her uncanny ability to score over double teams and over bigger defenders. I think if there’s any question with Brionna, it would be defensively. There’s so much pick-and-roll action in the WNBA; how will she handle that? That being said, I think she will be taken in the first round, and I think she has a chance to be a very good, solid pro. I really like her. I love how she’s changed her body over the course of her college career, clearly a really hard worker, and if she gets in the right system, I think she can be very good.
LaCHINA ROBINSON: And as far as Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, I really think the most exciting thing about her going into the WNBA is that she actually has that speed and the length on the wing that you need to be successful inside, that you need to be successful in the league. I think she has a lot of defensive potential, which we didn’t talk a ton about in her college career because she was really great on the offensive end, but she’s wiry, very active, and I think that’s something that you look at as you’re adding pieces to any WNBA team is where can you put them on the floor defensively, and I think she’s only scratched the surface of what she’s capable of on that end of the floor. Now, as far as the offensive end, much like Brionna Jones, gosh, she’s put a ton of work into becoming one of the best shooters in the country. She’s an outstanding shooter from the outside. She’s got mid-range game. Her efficiency is off the charts. Every team could use a player that can just knock down shots, and I really like the fact that she’s got size. I think the one thing as time goes on with her, she’ll need to add more strength and more girth in order to really be able to compete. I think teams may look to post her up and things like that if they’ve got bigger wings, and also as she gets used to the speed of the game, becoming more of a facilitator will only earn her more minutes on the floor. But she’s an incredible shooter, and I think she will do well in the WNBA.
Q. About the Mystics, what do you make of their off-season moves and how does that shift the balance in terms of the hierarchy of the league?
REBECCA LOBO: No surprise, Mike Thibault is a great coach, and he’s done — he’s kind of reworked rosters, and any other place, when he was at Connecticut, as well. I’m really excited to see Washington this year and interested to see them. I think they’re going to be one of the most fun teams to watch offensively with the firepower that they have. And I can just picture them getting up and down the floor and scoring a lot of points. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them contending for a championship this year. I mean, when you add Kristi Toliver and you add Elena Delle Donne to the mix of players that they already have, they’re going to be dangerous. They’re going to be able to really score a lot, and as long as they score more than they give up, they have a chance to be really, really good.
Q. How do you guys think Kelsey Plum and Chantel Osahor’s game will translate into the league?
LaCHINA ROBINSON: I’ll start with Plum. I know you’re a big Osahor fan, Rebecca. Kelsey Plum… I mean, wow, she’s an amazing scorer. She can score the ball from anywhere on the floor. She’s extremely determined, competitive, efficient. She was the best player in college basketball this season. I mean, I think when you put her up against other players in similar positions in the WNBA, she will have a little bit of adjustment in terms of the speed of the game, the quickness, but you know, I don’t think this is a draft where anyone is going to come in right away and be
expected to be a team’s best player, and if she can knock down open shots and if she can make her teammates better, which we saw her do all this season with her ability to pass the ball, you know, I think she has a tremendous future in the league. I think her competitiveness, her confidence, her skill level, I just at this point would not bet against Kelsey Plum coming in and really being a great player in this league for a very long time.
REBECCA LOBO: I’ll add on Plum quickly before I go to Chantel. I think Plum has the best chance of the players in this draft to be a star in the league, not necessarily her rookie year, but she’s a pretty special offensive talent, and coaches will get her where they need her to be defensively. So I’ll be really surprised if she doesn’t go with the first pick. Whether that stays with San Antonio or gets traded elsewhere, I’ll be surprised if she’s not picked. In terms of Osahor, I’ve loved her game. For a big player to be able to rebound the way she does — sort of actually undersized for — to be able to rebound that way. She’s a phenomenal passer. I think the question with her is her health, her ability to play the schedule that they play in the WNBA with back-to-backs and four games in six days or whatever it can be. But I think a team — she’ll definitely be in a training camp. I think she’ll go in the second round, and I think she’ll have a chance to really show coaches what she can do. The question, again, is just going to be is she a kid who can practice every day, who can perform with the rigorous schedule that the WNBA provides.
Q. Were you surprised to hear South Carolina’s Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis declared for the draft, and how ready do you think they are for the next step?
LaCHINA ROBINSON: I was surprised that they declared, and not because of their readiness but just more so of what South Carolina put on the floor this season, what they were able to do, winning a National Championship, and I thought they would have a great chance to do the same next year. But I think these are two players that are ready for the WNBA. I mean, when you look at their size, their skill, their versatility, their athleticism, their strength, I mean, these are two players that can impact the game just from about anywhere on the floor. Allisha Gray’s versatility, her ability to rebound the ball, she can shoot the three, she can handle. She’s a good decision maker. I was really impressed with the way she played, especially in the NCAA Tournament, filling in at the power forward spot when Alaina Coates was out. She’s a tremendous asset to any team. I mean, she had 18 points and 10 rebounds in the National Championship game. I think it just speaks for itself. She’s also gotten into better shape physically, which allows her to play in different places on the floor. Kaela Davis is a pro. She’s 6’2″, she’s explosive, she can get to the rim when she wants. She can shoot it. She comes from basketball pedigree, obviously, with her dad having played in the NBA. She plays for a demanding coach like Dawn Staley so she understands the rigors and all that goes with it. You know, I just think that if she stays healthy and continues to get better, she’ll be an All-Star one day in the league. I think both of them have the ability at some point in their WNBA careers to do that. I think they’ll do well.
Q. How do you think Alaina Coates’ game is going to translate to the next level?
REBECCA LOBO: I think it’s going to translate really well. She already has a pro size, she has a pro body. She has a pro skill set in terms of what she can do when she gets the ball on the block. She also has a nice soft touch out to 10 feet or so. So I think she’s — of course her health is going to play into it in terms of this year, but I think she definitely has pro-ready body, pro-ready skill set. She’ll be a player who can really help a team this year and will get a lot of minutes, assuming she’s healthy.
Q. I have kind of a two-pronged question. The first part is — if you can just bear with me, coming from my perspective, if you look at where the Sky’s roster stands and where the Stars roster is, you can make the argument that Kelsey Plum could do more for a team like the Sky than she would for San Antonio. With that said, can you speak to what Kelsey would bring to the Sky and if the Sky has a realistic chance of orchestrating of a trade to get her, and if not, who do you see as the best fit for the Sky and why?
REBECCA LOBO: Yeah, I mean, when you look at the draft and you look at rosters and you look at San Antonio, Kelsey Plum does not seem like the biggest need for that team. With Kayla McBride, with Moriah Jefferson, with the other guards they have on the roster, Plum does not seem like she fits there. But that doesn’t mean they won’t take her and keep her; that doesn’t mean they won’t take her and trade her because I think there are a lot of teams out there who would move some things in order to get Kelsey Plum on their roster. Could Chicago be one of those teams? Absolutely. But if they don’t, I think Nia Coffey is one player who could fit in pretty well with what Chicago needs, and it would be kind of nice for her to stay in the area, going from Northwestern right over. You kind of see Chicago’s need being a 3 who can extend the floor and make threes, and Coffey is more of a 4 right now, but you could see her in the future becoming that. But you could also see Kaela Davis as a player who would fit the bill there in terms of a big 3 player who can extend the floor by making threes. You know, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Plum, if she gets drafted No. 1, and if she does, if she stays or if she’s traded, and then how that affects Chicago and down the line.
LaCHINA ROBINSON: Rebecca pretty much summed it up. I think Kelsey Plum is the greatest value. You’re going to get your bang for the buck as the No. 1 pick, whether you keep her or trade her. Anything is possible, depending on what teams are willing to offer, but I think looking at — after Elena Delle Donne was traded from the Sky, you’ve got a big void. You need more of everything without her. You know, I do agree that a player like a Kaela Davis or even Allisha Gray, I know one thing Amber talks about is wanting to have a better rebounding identity and a player like Gray who can shoot the three consistently as well as give you some rebounding, and I love Nia Coffey, as well, again, as Rebecca said, she’ll need more development to hit that 3 spot. Yeah, that’s kind of what I see happening there, maybe one of those players, but definitely a big guard, maybe multipurpose, that can help them from the three-point line as well as on the glass.
Q. Given the Dallas Wings didn’t make the Playoffs last year but they have some pieces in place like Skylar Diggins and Glory Johnson and Aerial Powers, with the Wings drafting at 3 and 4, what are some prospects that you think would fit in with to the Wings’ current core?
REBECCA LOBO: You know, I think Dallas would love to get Alaina Coates. She would be an ideal fit for them in terms of the defensively kind of having a rim protector inside, an offensive player who can provide a lot. They have the flexibility of picking at 3 and 4. You would expect them to take a big and a guard. And whether that would be a 3 like [Kaela] Davis or [Allisha] Gray or maybe even Alexis Jones, kind of taking a local kid who could fit and fill some holes for you, but I would expect them to fill two positions there, two different positions, and if Coates is available, to me that would be a perfect pick for them.
LaCHINA ROBINSON: Just to piggy-back on what Rebecca said, I think one of the challenges last year for Dallas was on the defensive end. I think one thing that Alaina Coates showed us as her career progressed was the ability to play defense on the perimeter, to come out, to hard hedge, to help, and she has got — even though she’s got size, she actually has pretty good quickness defensively, and good instincts on that end of the floor. So I think that could really be an asset. I know there’s a possibility that Ruth Hamblin may not be — she’s got some other obligations this summer – so Coates could also give you size there, and then you’ve got your pick on the wing. Again, I think we talked about some of the names that could
end up there, whether it’s Gray or Davis. But I think also one of those players, Gray or Davis, could help, depending on how Aerial Powers comes along. I know she’s coming off injury and expected to be ready to go, but it doesn’t hurt to have some security there.
Q. I was wondering what Alaina Coates’ chances are of going No. 1? Did the ankle injury kind of take her out of that, or does she still have a pretty good chance to do that?
REBECCA LOBO: You know, if we were talking about a little bit before, if you were looking just at San Antonio’s needs, you would say Alaina Coates fills their need immediately, she’ll be the No. 1 pick. But I think right now Kelsey Plum just has too much value for her not to go No. 1. Again, whether San Antonio keeps her or trades her, I think her value is so high that I would be surprised if anyone other than Plum went No. 1, and that’s not related to Alaina’s injury, that’s just more related to Kelsey and the season and career that she’s had.
Q. I wanted to ask a little bit more about Nia Coffey. She played for Northwestern but she’s from the Twin Cities area. Her dad played at the U [of Minnesota] and her brother currently plays at the U. When you talk about her need to kind of move into the 3 spot, at least initially, what does she bring to a team as she is now?
LaCHINA ROBINSON: I think she’s got tremendous upside. I think she is the player that could make the biggest jump from college to what she will eventually be as a pro. She’s only scratched the surface of her potential. Her size, her length, she can drive it, she can shoot it, pull up off of a pick-and-roll, which is a Proud Mary form of offense in the WNBA. She has a great knack for the ball in rebounding. She brings a lot of assets. I think the pace of the game will be something that keeps her from being effective right away. I think the speed of the game, but if she can develop a handle, she will be more of an asset as time goes on because she can play the 3 and 4. I don’t know if she’s physical enough yet to play the 4 consistently, so that may have been a little bit of what Rebecca was hinting at, and we don’t see a ton of her down low with that physical aspect, absorbing contact, that kind of thing. But once she’s gotten some experience under her belt, again, I think the sky’s really the limit for Nia Coffey as she has a lot of the intangibles and physical attributes that make a WNBA player successful.
Q. My question is about Tori Jankoska, where you guys see her fitting and how her game translates to the next level.
REBECCA LOBO: Teams are always looking for a tough player who can shoot the basketball, and Tori definitely fits that bill. You know, she’s a hard worker who has gotten better every year in college. I think we’re looking probably late first, early second round for her. But teams are always looking for that type of player who can stretch the defense coming in off the bench and providing some toughness and scoring. Her game will immediately provide that.
Q. Rebecca, I wanted to ask you about Shayla Cooper and how you see her skills fitting into the WNBA, where she needs to develop to stay in the league and have that staying power, and LaChina, another Columbus kid in Alexis Peterson, how you’ve seen her grow this season and where you see her fitting in amongst some of the top guard prospects this season.
REBECCA LOBO: I’ll start with Shayla Cooper. She’s got WNBA size. She’s 6’2″. She can rebound. She can shoot the three. So she’s bringing good skill set. For her size I think she would need to become a little bit more of a consistent shooter because she’d be another one of those players that you would — might be built more for the 4 spot but would have to play mostly at the 3 in the WNBA. But because of her size, because of her versatility, she’ll definitely be intriguing to teams.
LaCHINA ROBINSON: Yeah, and as far as Alexis Peterson, I’ve run out of words to describe her, both on the court as well as off. I mean, she’s one of the most mature players I’ve ever come into contact with, tremendous basketball IQ. I mean, let’s not forget she pretty much willed her team to the National Championship game last year, put the team on her back. She’s just a consummate leader. She is a player that can create her own shot from anywhere on the floor. She’s tough. You know, sees the floor extremely well, makes good reads off of the bounce. I just think that she’s an asset, you know, and not to mention that she’s going to bring the emotion, the toughness, all those things, but she’s obviously a great outside shooter, can get to the rim and create. There’s just not very many things on the basketball court that she can’t do on top of just being a great person, as well.
Q. I just wanted to ask you if you could give me your opinions on Sydney Wiese and also if you think Sophie Brunner is big enough to play in the WNBA right away.
LaCHINA ROBINSON: I’ll start with Sydney. I mean, she’s a tremendous asset because of her size. She has amazing pick-and-roll IQ. She can create her own shot off of the bounce. She’s a great decision maker with the ball in her hands, really good at creating separation, which is a skill that you need in the WNBA. One thing I love she does is how she’s able to occupy two defenders off of the pick-and-roll. She’s very poised in pressure situations. I think she could also play some 2 in the WNBA and not always have to be in the point guard spot, but at six foot obviously she has incredible vision, can see over defenses. Her threepoint shot, how can I not mention that, as the Pac-12 leader for three-pointers made in a career. I think it translates very well. Obviously the challenges we’ve talked about for any rookie is WNBA defenses, the size, the speed of the game. I think she’s going to have to put on a little bit more girth, but Sydney Wiese is the kind of player where you see her and she’s built to play in the WNBA. It’s just about what team she ends up with, which will determine her role on that team, and how quickly she progresses.
REBECCA LOBO: I’ll take Sophie. I think the biggest challenge for Sophie is simply going to be her size. To be a big who is only 6’1″ will be a challenge for her. She’ll end up in a camp and she’ll have an opportunity to show what she can do, and I’ve liked watching her throughout the course of her career. She’s got physical toughness, mental toughness, great rebounder, can defend. It’s just going to be a matter of is there a team that, because of the players they have around her, can have a big who is 6’1″.
Q. Rebecca, you had mentioned that this was kind of a guard-heavy class. I wanted to know, Florida State has two guys in Leticia Romero and Brittney Brown. I wanted to know how you thought they stacked up in terms of this draft class.
REBECCA LOBO: It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with those two. Leticia is intriguing. I think sometimes international players, coaches have some concerns in terms of what their overseas commitments are going to be or their national team commitments are going to be, how much time they will miss as a result. So Leticia can play. She’s a high-percentage shooter. She can really pass. I like her game. I’m sure the question that coaches will need to have answered is how much time will you miss during the season, in different seasons, because of your commitments to your own national team. Yeah, and then Brown is an interesting one, too. She’s another player who has so much toughness, who has the ability to extend the defense and hit three-point shoots, has a good, strong body in terms of a guard. I don’t have a great feel on where Brown will go in the draft, but she will be in camp and she’ll have an opportunity to show a team what she can do.
Q. Briana Day out of Syracuse, if you can kind of provide the assessment of what she looks like going into a possibility of being drafted late.
LaCHINA ROBINSON: She brings great length and size and athleticism. I know you guys are tired of me saying athleticism and sides and speed, but that is the biggest question mark when a player goes from college to the WNBA. Her ability to contest shots and give you rim protection, it can create — the question for her would be on the offensive end, where does she fit in. I think she had the benefit obviously of playing with two very good guards in Brittney Sykes and Alexis Peterson, so she got a lot of her points off of rebounds and just being fed as they were drawing a defense, so how does her offensive skill set develop. But I think she definitely would be great for a team that just needed some backup at the rim in terms of some length, and she also was a post player that did not just stay in the post and defend. Sometimes got in a little foul trouble out on the perimeter, but she has that ability, quickness, to help on that end of the floor.
Q. Looking at the Baylor girls, what do Nina Davis, Alexis Jones and Alexis Prince really bring to the WNBA?
REBECCA LOBO: Alexis Jones I think will be the first of those players taken. She’s compelling. She can create her own shot. She is a very good three-point shooter. She can play the 1 or 2. Teams really like combo guards. I expect her to be taken in the first round and have a chance to play a lot her first year. Prince has great size. She’s a good defender. Also extends the defense from the three-point line. You know, interested to see — she’s one of those kind of 3 players that we talk about around the six-foot size area who can shoot the ball and do some things. Nina Davis is the most interesting one to me because she had so much success in college and has kind of shut up the naysayers throughout her entire career. I mean, she’s undersized as a 4, but somehow still finds a way to score inside and rebound, and she has a great motor. She runs the floor as well as anybody. The question would her is could — she would be one of those players who would have to become a 3, and not a consistent three-point shooter. She kind of has a funky look to her jump shot. But at the same time, I don’t know that you would doubt her because of what she’s done in college and her motor and her toughness and her work ethic. So she’s a player who’s particularly intriguing to me in terms of which team gets her, what kind of a system she goes to, and then what she can bring night in and night out to a team. You know, I’ve really enjoyed her throughout her college career, but the question is, okay, what position is she, where does she fit, which team can really use and take advantage of the unique things that she provides.
Q. With Kelsey expected to be the top pick, a lot of media attention obviously will follow her. Throughout her record-breaking season this year, she’s been compared to James Harden of the Houston Rockets. Obviously that’s something that’s complimentary in nature, but last year Breanna Stewart brought up a point of preferring to be compared to Maya or Elena instead of the Kevin Durant comparisons that came out. As analysts, commentators, former players, would you like to see it evolve to a stage where we say Plum is, just to throw a name out there, a lefty like Skylar Diggins, when making comparisons, and is there a current or past WNBA player that you would compare Kelsey to at this point in her career?
LaCHINA ROBINSON: I will say that I think — just looking at how long the NBA has been around versus the WNBA, we’re still dealing with a generation of players that have had the league for entire lives but still are seeing a new level of exposure for the WNBA versus what they saw for the NBA, so a lot of their player comparisons — when you talk to Kelsey Mitchell or even Kelsey Plum, they watch a lot of NBA. It’s to be expected that the NBA players are those that they may identify with more. I think one compliment to the league, though, is that we’re seeing women do things that we’ve never seen before, the athleticism, the skill, the talent that’s on the court, and so we may not be looking back necessarily at what we’ve seen from the WNBA in the past, but instead seeing a level of athleticism that reminds us of the NBA, which I think is a good thing. Yeah, you want to whenever possible try to compare WNBA players to other WNBA players, but I think we’re just seeing a generation that’s doing things that we
haven’t seen before in terms of the talent level, the skill, the athleticism. So we find ourselves making a different comparison at this point.
REBECCA LOBO: I completely agree with you. Actually it’s a pretty high compliment if you can’t find another WNBA player to compare that person to. Breanna Stewart was a unique, new, gifted player that entered the league last year, and so you might say, all right, Elena Delle Donne, but that wasn’t the right comparison. She was just different, and from really anyone we’ve seen in the league before, and that’s why you have to look at the much broader range of players. I mean, how many players are in the NBA, and in the WNBA we have, what, 122 max?
And what do we have in the NBA? A lot more than that, over the course of all this time. So that’s a similar thing with Kelsey Plum. When have we seen a player with this skill set, with this efficiency, with that body type? I can’t think of one. So that’s why sometimes I think you go to comparing them to the men’s players. Five years down the road or whatever, a couple years down the road if there’s another 6’4″ kid who can play like Breanna Stewart, it’s easy you make that comparison. But right now that’s the great part of the WNBA, you’ve got these unique physical specimens, unique skill sets that are coming along, and we just haven’t seen them before, and that’s a perfect example of how the game is evolving.