Senior Watch: Frontcourt Versatility

As the number of traditional power forwards and centers continues to decline around the game with added emphasis on floor spacing, 3-point shooting and player versatility, the WNBA has shown that both old school and new school bigs can still thrive in this league.

It can be paint-dominant players like scoring champ Brittney Griner or league and Finals MVP Sylvia Fowles; it can be players that play inside and out like Nneka Ogwumike, Tina Charles and Jonquel Jones. Or it can be positionless unicorns like Breanna Stewart, Elena Delle Donne or Candace Parker.

That variety of skill sets among frontcourt players can also be seen in the following group of prospects for the 2018 WNBA Draft. Here are five seniors to watch as the college season moves into the final month before the NCAA Tournament.

A’ja Wilson, South Carolina, Center, 6’5″

Wilson is close to a lock at the top pick in this April’s draft, and there is good reason why. Last year’s Women’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player is having another strong season for the Gamecocks. Though 22 games, she’s averaging 22.7 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.6 blocks while shooting 55.5% from the field. Those stats rank 7th, 12th, 3rd and 32nd in the NCAA. Her combination of size, skill and athleticism makes her a nightmare for opponents on both sides of the court in college and will have her ready to make an immediate impact in the WNBA. But don’t take our word for it, ask Sue Bird:

Monique Billings, UCLA, Forward, 6’4″

Billings is the second-leading scorer (14.4 ppg) and leading rebounder (9.7 per game) for the eighth-ranked Bruins. She is one of the most athletic bigs in the NCAA with the ability to do work posted up in the paint (79th percentile on post ups per Synergy), cutting to the basket (89th percentile) or in transition (60th percentile). Her 125 points on post ups rank fourth in the Pac-12. She is an explosive leaper that is relentless on the boards – averaging just under four offensive rebounds per game, such as this one:

Mercedes Russell, Tennessee, Center, 6’6″

Russell leads the 11th-ranked Lady Vols in rebounding (8.8 per game) and blocks (1.6) and ranks second in scoring (16.4) to fellow senior draft prospect Jaime Nared. Russell has six games with 20 or more points this season, and her 63.4 percent shooting from the field ranks sixth in the NCAA. That efficiency can be seen across all play types – post ups (82nd percentile), cuts (94th), transition (98th), screener in pick and roll (97th), putbacks (91st) and spot ups (88th). Standing 6-foot-6, Russell has the size and physicality that will translate well to the WNBA. She has notched 11 double-doubles this season, upping her career total at Tennessee to 41, which puts her in some elite company.

Shakayla Thomas, Florida State, Forward, 5’11”

Thomas is the only player on this list that stands below six feet tall. But while she may not have the height of a typical post prospect, she definitely has the strength and physicality to compete in the paint. According to Synergy, Thomas ranks in the 88th percentile on post ups and 79th percentile on putbacks off offensive rebounds. Thomas leads the 12th-ranked Seminoles in scoring (17.8 ppg) and ranks second in rebounding (7.2). She uses her athleticism and energy to her advantage, scoring more points on transition plays (95) than any other play type this season.

Stephanie Mavunga, Ohio State, Forward, 6′ 3″

While guard Kelsey Mitchell receives most of the spotlight at Ohio State, the play of Stephanie Mavunga in the post this season also deserves plenty of praise. After becoming the first Ohio State player to average a double-double last season, Mavunga is at it again this year, posting 15.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game and notching 13 double-doubles in 25 games. Not only does she put up numbers consistently, but she does so with great efficiency. Her 59.8 percent shooting from the field ranks 15th in the NCAA, and she ranks in the 90th percentile or higher on post ups (90th), transition (91st), spot ups (98th) and pick and rolls for the roller (90th). She’s scored 105 of her 391 points on cuts to the basket, and her 1.235 points per possession on those plays ranks in the 87th percentile.