Ahead of the 2021 WNBA Draft presented by State Farm, we take a closer look at some of this year’s top prospects.
Aari McDonald | Guard | 5-Foot-6 | Arizona
1. Stock Rising
No draft prospect made a better final impression on WNBA teams than Aari McDonald as she was the star of the NCAA Tournament as she led the Arizona Wildcats to the national championship game and had a shot to win the title at the buzzer.
Over those six games on the biggest stage of her career, McDonald delivered with averages of 24.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.3 steals, 3.6 3-pointers made on 47.8% shooting from distance, while playing 35.5 minutes per game. In Arizona’s upset of UConn in the Final Four, McDonald opened the game with a 3-pointer and scored eight of her game-high 26 points in the opening quarter as the Wildcats led from the jump and never trailed. She also led an incredible defensive effort that held UConn to a season-low 59 points and sent Arizona to the championship game with a 10-point victory.
McDonald was eligible to enter the WNBA Draft last season following her redshirt junior year (she began her career at Washington before transferring to Arizona and thus had to sit out a season due to transfer rules), but she chose to return to school for one more collegiate run and led the Wildcats to their first Final Four and first National Championship game appearance.
No,thank you for everything. I am so grateful for everyone in the program, the University as a whole, and the Tucson community. I love you all and Tucson will forever have a place in my heart❤️💙 https://t.co/2uL9lEOavI
— Aari McDonald (@AariMcdonald) April 7, 2021
2. The Numbers
Redshirt Senior Season Stats (2020-21): 27 GP, 33.6 MIN, 20.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.0 APG, 2.6 SPG, 40.7 FG%, 35.0 3P%, 76.5 FT%
Arizona Career Stats (3 Seasons): 93 GP, 33.9 MIN, 21.9 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.2 APG, 2.5 SPG, 44.0 FG%, 30.0 3P%, 76.7 FT%
McDonald ranked 26th in the NCAA in scoring (20.6 ppg) and 35th in steals (2.6 spg) as she earned both Pac-12 Player of the Year and repeated as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. She also holds the Arizona record for most points in a single season with 890 in her first season with the Wildcats, a run that included a team-record 44 point game on Nov. 17, 2019.
In addition to her scoring, playmaking and defense, McDonald is an outstanding rebounder for a 5-6 guard as she hauls down 5.4 rebounds per game, which ranked second for Arizona.
3. Synergy Scouting Report
Over 56% of McDonald’s offense came as the ball handler in pick-and-roll plays (207 possessions) or transition opportunities (151 possessions). Her efficiency was far greater in transition as she scored 1.053 points per possession with an effective field goal percentage of 56.1%, using her superior speed to beat opposing defenses down the court. However, when defenses were able to get set and force McDonald and the Wildcats to execute in the half-court, her efficiency dipped. She scored 0.729 points per possession with an effective field goal percentage of 38.6% as the ball handler in pick-and-roll plays.
After hovering around 28% shooting from beyond the arc in her first two seasons at Arizona, McDonald shot 34.5% during her senior season. She scored 82 points on 81 spot up possessions (1.012 ppp) and had an eFG% of 54.0% on spot up plays. As the shot chart below illustrates, she was at her best when shooting straight on or from the right side of the court this season.
Shot Chart from Synergy Sports
Looking at McDonald’s defensive metrics really shows her versatility as a defender as she limited her opponents across all play types. She particularly excelled in defender the ball handler in pick-and-roll sets, holding opponents to 0.521 points per possession with an effective field goal percentage of 30.9%. Opposing players only connected on a quarter of their spot up opportunities against McDonald (25.0 FG%, 35.4 eFG%) as she held them to 0.603 points per possession.
4. Two-Way Player
As the numbers above indicate, McDonald impacts the game significantly on both ends of the court, which should help her make her mark with whatever team selects her on Thursday night.
McDonald is an elite perimeter defender with a relentlessness and tenacity that makes up for anything she lacks in size. A key to on-ball defense is the ability to defend without fouling and McDonald was not only able to contain opposing guards, but swiped 2.6 steals per game, while only committing 2.0 fouls per game.
Offensively, as the pace of play in the WNBA continues to climb – the average has climbed form 76.1 possessions per 40 minutes in 2015 to 80.8 in 2020 – getting a player with the speed of McDonald is an asset as she can push the pace and can create scoring opportunities for herself and her teammates. And if the NCAA Tournament proved anything, its that McDonald is not afraid to take a big shot with the game on the line.
5. What They’re Saying
Greg Bibb (President, Dallas Wings): Sure, I think Aari McDonald is an exceptional player who has gotten better each year, and I think she’s a player who has a knack for playing her best in the biggest games, and I think we saw that in the recently completed NCAA Tournament.
In terms of her size, obviously size is always a consideration in the game of basketball, but I don’t think it is ultimately a negative factor that is going to determine the outcome of someone’s career. I think Cheryl [Reeve] in Minnesota proved that with Crystal Dangerfield this past year. Crystal played unbelievably well and was named Rookie of the Year.
LaChina Robinson (ESPN College Basketball and WNBA Analyst): There were a couple of players that stood out in my mind as far as those who increased their draft stock. Obviously, Aari McDonald was fantastic in the NCAA Tournament. I do believe that unfortunately oftentimes with the Pac-12 Conference the average fan is maybe not up late enough to see the Arizona Wildcats play.
I think Aari probably was one of the more underestimated stars coming into the NCAA Tournament. I just thought the way she played on both ends of the floor, obviously shot the ball at a higher percentage than she did during the regular season, which definitely helped her draft stock. But she is just fantastic. Though there were some questions about her size coming in, and there still may be, as she would probably say, she proved a lot of people wrong around what she was capable of.