Drop Off: Making the cut in the WNBA, two Wings in the post

UNCASVILLE, CONNECTICUT- May 7: Kaela Davis #3 of the Dallas Wings in action during the Dallas Wings Vs New York Liberty, WNBA pre season game at Mohegan Sun Arena on May 7, 2018 in Uncasville, Connecticut. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
UNCASVILLE, CONNECTICUT- May 7: Kaela Davis #3 of the Dallas Wings in action during the Dallas Wings Vs New York Liberty, WNBA pre season game at Mohegan Sun Arena on May 7, 2018 in Uncasville, Connecticut. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images) /

Neither team shot the ball well in the WNBA’s 2018 season opener between the Dallas Wings and Phoenix Mercury. Brittney Griner and Liz Cambage had plenty to do with that — Dallas shot 16-33 (48.5%) from the restricted area, Phoenix managed just 6-19 (31.6%).

Save for a nice surge from Kaela Davis in the first half, Cambage was the only reliable source of offense for the Wings on Friday night. It is apparent already that this team is fundamentally different on that side of the ball compared to last season.

Throwing it into the post just wasn’t a big part of their offense in 2017. According to Synergy, 211 (6.6 percent) of their regular season possessions were categorized as post ups. That number is due to rise quite a bit this season.

For reference, also via Synergy — Tina Charles used 307 possessions in the post last season by herself. Sylvia Fowles used 275; Griner used 272.

The challenge for Fred Williams and his team now is to figure out how to incorporate more off-ball movement and throw in some sets that also include some built-in secondary actions.

That said, this team does not need to stop running after leading the league in pace in 2017. Skylar Diggins-Smith is too good in the open floor not to push it each chance she gets. Cambage showed she can play an equal part in that. My brain is still adjusting to the casual nature of this grab and go:

Her teammates just started running. Nobody panicked to run over and take the ball away from her to dribble it up themselves. This happened game one.

I’m here for more of this from Kaela Davis, too.

That might already be some of their best stuff — throw it in to Cambage only to have her back it out, pull the opposing center with her, and feed Davis or even Karima Christmas-Kelly inside against a smaller guard. They could just as easily run some screening action on the weak side to get somebody going towards the rim or popping out for an open three.

Making the cut

There are 144 jobs in this league. We aren’t quite down to that number yet as some players are still playing overseas. Including all players that survived cut down day, here’s a quick rundown through the four most recent draft classes showing how many from each class are currently on an active roster.

2018 draft class

  • 1st round picks: 12
  • 2nd round picks: 5
  • 3rd round picks: 3
  • Total: 20 of 36 (55 percent)

2017 draft class

  • 1st round picks: 10
  • 2nd round picks: 1 (Erica McCall, IND)
  • 3rd round picks: 1 (Saniya Chong, DAL)
  • Total: 12 of 36 (33 percent)

2016 draft class

  • 1st round picks: 12 (including Connecticut’s Bria Holmes who is missing the 2018 season due to pregnancy)
  • 2nd round picks: 1 (Jazmon Gwathmey, IND)
  • 3rd round picks: 1 (Temi Fagbenle, MIN)
  • Total: 14 of 36 (39 percent)

2015 draft class

  • 1st round picks: 9
  • 2nd round picks: 2
  • 3rd round picks: 0
  • Total: 11 of 36 (31 percent)

Four-year total: 57 of those 144 (40 percent) draft picks have a roster spot as of Saturday morning.

Now flip that on its head. There are fewer than 90 WNBA spots for everybody else. That also goes to show just how tough it is for veterans, especially role players, to stick around for a long time. Many of those players go overseas and risk injury so they can maximize their earning potential as professionals, but risk injury and potentially their WNBA careers.

One missed season or even a high ankle sprain could set off a whole chain of events. A team could select a promising prospect at that same position in the draft or have an opportunity arise in free agency to address another need on the roster.

Undrafted players also make up a portion of that 90-ish players. Consider Yvonne Turner of the Mercury, who graduated from Nebraska in 2010 but did not make her WNBA debut until last season.

Even players that put in the work to grow as players overseas struggle to catch that first break. It’s difficult to see so many players waived at this time of year, though stories like that of Turner ought to serve as inspiration and motivation to all.

Links I like

Here’s Justin Hodges of ATL Sports HQ with a Q&A with Renee Montgomery.

Catch the latest from our own Brendon Kleen, who was in Phoenix for the season opener.

Don’t miss Ava Wallace of the Washington Post on Monique Currie, who’s back home in DC.

More Q&A: Sherron Shabazz of Women’s Hoops World with 2017 No. 2 overall pick Alaina Coates.

Related Story: Thursday Drop Off: Why Mercury/Wings is must-see TV

Her Hoop Stats launched its first two stories on Friday — Sophia Tannir on four members of this rookie class and Sophia Liu calculated the 2017 expected win totals for all 12 teams and came away with one key takeaway on a team to watch out for in 2018.