2021 WNBA Draft scouting report: Arizona star Aari McDonald on the rise after NCAA Girls’s Event heroics


Earlier this month, the 2021 NCAA Girls’s Event concluded in thrilling vogue, as Aari McDonald’s heave on the buzzer clanked off the rim, giving the Stanford Cardinal a one-point win and their first title since 1992. However whereas the Arizona Wildcats in the end fell quick, McDonald stole the present. Her great play in March and early April made her a nationwide star, and dramatically improved her draft inventory. 

With the 2021 WNBA Draft now simply days away, let’s take a more in-depth take a look at the purpose guard’s strengths and weaknesses. 

Strengths

Protection

As we noticed within the NCAA Girls’s Event, and over the course of her collegiate profession, McDonald is only a great defensive participant. It takes one thing actually particular to win back-to-back Pac-12 Defensive Participant of the Yr Awards as a 5-foot-6 guard, and McDonald has it. 

The very first thing that jumps out is McDonald’s steals numbers, which ranked No. 32 within the nation at 2.6 per recreation. Whether or not she was smothering ball handlers along with her fast ft and fingers, or leaping out into passing lanes, McDonald was at all times a risk to take the ball and jet off the opposite approach for a simple two factors.

However, in fact, protection is not nearly steals, and McDonald’s skill on that finish manifests in so many various methods. Listed below are just some examples. 

Towards UConn within the Closing 4, she was an enormous consider limiting Picket Award winner Paige Bueckers to only a 5-for-13 taking pictures efficiency. Watch how she shadows her throughout the court docket, denying her the ball and forcing UConn to readjust, which finally results in a turnover. 

Earlier within the season in opposition to UCLA, we noticed her skill to maneuver her ft and take away driving lanes. After selecting Charisma Osborne up close to the highest of the important thing, she maneuvers across the display, will get to the spot early and attracts the cost. 

And when Arizona was taking part in at Oregon, her relentless full-court strain made the Geese’ All-Pac-12 level guard Te-Hina Paopao merely cease making an attempt to deliver up the ball. Have a look at Paopao simply level to a different Oregon guard and make her approach up the ground. Even the announcers comment on the truth that McDonald modified how groups must play.

If all that wasn’t sufficient, McDonald can also be a powerful rebounder for a degree guard. Her 5.4 rebounds per recreation had been second on the group, and she or he’s capable of assist end off possessions by crashing the glass. 

Playmaking

In the course of the Wildcats’ run to the championship recreation, McDonald took on a a lot bigger scoring position, which to some extent obscured her playmaking skills. However as she confirmed all season, and all through her time in faculty, she’s fairly a gifted passer. 

Her 4 assists per recreation ranked within the 96th percentile within the nation, per Her Hoops Stats, and the truth that she was capable of get even that many given the shortage of offensive expertise round her is an actual testomony to the best way she units up teammates. Arizona solely had one different double-digit scorer this season — Cate Reese at 10.9 factors per recreation — and as a group shot simply 40.9 p.c from the sphere.

McDonald did rack up a good quantity of turnovers, however that was extra a product of her having the ball on a regular basis. Solely six gamers within the nation had extra offensive possessions, and her precise turnover fee of 13.4 p.c was actually not that dangerous.

Most notably, she’s a clean operator within the pick-and-roll, the place her passes generated 1.128 factors per possession, per Synergy Sports activities. A few of her reads and passes out of PNRs are actually superior, and can translate even higher within the WNBA when she has extra expertise round her. 

Getting out in transition

McDonald’s pace and quickness aren’t simply a bonus within the halfcourt. She likes to get out and run in transition, the place she’s arguably at her finest on the offensive facet of the ball. Actually, it is the place she’s best. Her 151 transition possessions had been the twentieth most for any participant in Division I, and she or he scored 1.053 factors per possession on these alternatives. 

We have already seen how she will be able to use her protection to create straightforward offense on the break, however that wasn’t McDonald’s solely method. She was at all times on the lookout for alternatives to get out and run, whether or not it was leaking out after a rebound, or utilizing her pure pace to catch the protection napping.

Examples of the latter had been maybe probably the most spectacular. Late within the recreation in opposition to Arizona State, McDonald obtained the ball close to the baseline and raced the size of the court docket for a layup, even if each participant on the Solar Devils had not less than a 10-20 foot head begin on her.

Weaknesses

Dimension

Similar to Louisville’s Dana Evans, one other of the highest level guards on this draft class, McDonald stands simply 5-foot-6, which can make her one of many smallest gamers within the league. In truth, solely Crystal Dangerfield and Leilani Mitchell are shorter. That does not imply McDonald cannot succeed — Dangerfield simply gained Rookie of the Yr final season at 5-foot-5 — nevertheless it does imply that every little thing will probably be somewhat tougher.

That may particularly be the case if McDonald would not enhance her exterior taking pictures. If groups do not must respect her shot and might sit again to forestall the drive, that may negate a few of her skill to get into the lane and create. 

And on the defensive finish, she’ll nearly at all times be guarding an even bigger participant. That is not a significant concern contemplating she was the back-to-back Pac-12 Defensive Participant of the Yr doing the identical factor in faculty, however on the WNBA degree opponents are going to not solely be greater and stronger, however higher shotmakers. 

3-point taking pictures

For those who solely watched the NCAA Girls’s Event, you’d assume that McDonald is likely one of the finest shooters on this draft class. She was unconscious within the final 4 rounds of the tourney, going 19-of-36, and making not less than 4 3s in every recreation. 

However whereas her sizzling streak was unbelievable and an enormous cause she led the Wildcats to their first nationwide championship recreation, it was additionally an outlier. Previous to that run she solely had seven video games with 4 or extra made 3s in her three full seasons at Arizona. And through these common seasons, she shot 28.1 p.c from downtown as a sophomore, 27.8 p.c as a junior and 29.6 p.c as a senior.

Briefly, her 3-point shot is a big query mark. Primarily based on the place she’s ranging from, it is arduous to think about she’ll ever grow to be an elite shooter from exterior. The excellent news is she would not must be. She’s so fast and shifty with the ball that if she will be able to simply make them usually sufficient to carry defenses accountable, that may go a good distance. Whether or not she will be able to attain that time, nevertheless, stays to be seen. 

Ending within the paint

As you have seen, McDonald would not shoot the ball nicely from exterior, and she or he’s not all that environment friendly contained in the arc both. Whereas she put up over 20 factors per recreation in all three seasons with the Wildcats, she was positively a quantity scorer — although to be truthful, that is what her group wanted from her.

One difficulty, which relates again to her dimension, is that McDonald would not end all that nicely within the paint or across the rim when she’s beneath strain from defenders. For the season she made 61.6 p.c of her makes an attempt on the basket, and 42.3 p.c of her makes an attempt within the paint general.

Only for comparability, this is how that stacks up in opposition to some current small guard prospects of their remaining season in faculty: 

Dana Evans

2020-21

63.5%

45.0%

Crystal Dangerfield

2019-20

68.8%

54.9%

Chennedy Carter

2019-20

77.6%

51.3%

Arike Ogunbowale

2018-19

67.1%

39.8%

There have been simply too many instances the place she’d make an awesome preliminary transfer to get into the lane, solely to get swallowed up by the opposing bigs, must readjust, or simply miss. It is not going to get simpler within the execs. 

Conclusion

McDonald did not win Most Excellent Participant as a result of Arizona misplaced within the title recreation, however she was one of the best participant within the NCAA Girls’s Event. Within the course of, she possible established herself as a top-five choose and in that case would be the first level guard off the board.

Now, she was already an authorized top-10 choose earlier than the season even began, so it is not like she made some ridiculous soar. On the identical time, there’s at all times a fear about studying an excessive amount of right into a event run, and McDonald has some actual flaws. If she’s not going to have the ability to make 3s or end across the basket at a excessive fee, it should make it a lot simpler for groups to defend her. Then there’s additionally the scale.

On the identical time, we all know McDonald goes to do some issues very nicely, specifically defend and make performs for others. These traits will give her an opportunity to remain on the ground and work on her weaknesses. There’s additionally one thing of an “it issue” with McDonald, which we noticed repeatedly within the event. It is arduous to quantify with out being round her or her group every single day, however there’s clearly extra to McDonald’s affect than the stats would inform you.

All of which makes McDonald a tough participant to challenge. There are legitimate causes to have issues about her skill to make an affect on the subsequent degree, legitimate causes to assume she’ll do very nicely within the WNBA and loads of outcomes in between. In the long run, as is the case for thus many gamers, the difference-maker will in all probability be her taking pictures and the way a lot that improves. 



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