Q +A: Stocks, Laimbeer, Chatman Preview WNBA Draft 2018

The following is a transcript from Friday’s national media conference call with Chicago Sky General Manager and Head Coach Amber Stocks, Las Vegas Aces President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Bill Laimbeer, and Indiana Fever Head Coach and General Manager Pokey Chatman.

 

Q. I cover Oklahoma players. I was curious if any of you had had a chance to evaluate either Gabbi Ortiz or Vionise Pierre-Louie. Late-round picks and maybe not at all, but just wondering your general thoughts on them.

BILL LAIMBEER: Not necessarily on our radar. There was a lot of (indiscernible) out there regarding getting later picks. We’re looking for a certain value or also a foreign stash player.

POKEY CHATMAN: We don’t have a late-round pick in the third round so we are keyed in on some other picks for our top four picks.

AMBER STOCKS: Same for Chicago, we don’t have a second-round pick. So we’re focused on the top of the draft.

Q. Thoughts on how Victoria Vivians from Mississippi State has progressed her game beyond just being a scorer and being more efficient? What’s really intriguing about how her game projects to the next level?

AMBER STOCKS: The one thing that’s stood out to me that Victoria Vivians has improved with her game is her change of speed and change of direction. In 2016-17, she was very much a straight-line player. And this season, ’17-18, to see her develop and be able to change speed, change direction, she still obviously dramatically favors right versus left. But I’m impressed with her ability to improve in those areas and I trust she’ll continue to make moves and make progress offensively.

Defensively, I think moving to the 4 for Mississippi State was good for her defensively. It put her in position defensively where she could be more successful and contain the ball more efficiently.

Q. I don’t know if Tyra Buss of Indiana will be drafted at all. She’s so slight. Do you see someone like that being capable of playing in the WNBA?

BILL LAIMBEER: I think she’ll be drafted. Might be a third-round pick. But anybody that knows how to play basketball has a chance. There are a lot of athletes playing basketball that don’t have a chance. But if you’re a smart basketball player and you get put in the right situation, you’re going to have a chance. But it’s a difficult league even for first-round picks to get a spot.

POKEY CHATMAN: I tend to agree with Bill. By nature of her being able to handle the point, it gives her an opportunity to get drafted or signed to a training camp, especially with some of the veteran players that are coming back late. So [in a camp] she would get some eyes on some of her action. She’s a smart player. She plays with a lot of heart. So I think she’ll get a look.

Q. I’m out here in L.A. covering the UCLA players, and I was wondering what your thoughts were on Monique Billings and where she’s improved the most in the past couple of years to kind of help her WNBA stock going into next week’s draft?

POKEY CHATMAN: You look at Mo, you can tell she’s trying to work on her range a little bit. She’s trying to shoot it from about 10 to 14 feet. She’s always been high motor. She runs the floor like a guard. She can defend multiple positions because she can move laterally.

She’s right on the boards. But you can see she’s trying to get herself a little more solid and under control offensively. With her high motor, I think she’ll continue to improve.

BILL LAIMBEER: If she had 15 or 20 more pounds on her, she’d be a better player for our league.

Q. Pokey, I want to ask about Azurá Stevens and her decision to enter the draft. First, if you could assess her talent and where she might fit in? And the idea of starting to come out early on the women’s side, which doesn’t happen nearly as much as it does on the men’s side, do you think that was a surprising move?

POKEY CHATMAN: Azurá was probably a little more surprising than others in the past. She’s a quality player. She has the length. She’ll need to continue to get a little bit stronger. We know her face-up game from her time at Duke.

She was asked to play around the basket a little bit more at Connecticut. Did well. We can sit here and talk about every rookie that’s going to be drafted in terms of their defense. That’s always something that they have to work on.

But she’s a nice package. And I think it’s just interesting for this draft. Everyone’s been talking about the quality of players. I think it’s great because it’s quality of players at different positions. And so, it adds excitement. Especially having the seventh pick and eighth pick, it gives us a lot to think about and many options as we approach next Thursday.

Q. Both Coach Chatman and Stocks answer this: Does Azurá coming in change a lot of what both of you were thinking in terms of who you were going to pick? And could you both say what are the main needs you’re going to address? Obviously, Coach Stocks, you have the two picks back-to-back. But if you could both answer that question.

AMBER STOCKS: Obviously Azurá’s presence provokes movement on all of our draft boards, but especially us up top. Pokey just spoke well to her ability to impact the game and impact each roster differently.

But for us specifically at Chicago, yes, she is a player that is going to garner attention, and we’re going to spend some time evaluating her and seeing if she’s the right decision.

Specifically what we’re looking for at Chicago, obviously through free agency we were able to acquire Alex Montgomery, and she’s going to help fill a void that we’ve had at our 3 position. So we can get stronger at the 3 spot as well as at the 4 position.

That said, we also feel very confident in our play at the 1 and the 5. But a combo guard, there’s always room in this league for a player that knows how to make plays, period.

And someone who can put the ball on the floor and can get to the rim, can pull up with deep range, there’s always room on a team for a player like that.

POKEY CHATMAN: Amber made a lot of great points there. We won nine games last year. We have a lot of needs to address. Anytime someone that has quality like Azurá is in the draft, you sit back and rethink things because it’s a compliment to her ability. So we’ll muddle through that and see where it leads us.

Q. Amber, before you came on Rebecca Lobo was just talking about how possibly one uncertainty surrounding drafting Diamond DeShields might be her history, having started at Carolina, transferring to Tennessee and unexpectedly going to Europe when everyone thought she was going to be coming back. Is that something you take under consideration when evaluating Diamond?

AMBER STOCKS: I do, not just with Diamond, but any player. “Skill” is a broad term that we often use just to identify talent on the court. But competitive character, managing through the mental and emotional grind of a season, is a skill that special players are able to do it at a different level.

And so, looking at the intangible things is good when you’re thinking about not just the 40 minutes of the game but everything that goes into being a talented player and having a high-caliber team — the locker room, the practices, the ability to treat your body and your mind like a pro. The intangibles are just as important as the tangibles.

Q. How is the process in terms of pro coaches reaching out to college players and their ability to learn more about these players? How has that changed over the years for WNBA?

AMBER STOCKS: I can’t speak to how it has changed over the years for the WNBA. Bill or Pokey are probably better situated to answer that question.

BILL LAIMBEER: I’d like to be able to bring the player into market and talk to them like the men do or work them out individually like the NBA does. We’re not able to do that as we sit here today. We have to go to them and be able to interview them. There hasn’t been much change over the years. But I’d like to see more change where we can actually bring them to market and interview them and work them out.

Q. Coach Laimbeer, quite simply, have you made a decision yet and have you told that player that she will be the selection?

BILL LAIMBEER: (Laughter). No. I tell everybody I played cards the other day and I kept getting the ace of diamonds, which it may be an omen.

No, we put feelers out and so we’re talking in a roundabout way about some certain things. But no, we haven’t told anybody that, yes, you are the pick. Do we have it in our mind who we’re going to pick? Probably so.

Q. I cover Oklahoma State. Couple years back you drafted Toni Young back in New York. How do you think that Oklahoma State, they have two prospects this year in Loryn Goodwin and Kaylee Jensen, how do you think they’ll do? And also do you see Oklahoma State as a school you look toward every year on your draft board in the Big 12?

BILL LAIMBEER: I think the players are going to … one will get drafted, one might not. I think that this league — it’s so hard to make a roster spot. First-round picks get
cut all the time. Look at Chicago, the Sky cut their first-round pick [last year]. Every year changes and is different.

Coaches come and go in college basketball, as do players. It’s just a matter of where the talent’s at. And Oklahoma State always gives the mid-second-round picks. They don’t get any real superstars. I think they’re more of a middle-of-the-road school for talent.

Q. Coach Laimbeer, speaking of A’Ja Wilson, you’ve had a chance to see her a few times. What do you think are the parts of her game that will translate best to the WNBA

BILL LAIMBEER: You don’t get many players that can drive like she can. She can attack the basket with one dribble and cover a tremendous amount of ground. It says something that when you have a player of her size take the ball out of bounds all the time where the trust factor is there for her to make the right pass. She’s also the player who comes back to get the ball and is the outlet pass to start, whether it’s a press break or get the ball in, because she’s going to make the right decisions. Those are the intangibles you look for in a player. And also, her shot, she shoots from an elevated position above her head so you don’t have to worry about shot blocking.

I think overall those intangibles may set her apart from a lot of the other big players out there. I think in our league, her biggest thing, she’s going to scare a lot of the people guarding her because she’s able to take the ball to the basket off the drive.

Q. Can you just discuss what kind of variable Maria Vadeeva is in this draft and how much you’ve been able to find out about her?

BILL LAIMBEER: I don’t think she’ll fall to 13. And I’m definitely not taking her at 1. So it’s a crapshoot where she’s going to go, depending on needs and depending on whether someone’s going to make a surprise pick. I think she’ll be a first-round pick. So that’s about the
extent of things for me.

POKEY CHATMAN: I think to piggyback with Bill, she’s obviously a talent. She’s surrounded by talent abroad and is playing well. But you always have to guard against taking a player with such a high pick, just because of the commitment. In the past, national team commitments and the top player. Of course she’ll be on everyone’s board. There are too many question marks there that we still have to work through.

Q. One of the things we just talked to LaChina Robinson about was the need for big guards who don’t necessarily need shots that defend, find other ways to fit in with the team. And a couple of years ago in the NBA that was the three-and-D player. I’m wondering in the WNBA right now just in general how much are teams looking for the bigger guards who don’t necessarily need shots and find other ways to fit in with the squad?

POKEY CHATMAN: I think that’s been a need, a player that won’t necessarily get all the glory from the sports shows and highlights; they’re usually a highlight in the locker room. Bill has a player now — I think Tamera Young made a career off of being someone that can guard multiple positions and not necessarily taking shots. Sometimes that’s a key element.

A lot of times it goes from the WNBA, college men, to our sport. So we try to get out ahead of that. That’s a great question. And I think it’s important because they’re usually the conduit for a lot of success on the court.

BILL LAIMBEER: Half the game is played on the defensive end, so you look for solid defenders.

Q. Coach Stocks, you obviously have the two first-round picks, 3 and 4. How does that affect your preparation going into the draft? And, second, are you sure you’re going to use both picks or is a trade a possibility with one of them?

AMBER STOCKS: Great question. Well, we’re going to use both picks for sure, and we may use them to acquire players or we may use them to trade to acquire different picks. But they’re going to be used. Trading and movement is always an option.

Q. The University of Texas is expected or projected to have two players picked. One, Ariel Atkins and, two, Brooke McCarty, perhaps in a later round. What do they do well that will be good for the next level and what are the challenges for both? And if I could get Pokey to talk about Brooke and Bill to talk about Ariel.

POKEY CHATMAN: You want me to talk about Brooke because I’m 5-4. That’s all right. On a good day when I’m lying I’m 5-4. I’ll take that. You know, there are challenges that you have to come meet with something extra special. I remember Temeka Johnson, 5-3, it was special with her — her heart and her speed and later with her mind.

It’s one of those things where you can run a team, you can be vocal, get the ball. Some of those things that will stand up that will help Brooke. She’s small. Some of those shots, not going to get them off and the court shrinks and you’re in the paint. You have to get it mentally, and setting things up.

And because of the nature of the position, there’s an opportunity to get a shot [with a team] and show some of those things. It may not be for this year. It may be to set yourself abroad and come back. We tell people 12 teams, 12 spots; it’s really tough.

BILL LAIMBEER: Atkins plays hard. Can put the ball on the floor. Nothing spectacular at any phase of the game, but no major weaknesses either. I think that she’ll be a solid player whether she makes the team or not. That’s what we go and have training camp. She won’t be a high first-round pick. She’ll be a late first-rounder, early second round. But she’s a solid player.

Q. Kelsey Mitchell is obviously on the radar of a couple of you there. I know Amber Stocks, you played with Cincinnati, you’re familiar with her. Trying to get some thoughts on her. 3,402 points. Can she do that in your league?

POKEY CHATMAN: That’s a great accomplishment. So many players come into our league with that, and it really is great for the publicity and the pat on the back. Certain things that we’re looking toward is an ability to make other people around you better, speed and quickness, separation. IQ items.

And don’t misunderstand me: The skill set is obviously there to stretch the floor in that regard. But I don’t think anyone on the phone or any coaches expect that type of production from any rookie.

AMBER STOCKS: I would agree. It’s a completely different game. Kelsey is a talented player. She’s going to do a lot of things very well. She’s going to create some baskets. Now, she’s going to have some showtime moments. There’s no doubt about that. But will that be consecutive possessions, consecutive games, consecutive crunch-time plays? Not likely.

But she’s a talented player. She’s been very well-coached. And again, we always have a pattern here where we’re reverting back to the intangibles. So, in addition to her scoring, she’ll be able to provide a lot of the good coaching that she’s had over the years from college, back to high school, back to club ball, to make plays and be a key piece to a team.

Q. We’ve obviously seen Gabby Williams and we know she’s an amazingly athletic, all-around talent but not so great as a three-point shooter. Curious what you think of her stock and how you evaluate how she’ll be at the next level?

BILL LAIMBEER: I think all you’ve got to do is look at Alyssa Thomas from Connecticut, how she’s improved her game over the years and the success with a breakout season last year.

I think Gabby Williams is the same mold. She’ll teach herself some better perimeter shooting. You watched her in the playoffs, pretty big foul line jump shots. She’ll get better, especially if get a coach working with her. I think she’ll be a solid player for a long time in the WNBA.

AMBER STOCKS: Alyssa Thomas is a fabulous comparison. And what Pokey previously mentioned, the heart. Really taking into account how important heart is on the court. And as Bill said, half the game’s played on the defensive end. So those are two valuable assets that she brings regardless of her ability to hit a three or nail a free-throw-line jumper.

Q. You mentioned heart. And I wanted to ask you specifically about Morgan William. It’s funny, your bio as a player at LSU lists you at 5-5. So you must have lost an inch somewhere around the road.

POKEY CHATMAN: They lied. I was never 5-5.

Q. Morgan William is generously listed at 5-5 at Mississippi State. What are the challenges for someone like her, who has possibly the biggest ticker of any young lady I’ve ever seen, in a league where a lot of the calls today have focused on big guards? I don’t know if that’s a bad sign for her. But somebody with her size, she can get to the rim. She’s got a great heart. What are the challenges for her?

POKEY CHATMAN: The challenges getting to the rim in college and getting to the rim in our league [are different], and being efficient with different things. And that’s not to take anything away from Morgan. I thought she did a great job of running her team and having the courage to take shots and the courage to make plays. And that’s something that’s sometimes hard to evaluate. But the size will obviously be an issue.

I think what will help that is the fact that she’s playing the point. People are willing to look the other way when there are so many things they don’t check off the box if you can run a team, get the ball where it needs to be, calm things down and not be so much of a liability on the other end of the floor. She’s done a good job with neutralizing some of her weaknesses.

Q. How do you think Myisha Hines-Allen’s skill set, slightly undersized, less traditional post player, fits in with the needs that your teams have right now? Do you think rebounding is the most obvious upside with her?

POKEY CHATMAN: You mentioned in the question her ability to rebound the basketball. She doesn’t shy away from contact. She’s playing for a coach that’s demanding, puts her in situations that may mimic the pro level a little bit more than others in terms of being demanding. She seems like someone that, when met with the challenge, she won’t back down.

She actually reminds me of Tasha Humphrey back in the day at Georgia, because she does the dirty work, blue-collar. She has an opportunity to make a little noise at this level.

BILL LAIMBEER: Our discussions [inaudible] play the small forward, a big small forward. I think that’s where her destiny lies. I think the league is getting bigger, bigger, bigger all the time. You’ll have to get out there [inaudible] forward. If she’s able to make a transition to the 3, guard 3s or overpower 3s on the offensive end, I think she has a better chance.

Q. I want to know your overall thoughts on this particular draft class, and if you can differentiate guards and posts, and then from there what that class means on the direction that the WNBA is heading?

AMBER STOCKS: I think it’s quality at multiple positions, quality bigs, quality small forwards, some quality shooting guards and some pretty good point guards and combo guards. Quality in that first round.

Bill mentioned first-round draft picks not making teams. I think this particular class at all those positions will push the envelope and challenge veteran players and players whose skills haven’t moved along with the women’s game because [the prospects are] shooting 40 percent from three or playing with a lot more pace at the collegiate level.

I think that speaks volumes for where our game is going. Not just size but also pace and space and good players being able to step out. So it’s good for our game.

BILL LAIMBEER: I don’t think it’s a spectacular draft. I don’t think it’s a bad draft. It’s just a middle-of-the-road quality draft. Like Pokey talked about, no particular position standing out over any of the other ones. It’s split amongst all the positions. So it’s about what each person wants. They’re going to be able to find something in the draft.

AMBER STOCKS: I agree.

Q. In general, what are the adjustments all these talented college players must make to play professionally? What are the main differences?

AMBER STOCKS: One of the main differences is they have to be ready for commercial. (Laughter).

POKEY CHATMAN: Facts, Amber.

AMBER STOCKS: Once they get used to flying commercial, they can adjust.

BILL LAIMBEER: Size, strength and speed are where the WNBA is head-and-shoulders above college basketball. These players are grown women. They’re physical. They know how to play basketball.

They are the cream of the crop of the world. For a college player to step into that world and be able to compete shows good character on their part. But this is a very tough league to get a job in.

POKEY CHATMAN: It’s also the pace of learning and implementing. Some of us have perhaps eight practices and will then participate in the preseason games. So it’s that IQ and that rate of retention and can they be effective. Think about those players that are transitioning between positions, that’s where they sort of get stuck or lost a little bit. But the best in the world and it’s a fast-paced game as we implement it and as we play it.

AMBER STOCKS: The off-the-court life management is a transition for some of them as well. They’re eating on their own. They’re managing their time a lot differently. So they have a lot of independence and they have to be very focused on living a life as a pro. And for some of them they make that transition quickly and for others it takes a while to make the right decisions as far as their nutrition, sleeping habits, just their overall mentality and physicality.