ISO Spotlight: Scouting Lauren Cox for the WNBA

Photo by Pat Carrigan

While the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, April's WNBA Draft will still take place on April 17 and a number of Texas college players are expected to be taken during the three round draft.

Here at Dave Campbell's Texas Basketball, we've spent all season watching and discussing women's basketball around the state, so even with college basketball over for the year, we wanted to make use of all the research and tape breakdowns we've been doing, which is why we've identified some of the Texas players who might get drafted and will be breaking down their game and how they'll work at the next level. I've already done a couple of these back during the season — Texas forward Joyner Holmes and Texas Tech big Brittany Brewer — and over the next few weeks will catch up on the rest of the prospects, starting with Baylor's Lauren Cox.

Cox — our Texas MVP this season — seems destined to be chosen either second or third in this year's draft, after New York — a team in need of a playmaking guard — takes Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu. With the second pick, the Dallas Wings could select the Flower Mound native, giving them someone who can play the four or the five and a second star to join last year's WNBA Rookie of the Year, Arike Ogunbowale. At three, the Indiana Fever could pair Cox with second-year center Teaira McCowan, forming one of the best young frontcourts in the league.

Regardless of which of those teams take Cox, she's expected to have an immediate impact in the league. Let's dig into some numbers and film to see why.

Scouting Lauren Cox

One of the questions surrounding Cox is what position she'll play at the next level. Is she a four? Is a she a five? Does it really matter, or is the important thing that Cox has the talent to play whatever role the team that drafts her needs her to play? (For what it's worth, I think power forward is her best long term position.)

Something about Cox that stands out is that she's able to succeed in lineups with other bigs due to her on-court awareness, passing, and defense. Cox spent much of her college career playing the four beside Kalani Brown in some incredibly big lineups for the Lady Bears, and Cox's ability to work out of the high post with Brown working down low helped Baylor have one of the best inside-the-arc offenses there was. And then this past season with Brown gone, Cox adjusted to playing with NaLyssa Smith in the front court, as Smith's a much different player than Brown. Cox worked more as a center in those lineups.

An issue that's routinely brought up with Cox is concerns about her health, but I think these concerns are unfounded. Over her first three years at Baylor, Cox didn't deal with any injury issues. It wasn't until last April that a major injury hit her, when she left the National Championship game with a knee injury. She then missed time this past season with a foot injury, to the foot on the other leg from the knee injury. Two injuries to two different legs don't suggest — to me at least — that Cox is injury prone.

The other thing I've seen some of is comments that Cox having Type-1 diabetes could hinder her WNBA career, but that hasn't been an issue so far in her basketball career, and there's no reason to expect that it will impact Cox's ability to succeed at the next level. In her entire time at Baylor, Cox missed just one game because of diabetes-related issue.

Let's dive deeper into some Lauren Cox things.

Offense

This past season wasn't the best of Cox's college career. Synergy's playtype data helps attest to that, as Cox scored in the 77th percentile in points per possession and was rated "excellent" on just one playtype — post-ups — as a senior, while her junior year saw Cox score in the 96th percentile and rate as "excellent" on post ups, cuts, and putbacks.

It's hard to really explain Cox's drop in efficiency this season, but some combination of injuries and an increase in her usage as a pick-and-roll roller could be to blame. 21.1 percent of Cox's possessions came in the PnR this season, a seven-percent increase over her junior year, and it's been one of her weaker playtypes. She cut less, and played a different offensive role than she had in past years. At the WNBA level, Cox playing a more traditional four role with less time at the five should allow her to do the things that she's best at.

Cox has some really solid touch on her shots, especially when she's shooting in the paint. On the play above, she's got a very good player — Texas center Charli Collier —guarding her, but Cox is able to grab the entry pass and hit the little turnaround jumper over Collier. She uses the turn here to create a little separation from Collier, which is all she needs to rise for the shot, which drops into the bucket perfectly.

Another thing that sometimes gets overlooked about Cox is her skill as a passer:

Having a big with the court vision of Lauren Cox is huge when it comes to constructing an efficient offense. Baylor's finished top three in Division I in field goal percentage for four consecutive years, and having a big like Cox who can get doubled in the post and then find a cutting guard for the easy layup really helped this offense hum along. Cox only averaged 3.6 assists per game this season, but that's still really good for a frontcourt player like Cox, and her ability to operate in the high post and make crisp passes is something that can unlock some new wrinkles for a WNBA team.

Something else that's interesting about Cox: She took just five 3-pointers this past season, but four of those came in one game against UConn, in which Cox shot 2-for-4 from deep. Cox had shot a lot more from deep before her senior year, including taking 49 of them as a junior. Her free throw percentage is in the low 60s, so it's not quite so easy to say that Cox could become more of a stretch four at the next level since her shooting numbers don't necessarily suggest an easy adjustment to that kind of role, but it's worth noting that she has taken threes before, and it's something worth keeping in mind. Depending on the team she winds up with, Cox could be used like the Dallas Wings used Liz Cambage in 2018, as someone who can take the open three when needed. Her passing ability means stretching her farther from the basket opens up more lanes for her to move the ball around, but she'd hopefully be able to make defenses pay if they completely sag off of her.

Defense

An area of Cox's game that doesn't fly under the radar is her defense.

A two-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Cox is a great shot blocker and someone who can disrupt opposing offenses even when she isn't blocking shots.

Synergy's defensive tracking technology isn't perfect, but for what it's worth, here's what Cox's defensive playtype numbers looked like this season:

Just having Lauren Cox on the floor forces opposing teams to adjust, because you don't really want a basketball being shot in her vicinity if you can avoid it. Contrary to what you might think, she's more than just a big who defends well right at the basket; she can challenge shooters as well, and she does a good job cutting off rollers and making their lives tough.

If there's a question about Cox, it might be how she'll be able to handle guarding some of the quicker fours in the league. Especially if she's playing for Indiana and is beside Teaira McCowan, would Cox be able to handle guarding players like Elena Delle Donne or Breanna Stewart if she was asked to?

I think the answer to that is yes. Cox has good mobility for her size and great instincts; I think she'd be able to stick with quicker fours, and while she wouldn't be quite as effective against them as she'll be against more traditional power forwards, Cox wouldn't be a liability, and that's what's important. Her college career suggests that she can adapt to whatever she needs to adapt to defensively, which is a big reason why Cox is going to be a lottery pick in April.

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