ISO Spotlight: Scouting Erica Ogwumike for the WNBA

Photo by Russell Wilburn

If you looked at WNBA mock drafts from before the 2019-2020 season, you'd have seen a lot of people high on Rice's Erica Ogwumike, with her going early in the second round in most of those early mocks.

But in recent mock drafts that have been going around, Ogwumike's stock has fallen, with her landing in the third round in some and not getting drafted in others.

So, what's changed? Why aren't people as high on Ogwumike now as they were before? Are they missing something?

Scouting Erica Ogwumike

If you follow women's basketball even casually, you know the last name Ogwumike.

Two of Erica Ogwumike's older sisters currently play in the WNBA, both for the Los Angeles Sparks. There's the elder one of the two, Nneka Ogwumike, who won the 2016 WNBA MVP Award. There's Chiney Ogwumike, the 2014 WNBA Rookie of the Year who, when she's not on the court, works as a basketball analyst for ESPN. Chiney also won a pair of UIL state titles with Cy-Fair, leading the team to the 2010 title as a senior and also helping them win in 2008, when Nneka was a senior.

Basically, the Ogwumike family is Houston-area basketball royalty.

In 2015, Erica got her own chance to lead a high school team to a state title, winning the tournament in 2015 for Cypress Woods, along with her then teammate Nancy Mulkey. The pair went their separate ways for college, with Ogwumike heading to Pepperdine and Mulkey to Oklahoma, but the duo reunited after both transferred to Rice.

Now, Ogwumike has the chance to follow in her sisters' footsteps again. High school championship. Stellar college career. WNBA draftee?

Ogwumike — who made the Conference USA All-Defensive team — has a lot of upside and does a lot of things well on the basketball court, but she's also got some notable issues that have to be figured out.

Offensively, Ogwumike's game inside the 3-point line is strong.

Last year, she scored in the 91st percentile in points per possession. While her spot-up game featured some issues — just the 46th percentile on those looks, with a field goal percentage of 34.5 percent — she excelled in so many others ways: she's a strong transition scorer, a strong pick-and-roll ball handler, and someone who can create opportunities for herself as an off-ball cutter.

Above, we see part of what makes Ogwumike so strong in transition: Despite not being Rice's point guard, she's got a lot of ball-handling skills, so she gets going without the ball, using her wheels to get some space from the trailing defender, and then when the ball gets to her, she's able to take some strides and finish at the hoop. Ogwumike scored in the 94th percentile as a transition ball handler last season; she's a good finisher and a quick guard.

Ogwumike also has a lot of strength, which isn't a surprise since she's a member of the Ogwumike family. On this play, she snakes her way into the paint, and then runs into an Old Dominion defender. She moves right, gets right to the taller defender, and throws the little floater up and off the glass.

This is the bread and butter of what can help Ogwumike stick at the next level. On non-post up shots near the basket, Ogwumike shot 55.5 percent this season. She's a crafty ball-handler, someone who's able to navigate through traffic and give herself the best possible chance to finish in the paint.

She's also a quick defender, something that increases her future stock. Ogwumike averaged a steal and 0.7 blocks per game last year, but her biggest value is that she can use her combination of quickness and strength to stay in front of her matchups, troubling their games and forcing the ball out of their hands. This also shows up on the boards, as she's one of the best rebounders in the nation, especially for a guard. Ogwumike ranked in the Top 20 among all players in defensive rebounds per game last season; again, her strength comes into play here, as she's able to box out bigger opponents and snag boards.

Probably the biggest issue for Ogwumike is that her shooting percentage has dropped every year she's been at Rice. On one hand, that she's shown some prowess from three in the past is good, but on the other, players are usually judged by what they've shown recently, and what Ogwumike showed recently is a 17.2 percent mark from three on 93 attempts this season.

Since Ogwumike's best position at the next level is shooting guard, she needs to be able to shoot. If her 2019-20 numbers are indicative of what she'll be in the WNBA as a shooter, Ogwumike might be facing an uphill battle when it comes to making a roster out of training camp.

But let's not forget that just two seasons ago, Ogwumike shot 37.8 percent from deep on 143 attempts. It's hard to know without being able to watch all of her three-point attempts what the issue is here, because her usage rate all three years was around the same. Maybe it's facing tougher defensive pressure. She's been a free throw shooter of 79 percent or better all of her years at Rice, and strong free throw numbers are usually a sign of a jump shot that's got the potential to be strong.

The rest of Ogwumike's game — on both ends of the floor — feels like it's WNBA-caliber, so a lot of her future comes down to that shot. She's not quite a good enough passer to play point guard, so she'll have to be that off-ball guard. And while her ability to zig to the basket when the ball gets swung around to her is something that would help a WNBA team, she also needs to be a threat to catch-and-shoot.

Ogwumike's showed that before. Two years ago, she scored in the 83rd percentile as a spot-up shooter. Maybe decreased defensive pressure and a more defined role as a two-guard is the combination of things that Ogwumike needs to get her shot back on track.

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