The 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup featured some of the top frontcourt prospects eligible to be selected in the 2019 WNBA Draft. World Cup play gave WNBA teams the opportunity to see these players against some common opponents.
What viewers saw in the performance of these players may ultimately ride on how they weighted matchups with Team USA. Where one WNBA team may have come away unimpressed with a player’s physical tools in going up against a frontcourt six deep with 2018 WNBA All-Stars, another may have focused more on more refined present day skills that can serve as a foundation for a player that can contribute in a big role down the line.
This three-part series will focus on five prospects in particular: Alanna Smith and Ezi Magbegor of Team Australia, Li Yueru and Han Xu of Team China, and Kitija Laksa of Team Latvia. Part one covered Smith and Magbegor, and part two focused on Laksa. Up next: Han Xu and Li Yueru, China’s two promising young centers.
Team China #15 / Center / Height: 6’9 / Age 19
Han Xu played just over 20 minutes per game at the World Cup. The 6’9″ center shot 44.2 percent from the field and 12-of-16 at the free throw line. She made a splash with 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go with five rebounds and two blocks in group play against Team USA.
It was impressive to see such a young center at that size stay light on her feet while keeping her head on a swivel. There’s a place in the WNBA for bigs that can stay in plays with guards to alter and affect shots around the basket.
If you go by the old ‘Could this player have been on the floor in the Finals?’ line, Han Xu at age 19 may have a case to get some run in small bursts. With teams that can put four or five shooters on the floor, you don’t have time to blink. Note how quickly she reacts to get out to contest Kia Nurse in the corner after discouraging a post up on the opposite block.
Or against Japan, a team that plays five out, she didn’t blink to switch as her teammate’s player slipped to the rim.
Han Xu’s face up game is her biggest strength. One of China’s favorite actions called for her to use a flare screen from a guard to slide into an open jumper. She got plenty of those looks off unbothered thanks to her size.
She didn’t attempt a 3-pointer in the tournament. If she extends her range, we’re looking at a pretty unique player. In addition to that shooting promise, Han Xu also impressed with how hard she battled to carve out post position and score inside.
Many of Han Xu’s defensive highlights occurred when she was a helper or dropping back in pick and roll coverage. She’ll need more reps sitting down in a stance to guard people out on the perimeter and take away straight line drives.
Han Xu’s attentiveness and activity level could be good indicators of potential to be good enough in space. That said, the biggest challenge will come inside against physical centers that can get lower to try to bury her under the basket.
Success in those instances will hinge on discipline. She won’t be able to push WNBA centers around. Staying in plays to rely on her length will get the job done if she keeps Brittney Griner, Liz Cambage or Sylvia Fowles from getting deep post touches. Biting on fakes, as she did here against Cambage, gives her advantage away.
2019 Draft Stock
There’s a case to be made for Han Xu to get minutes right away. Unfortunately, WNBA teams have to go through the tricky dance of navigating and anticipating national team commitments of their international players. Contending teams that bring back most or all of their depth may be more eager to bring in such an intriguing skill set. Will any lottery teams be willing to add two young centers? Two high profile college centers — Baylor’s Kalani Brown and Mississippi State’s Teaira McCowan — are projected to be first round picks.
Draftsite currently has Han Xu going to the Minnesota Lynx as a second round pick in their 2019 mock draft.
Team China #14 / Center / Height: 6’7 / Age: 19
Li Yueru started six of China’s seven games, logged a total of 123 minutes (17.6 per game). The 6’7 center shot 20-of-43 (46.5 percent) from the floor and 10-of-13 at the line. She looks to have a frame that will serve her well battling inside as she gets stronger and her game matures. There were glimpses throughout the World Cup of 1-on-1 scoring out of the post.
Any general comfort in finishing with either hand near the basket is an encouraging sign from a young player. When going to work in the post, Li Yueru took every chance she got to get to an up and under.
At times she was too in love with the popular counter. The threat of it will help keep defenders off balance if they are even more concerned about her getting to her strong hand. I enjoyed her extension on these righty scoops.
Team Australia and Phoenix Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello may have said it best. “She’s a bit in between at the moment,” Brondello told High Post Hoops. “But she has that good shooting ability, she has a big, strong body inside. I can only imagine we’ll see her in the WNBA if not next year, the year after.”
We didn’t see much of the jump shot at all in World Cup play. The big takeaway from this seven game sample is her ability to carve out space to score against older and more experienced players in limited minutes.
Four possessions from Team China’s contest against the USA painted a good picture of where Li Yueru is at elsewhere as a prospect. Early in the first quarter, she made a quick read to spin right off Tina Charles. Unfortunately, Sue Bird hard dug down off the corner at just the right moment.
Moments later from the opposite block, Charles squared her up.
This is where a strong move to either hand is needed to get right to the rim or set up that up and under. She did just that in the second against A’ja Wilson.
Li Yueru will need to get much stronger and command the defensive glass to carve out a big role in the WNBA. World Cup play didn’t give much indication that she’ll be able to stay in front of people out in space.
2019 Draft Stock
Running with Brondello’s quote, Li Yueru makes for an interesting flier in the second or third round. By then, some teams may be using picks knowing they already have a full roster. Waiting a year or two to come over would be worthwhile for her physical development. Will that decision affect her number of potential suitors come draft night?
Draftsite currently has Li Yueru going to the Seattle Storm as a second round pick in their 2019 mock draft.