2020 rookie vision: Kathleen Doyle

What the No. 14 pick can bring to the Fever

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Kathleen Doyle is coming off an impressive senior campaign at Iowa. She stepped up to lead the team in scoring while improving her overall efficiency. The Indiana Fever selected her early in the second round at No. 14 overall in last month’s draft. Two aspects of Doyle’s game stand out most as we consider her future in Indiana. 

Doyle touches the paint. Teams need players that can get by their defender to puncture a defense and capitalize on the improved spacing and shooting trickling into the league. Doyle’s game didn’t change dramatically in 2019-20; the team did. Post-up hub Megan Gustafson had moved onto the WNBA. This season’s team was more reliant on dribble penetration to drive their offensive success. 

Successful they were. The Hawkeyes finished the season with the No. 11 offense in the country, scoring 106.9 points per 100 possessions. They were the top offense in the Big Ten for a second consecutive season. A nine-game conference win streak included back-to-back-to-back victories over Northwestern, Maryland and Indiana. Doyle didn’t get a ton of draft buzz. Some ‘surprises’ up to that point on draft night may have overshadowed any shock regarding Indiana’s selection at No. 14 as UConn’s Crystal Dangerfield continued to slide.

That was from the 2019 Big Ten title game. Iowa set her up to come out of the corner with the option to attack or look inside to Gustafson. That kind of four-around-one look in that moment is tough for most college teams to replicate. Doyle maximizing her opportunities to make a play in those settings will lay the foundation for her pro career. 

Getting past people won’t be enough. Doyle, listed at 5’9”, did take a big step forward by getting to the line more often as a senior. She flashed some craft around the basket with her finishing. Her pull-up game needs to improve. There will be a pretty natural cap on the amount of damage she’s able to do at the rim. Baylor’s DiDi Richards and Indiana’s Bendu Yeaney (now at Arizona) are good proxies for the kind of defenders she’ll be running into at the next level. 

Doyle isn’t afraid of contact. She drew a ton of fouls by knowing how to throw her weight around on drives like that. Big, long, wiry defenders have more leeway. Doyle isn’t in that upper stratosphere with somebody like Arizona’s Aari McDonald who can completely run away from somebody with just a few strides. To that point, two big buckets in crunch time at Rutgers back in March illustrated a more positive outcome. 

Doyle sets up her right-to-left crossover well. She dusted people with it all season. The finish is more interesting. She’s going at 6’1” Mael Gilles, another big wing defender that has that ability to close quickly and bother a shot at the rim. Doyle went to more of a speed finish this time. Gilles couldn’t load up to leap for a block because Doyle didn’t need to slow down.  

A few moments later, she caught two Rutgers defenders with a slick fake dribble handoff. Players on either side of the ball are guilty of lazing through these actions at times. Gilles expected to switch. But the two pairings were still so far apart. Doyle shot right through that giant seam for a tough finish in a key moment. 

Let’s show the off-hand more love. Doyle’s lefty scoop around Purdue’s Dominique Oden about one month earlier was one of her best plays of the season.

Oden was on Doyle’s hip most of the way there. Doyle doesn’t exactly pop with her size or length, either, but she sensed that clean window and capitalized. Continuing for a normal lefty layup would have given Oden and the shot blocker more of a chance to alter the attempt. Doyle took off from the middle of the lane with all her momentum going towards the opposite corner! 

A player at that size needs to make the elaborate finishes look routine. Shooting fouls won’t come as easy at the next level. Those defenders will stay in more plays and have an easier time blocking a shot like Richards or Yeaney in the examples above. Doyle turned to another fun trick on the left side of the hoop in a February game at Michigan. 

This time Doyle turned to her right hand on the left side. Her angle to go off the glass with her left was gone. Notice that her defender is right on her hip with all momentum going straight toward the baseline. Doyle gathered to launch herself toward the rim. Her defender had to lay off to avoid an obvious foul, and Doyle avoided the contest altogether by extending to finish with her right. 

So we’ve seen the quickness and the finishing. Burst and craftiness in the lane are translatable attributes that matter. Now let’s take it back to the 2018-19 season when the Hawkeyes were built around Megan Gustafson, who scored 27.8 points per game while shooting nearly 70 percent from the field. (Those numbers still look fake and were underappreciated at the time.)

Entry passing is an extremely under-discussed skill. The Fever need players that understand timing and angles in order for their group as a whole to succeed in building an offense around 2019 No. 3 overall pick Teaira McCowan. Post players ‘being open’ is not a static state. Any pass in the air in this situation would have been stolen. The one Doyle did make didn’t have much of a margin for error. 

Gustafson was completely unstoppable one-on-one and had a keen understanding of all the tricks of the trade. But back-to-basket scorers are more reliant on the passing chops of their teammates than perimeter players. One person taking one step in the wrong direction or holding onto the ball a beat too long can turn an easy bucket into a turnover. Doyle let go of this one before Gustafson even realized she was open. 

Good entry passers also set themselves apart by throwing passes that look risky to everybody else. An overwhelming majority of college players wouldn’t throw one this high, this fast for Gustafson.

Doyle saw the crowd in the lane that time. Two lurking defenders would have bounced on anything below the numbers. She didn’t just put it only where Gustafson could get to it. Doyle led her star center to a layup. Gustafson’s defender was leaning so hard on her that the natural turn set up a three-point play. 

The Doyle-Gustafson connection wasn’t limited to standstill entries from 22-plus feet out. Doyle’s quickness off the bounce set up some fun drive-and-dish looks for the 2019 National Player of the Year. 

The big at the rim must react quickly because of Doyle’s quickness. And McCowan, listed at 6’7”, is an even bigger target than Gustafson. Indiana will surely expect their guards to thread the needle in similar situations, capitalizing on all the energy McCowan forces her own matchup to exert just in jostling for post position. 

The Fever won’t need to lean solely on static post-ups. Guards might not see the same level of help at the rim every time because the opposing center is so caught up in leaning on and wrestling with McCowan to keep her out of the middle of the lane. Leave her and she crushes you on the offensive glass. It truly is that cut and dry. 

Doyle’s path to a roster spot will likely be much more crowded. The Fever have 14 players for 12 spots as of Sunday. Julie Allemand not coming over—by choice or because international players have a harder time coming over for the potential 2020 season—would mean the team only has to cut one player to get down to 12. 

Only carrying only four bigs seems very unlikely for any team. But Lauren Cox can get some run at the 5, and Kennedy Burke can slide up to the 4. It’s plausible. Stephanie Mavunga has turned in some big shooting performances overseas and didn’t get regular minutes in her first two seasons in Indiana.  The Fever would be right to be wary of moving on from her too soon. 

The Fever may wind up with a very natural battle for that final spot between 2020 draftees Doyle and Kamiah Smalls. Positionally, Doyle is more of a pure point guard while Smalls may have an upper hand because she has the size to be more of a combo guard/wing.

Indiana moved up from 16 to 14 in the second round by trading Shenise Johnson to Minnesota earlier this offseason. (The Lynx turned Tanisha Wright, in what turned out to be her final season, into Johnson and Crystal Dangerfield—possibly two rotation players!) Johnson had a setback with her knee coming back from a torn ACL and didn’t appear to be a fit for a rebuilding team with several young players at that position. I always saw that move more as a way for the Fever to clear a roster spot with the added bonus of moving up a few spots. 

It’s always a risky game to read too much into what coaches and general managers say about training camp invitees or players taken in the later rounds. Still, some of head coach Marianne Stanley’s post-draft comments did sound like pretty sound endorsements of a theory that the Fever drafted Doyle with a strong feeling that she’d make the roster. The team did pick Doyle before Smalls, whose game we’ll study more in a future newsletter, after all. 

You make the call: Who should Indiana’s final 12 be for 2020?

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