2020 rookie vision: Kaila Charles lands on the Sun

Three Terps walk into Mohegan...

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The Connecticut Sun merely observed the first round of the 2020 WNBA Draft after shipping out multiple picks to acquire DeWanna Bonner in a sign-and-trade with the Mercury. The 2019 runners-up weren’t on the clock until the end of the second round, where they selected Maryland’s Kaila Charles with the No. 23 overall pick. Charles could become the third Maryland alum on the 2020 roster along with Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones. Let’s take a look at some of Charles’ biggest strengths and how they may warrant a roster spot with the Sun. 

You don’t have to squint very hard to see some shades of Thomas and Bria Holmes in Charles. She’s a good athlete that doesn’t fit into just one positional box. Listed at 6’1”, she has good size on the wing and did quite a bit of switching defensively in her time at Maryland. She’ll fit right in with Connecticut’s running game. Only the Aces spent more time in transition (534 possessions) in 2019 than the Sun (522) according to Synergy Sports. 

Charles gets by people easily when she really revs it up. She’ll get chances at the next level to unleash that aspect of her game even more in the halfcourt. Her role at Maryland was much different than what most 3s are doing in the WNBA. Charles spent most of her time working from the foul line area. That will change. She can attract a lot of attention attacking from the 3-point line with quick, decisive straight-line drives to the basket. 

One big question hangs over all of that. How consistently can she knock down shots like this?

Charles attempted 45 3-pointers in 134 college contests. Maryland didn’t need that to be a huge part of her game. That wasn’t her role. You have to price that into your evaluations. She did shoot 73 percent at the foul line as a sophomore and 80 percent as a junior before falling a hair below 70 percent this past season. 

Teams have to make bets on shaky or unproven 3-point shooters every year. If there’s some stuff that isn’t completely dependent on the 3-point shooting that you really like about the player and their form isn’t completely broken, then take a chance! It’s easy to poke holes in anyone’s game. Teams and general managers win when they set players up to do what they’re already good at without losing sight of the areas for improvement.

Holmes would be a more appropriate comp than Thomas. Holmes’ path has been interesting. She attempted at least twice as many 3-pointers in each of her four college seasons than Charles did in total. Atlanta traded Holmes to Connecticut for the No. 15 overall pick in 2018. Outside shooting was still seen as a big question mark. Her shooting percentages in 2019 weren’t stellar, but Connecticut had established a clear role for her. She guarded multiple positions for them and got opportunities to unleash her straight-line driving. 

Charles obviously doesn’t have a data point in her favor like Holmes’ 34 percent 3-point shooting on 204 attempts as a sophomore. It’s fair at least to wonder if Charles is too redundant with Holmes already penciled in for a significant role in 2020. Connecticut is a friendlier situation than most for a 2020 draftee to go compete for a roster spot. But would they be better served going after a different kind of player? 

The Sun have seven returners (Jasmine Thomas, Bria Holmes, Alyssa Thomas, Jonquel Jones, Natisha Hiedeman, Theresa Plaisance, Brionna Jones) under contract along with three 2020 acquisitions in Bonner, Briann January and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. They won’t have enough cap room to roster 12 players right away but will be able to add a 12th pretty early in the season. 

Megan Huff, Jacki Gemelos, Jazmon Gwathmey and third-rounder Juicy Landrum will be in the mix. Every team should be circling Huff. She’s one of the best stretch 4s on the outside looking in right now. Gemelos and Gwathmey would also add some size on the wing. Both are experienced pros familiar with the tremendous amount of work required just to keep getting camp invites as a player on the fringes. Landrum, more of a 2-guard, is a reliable 3-point threat that succeeded in a very portable role at Baylor. 

Charles has a leg up over her competition as a driver. Her speed and power are encouraging. Signs of more craft and a higher comfort level with her left hand would be helpful. She did improve her efficiency at and around the rim year over year, climbing from 49.5 percent to 51.6 as a junior and 57.4 as a senior on halfcourt attempts around the basket according to Synergy Sports. 

College 4s that need to play the 3 at the next level sometimes run into the athleticism wall. Charles stacks up just fine there. And some really talented shooters and scorers just don’t have the chops to defend at the highest level. That could be another separator as she makes her case. Connecticut can already piece together some long, mean, switch-friendly defensive combinations. Charles can be a helpful team defender and impactful overall presence. She has the lateral quickness to contain dribble drives.

Charles ended up with a block in this next sequence. Remove the result. She got across the lane in time to obstruct clear paths to the rim throughout the season. That gives you a chance to alter some shots, especially with her size and strength at that position. 

Plays like that are hardly a given from a wing. You also saw the opposite end of that help and recover circle of life. A bunch of possessions in every game ride on a team’s ability to nail their rotations and close out appropriately once they do manage to wall off the lane. 

This is another bright spot for Charles. The close out to Northwestern’s Lindsey Pulliam may not have necessarily forced the turnover, but it did erase an advantage situation for the best scorer on the other team. Charles first had to sink into the lane to prepare to stop the roller.

Bringing that sense of urgency to every possession would really help her case. The ingredients are there if Charles really wants to embrace that role of being a pest. She can also have an impact at her size digging down and playing in the gaps, racking up deflections and discouraging drives altogether. 

It’s vital to have a few strengths that will shine against WNBA competition if you’re a player that still needs to prove it as a spot-up threat. UCLA’s Kennedy Burke is a great example. She’s listed at 6’2” with an alleged 6’6” wingspan. She made the most of that size and length by becoming a really impactful all-around defender that can guard positions 1 through 4. She’s a crafty driver and finishes with both hands.

Even though Burke shot between 28 and 30 percent from deep in each of her final three seasons at UCLA, teams still took chances on her. Those strengths give her a chance to compete right away. If she manages to improve as a 3-point shooter, the Fever (or future team TBD) will have come away with a huge bargain. 

Connecticut has the makings of a very lively training camp. They were moments away from a championship and have a fun mix of players lined up to battle it out for the final spots on the roster. It’d be fun to be a fly on the wall observing those head-to-head battles. If a season does somehow get off the ground, a shorter runway may push coaches toward experience and general familiarity. Teams also need some versatility and/or upside from those final spots. Charles checks both boxes. 

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You can email me (SplitThePost@gmail.com) or reach me on Twitter (@Ben_Dull) with your questions, feedback, etc. We’ll be back tomorrow.