2020 rookie vision: Will Kylee Shook stick as the league's next stretch big?

Louisville alum brings 3-and-D skill set to Liberty frontcourt

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Kylee Shook was the only big the New York Liberty ended up adding on draft night. Most talk about New York’s 2020 roster has centered around their glut of wings and who among that group might get left out in the cold. Jonathan Kolb and Walt Hopkins took a swing on Shook at the beginning of the second round, clearly hoping they found a two-way stretch big that can contribute to what they’re building around No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu and All-Star Kia Nurse. 

Shook isn’t the only big on New York’s roster with some outside shooting ability. Amanda Zahui B and Han Xu can open up the lane by spotting up or picking and popping for open 3-pointers. The defensive presence Shook might bring is especially appealing. Her raw shot-blocking totals were impressive at Louisville. Her approach in doing so was even more important. 

Zahui B is the most established threat among that trio. Most notably, she canned seven 3-pointers last June in Los Angeles. That’s the kind of outburst you’d want to see for a player to really earn that title of being a stretch big: demonstrated ability to make them in bunches when teams focus more of their attention elsewhere. 

Shook hasn’t piled up shooting performances quite like that. She did make a career-high four 3-pointers against Notre Dame as a freshman and matched it as a junior against Miami. Additionally, she closed the 2019-20 season with two or more made triples in eight of her final 13 games.

It’s tough to use her free throw percentage as any kind of indicator for future 3-point success. She only attempted 101 free throws in 141 games with the Cardinals. Her 3-point rate, the percentage of all scoring attempts that are 3-point attempts, was pretty steady, ranging between 24 and 31 as a low-usage player. But because WNBA teams and college programs play a similar number of games each season, we can stack Shook’s 3-point shooting up against that of some WNBA stretch bigs. 

Shook made 28 3-pointers in 32 games as a senior. We can learn from the nature of those shots. Or use them to project forward. Or both. Start with the first quarter of the ACC semis. Fellow 2020 draftee Kiah Gillespie feinted briefly toward the gap as Dana Evans started a drive. Shook fired away without hesitation with 15 on the shot clock. 

A make like that is encouraging. Trailing by seven early in a big game, Shook was confident enough to take that shot to halt an early run for Florida State. With that thought in mind, look next to a December game against Syracuse, where she stepped into another semi-contested look with confidence pretty early in the clock. 

That shot is tougher than it looks. Her momentum was moving away from the rim. She didn’t get much time to square up and face the basket. The top of the key will be an important area for Shook. Any WNBA team will want their stretch big to be a serious threat trailing the break. Whether a teammate touches the paint with a drive or the defense simply hasn’t matched up yet, you want players in Shook’s role to make teams pay with those open looks. 

Louisville became really hard to guard when Shook was aggressively hunting pick and pop 3-point attempts. One make against Oklahoma State really stood out. It ties right in with what she’ll see from opposing defenses at the next level. 

Every single pick and pop look won’t be clean even if opponents are bearish on her shooting ability. A third defender will get involved in coverages at times, stunting or rotating at that big. Any induced hesitation is a win for the defense. That gives them time to recover. Shook stared that defender down and realized they were playing centerfield. She got into her shooting motion smoothly after a quick look-off. 

Did she make 100 3-pointers in a season? No. But you can’t have everything at once. There’s still enough variety there to really like for an early second-rounder. These shots check important boxes. Making 3-pointers in big moments when her team really needed them is another you’d want to be addressed. Shots from the December win at Kentucky definitely qualify. Shook drilled three pick and pop 3-pointers in the second half, starting with one as the Cardinals trailed by nine. The third put them back up by three with less than two minutes remaining. 

Now, don’t expect Shook to face people up to drive it or even attack closeouts to get to the front of the rim. Her offensive role will likely be pretty limited to that spot-up and pick and pop shooting. (She does run the floor well and is competent enough inside to occasionally punish teams for switching; she isn’t a plodder.) What she offers defensively will become even more important as a result. 

Shook logged nearly 27 minutes per game as a senior, up from 13 in each of her first two seasons and 19.4 as a junior. Her shot-blocking continued at an extremely high rate as her minutes increased. She blocked 10.3 percent of opponents’ 2-point field goal attempts as a senior per Her Hoop Stats, the 26th-highest mark in the country. She regularly blocks shots with either hand and is disciplined with her approach, tracking the ball and making a play on it once the shooter shows their hand. 

She’ll give multiple efforts within a possession. That alone makes a big difference. Her reaction time is solid. Hitting a few singles can be more impactful than a homerun swing. 

Defensive matchups for bigs differ from night to night but remain equally demanding in the WNBA. One night you’ll be leaning on Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson for 40 minutes. The other? You’re running Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman off the line and trying to hang with them one-on-one. Shook being more of the type to stay in plays without making mistakes will be an asset. She isn’t overly jumpy and doesn’t hunt chances to swat shots into the 12th row. 

The plays she made moving her feet were an added layer. She came up with some impressive stops when Louisville switched screens. Even if she doesn’t end up doing much switching in the WNBA, I wonder if we’ll see her make a difference against the top pick and roll threats by meeting them further out. This forces players to beat her with a drive rather than stepping right into a jumper. Bigs that aren’t as agile tend to hang back in the paint to protect the rim, ceding the occasional open pull-up jumper. 

One possession on an island against the toughest cover in the country stood out from the Kentucky win. Shook switched out onto Rhyne Howard at the top of the key. On the first watch, nothing really stands out. Howard shook her. 

Throw whoever you want at Howard. Kentucky’s super sophomore can get a clean stepback 3-pointer off against anybody. Shook was balanced in her stance. She slid as Howard feinted left. Then Shook reacted immediately to give herself a chance to stick with Howard had she continued driving to her right. Shook didn’t overextend as Howard created separation, either. All that great work would have been undone, gifting Howard a clear driving lane. Shook didn’t leap until Howard committed to the shot—and almost blocked it! 

Shook will offer plenty of resistance as a help defender, too, reacting as threats enter the lane heading toward the rim. That disciplined approach will help her alter shots without fouling. 

Simply arriving early and staying vertical will help her come up with stops right at the rim. 

I wish I had been rosier on Shook leading up to the draft. I had her as more of a late second-rounder or even a third-rounder. So New York selecting her at No. 13 did surprise me a bit. That result alone was enough to encourage me to move in that direction. 

Shook’s game definitely warrants a roster spot with the Liberty. Teams around the league want bigs that can be consistent 3-point threats. Even better: Shook grades out better with her ability to move her feet than Zahui B or Han. Maybe the power forward spot won’t be so much of a question mark after trading Tina Charles the week of the draft. 

Shook has a solid foundation to her game. And as we’ve seen above, there are layers on top of that worth being excited about. Landing her at No. 13 already looks great for New York knowing what was available and what the franchise needed. With just a little faith that her brightest flashes are indicative of what the Liberty are getting, it might even be worth asking why she wasn’t selected sooner. 

How do you like Shook’s chances at the next level? Did New York miss on a chance to add another big at some point in the draft? Sound off below. Let’s keep the conversation going.

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