WNBA insiders and the Angel Reese quandary

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Angel Reese is a national champion, the SEC Player of the Year and the most outstanding player of the 2023 Final Four. As of Wednesday, she’s also a WNBA draft prospect who has an intriguing blend of upside and downside, WNBA general managers and scouts say.

The superstar and her LSU Tigers were denied a title defense in the Elite Eight on Monday with a 94-87 loss to Iowa. Two days later, in an article in Vogue, she announced her decision to move on to the WNBA.

Reese, who has 6 million combined followers on social media, will certainly bring new fans to the seats at her next home. Her on-court impact is where WNBA insiders are a bit torn.

First, there is the good. Reese is incredibly athletic. She’s a rebounding force. She averaged 13.4 rebounds per game during her final season at LSU in addition to 18.6 points. She posted double-doubles in 27 of the 33 games she played this season.

“She just has a relentless competitive spirit,” one WNBA evaluator said. “She was impacting the winning. There’s a lot there, and I think she’s definitely a WNBA athlete.”

When Reese is down low, she excels, even if her finishing style is what one evaluator described as “unorthodox.”

“She’s just deadly in the paint,” a WNBA general manager said. “She’s also very effective even when she’s got a bigger player on her because she can go around them because of her athleticism and her quickness. She doesn’t mind getting hit. She can get hit and finish with two people hanging on her.”

For another WNBA insider, it’s intangibles that could make her a future star.

“She does what she does,” the general manager said. “She’s a tremendous rebounder. She gets to the free throw line. She has a high IQ and can impact your defense.”

Reese, who is 6-foot-3, has proven she can guard a variety of positions, including players bigger than she is. At LSU she was tasked with guarding 6-7 Kamilla Cardoso from South Carolina and 6-7 Lauren Betts from UCLA. She held her own, demonstrating her strength and length even while giving up size to bigger centers.

“She’s what I would call a two-way player,” a general manager said. “She’s going to defend on one end, she’s going to rebound on both ends and she’s going to score.”

Reese has named A’ja Wilson and Candace Parker as two of her primary basketball influences. You can see that in her single-leg sleeve on the court, a trend started by Wilson, and her willingness to put the ball on the floor on the fast break like Parker. She’s an above-average passer and ball handler at her position.

The most glaring area for development is Reese’s ability to shoot outside the paint. Though she played center this season at LSU, Reese is undersized at that position in the WNBA. Many centers are 6-5 or taller; just look at 6-9 Brittney Griner or 6-7 Teaira McCowan or 6-7 Cardoso. Reese is much more likely to find her place as a power forward in the WNBA. From Breanna Stewart to Wilson to Parker to legends like Lauren Jackson, power forwards in the WNBA (and increasingly centers) often shoot from the perimeter.

“I wish she had more range on her shot,” a general manager said. “I think that’s something that she needs to add.”

“I’d like to see her evolve her game outside of 10 feet,” another evaluator said. “If she’s going to play the four at the pro level, I think she’s got to work on her free throws and her outside shot.”

This is not new information for Reese. She did look to take jumpers at different points this season. But she shot just 1-for-9 from beyond the arc and made 72.6% of her free throw attempts. In her final game at LSU, she shot 33.3% from the field (7-of-21) and 37.5% (3-of-8) from the free throw line.

Playing outside the paint wasn’t something LSU needed her to do. The Tigers’ best chance of winning often involved Reese on the block, going to work or cleaning up the glass. If she was outside the paint, it was hard for her to do what her team needed to do to win.

In addition to the ball skills, some insiders have questions about the reasons for her four-game absence this season and her physical style of play. In the SEC championship game against South Carolina, for example, Reese pulled Cardoso’s hair and elbowed her in the face.

“Some of the stuff she does is disrespectful to the game,” a general manager said.

Reese knows she’ll need to put in the work. She’ll need to be in the gym. Pro players get better all the time, adding new skills and improving old ones. WNBA brass wants to see that fire from Reese.

“Now, what I want to learn is what really is her work ethic?” one WNBA coach said.

Reese expects her next chapter to be hard.

“I’ll be working with grown women,” she said to Vogue. I’ll be working with women that have kids, women that have a family to feed. I’m going to have to work my butt off every single day and grind. And who wouldn’t want that? I don’t want anything in my life to be easy.”

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