What WNBA Fans May Not Have Seen from Awak Kuier
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Awak Kuier was the second overall pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft. Entering the season, everyone knew she was still a raw prospect, but—partially hampered by missing training camp—she struggled even more than some might have expected, shooting just 31% from the field and exceeding fifteen minutes in a game only three times. However, she continues to show flashes of a dynamic, versatile game while playing in FIBA competition with Finland’s national team. How far can Awak Kuier’s WNBA game progress? Let’s take a look at her two games from the last international window.
The first thing that stands out about Kuier is her length. She uses it to her full advantage on this absolutely jaw-dropping play where she inhales a pass while recovering after hedging the pick-and-roll.
There were also many plays where Kuier was able to contend with 2020-21 Euroleague Women MVP Alina Iagupova on switches.
The ability to play in more aggressive pick-and-roll coverages gives coaches options to employ various schemes and allows Kuier to play against a wide variety of match-ups.
Kuier’s length also makes an impact on more traditional interior plays. This is a nice, fundamental shot blocker rotation.
However, she still makes youthful mistakes defensively. For example, here she sags too far off her match-up and gets trapped in the paint despite recognizing that she needs to contest at the three-point line because veteran power forward Olesia Malashenko screens her effectively.
Euroleague Women center Gintare Petronyte was also able to exploit Kuier’s inexperience, especially in the post. As she gets more experienced, Kuier should be able to iron out these issues.
Passing and Decision-Making
Kuier is extremely comfortable passing the ball despite still being such a young player. While she was only credited with two assists over the course of the two games, this vastly underestimates her passing ability. For example, while Kuier does not hit her in the shooting pocket here, Elina Koskimies is fully capable of making this shot. As such, this play reflects well on Kuier’s ability to grab and go and make the right decision.
Even when she is not bringing the ball up herself, she is trusted to make good decisions long before she gets to the basket.
Kuier is also adept at making quick decisions in the halfcourt, especially throwing skip passes to perimeter players.
Kuier also has positive moments as a shooter. It is especially promising that she is not limited to shooting from a pure stand-still. For one, she can hit threes out of the pick-and-pop as she does below. That is extremely important for her ability to not just play in an offense but to take on an active role in one.
There's also this turnaround out of the post, a shot she may not deploy incredibly often at the WNBA level at her current level of ability but which carries immense value if she ever becomes one of her team’s primary offensive options.
She has also flashed the ability to shoot pull-up jump shots off the dribble, although there is still a lot of work to be done in this area.
However, Kuier’s form is a bit inconsistent. For example, her legs tend to drift underneath her as in the following clip, and not always in the same pattern. Ultimately, her three-point shot is still a work in progress, with consistency in her lower body mechanics being important to taking another step.
Kuier’s strength and handle both need some improvement. One way these flaws consistently manifest themselves, often simultaneously, is on perimeter drives. Kuier often attempts wild shots about eight feet away from the basket because she can neither blow by her opponent (largely a product of a somewhat loose handle) nor fully drive into them. A more forceful extra step would get her closer to the rim, permitting closer shots and/or drawing another defender and opening up passing lanes for shooters.
Kuier also brought the ball up the floor after many made baskets, but she frequently surrendered possession without making attacking moves in these situations.
Tightening her handle and becoming stronger would allow Kuier to use her athleticism more effectively when attacking the rim, both from the post and the perimeter. This includes not just self-created post-ups and drives but also hard rolls to the rim off ball screens where she needs to be able to finish through rotating defenders. Better ball-handling would also give her space to flex her decision-making ability in short roll situations, where she could be a threat to take a dribble and score or spray passes out to open shooters.
Even now, Kuier has ample skill to make some truly special plays, demonstrating her obvious potential, just not as often as one might hope. For example, this spin move is absolutely brilliant.
Below is probably the ultimate example of Kuier’s expert vision, good court awareness, and burgeoning shooting ability. First of all, she recognizes Silja Viita’s coming cut and leads her with the pass, even if she delivers it slightly too far in front. When Viita slips and falls, Kuier recognizes that Viita will need to get rid of the ball to prevent a turnover, so she relocates to
create a passing angle. Viita notices this and passes it out, and Kuier shoots without hesitation.
This is a high-level play all around, including making a three from heady off-ball movement, and speaks to Kuier’s ability to play within a team context, particularly important because it helps her get on the court even as her other skills continue to develop.
Still only 20, Awak Kuier has shown glimpses of many impressive skills at both ends of the floor. It’s still early in her journey, but it’s already clear that if Kuier can reach her full potential, she could become an All-WNBA player.
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