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Why Kitija Laksa Deserves Another Shot in the WNBA
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College basketball fans know that Kitija Laksa can shoot. In 2017-18, her junior year at South Florida, she led the nation in free-throw percentage and was in the top 10 in three-pointers made per game. Unfortunately, that was her last healthy season in the NCAA. Laksa was drafted 11th overall by the Seattle Storm in 2020 in what was considered an obvious stash move, and when the team brought her into training camp this past season she was thrust into a stiff competition at the small forward spot; the team ultimately elected to retain Katie Lou Samuelson, Stephanie Talbot, and Kennedy Burke while cutting Laksa. Since then, she has broken out at the Euroleague level for Italian team Beretta Famila Schio. Laksa may not have cracked the Storm’s roster last season, but she can absolutely contribute to a WNBA team this summer.
Just as it did in college, her game starts with her shooting ability. She can reliably make the full panoply of catch-and-shoot three-point shots.
She can shoot out of hand-off while curling tightly around a big.
She can shoot off a hard backpedal.
She can shoot off a complex, meticulously designed screening action.
She can even shoot when the play breaks down.
When teams overplay her for the shot, she can also cut backdoor for an easy lay-up, a skill that has been used to great effect on out-of-bounds plays.
The ability to shoot off movement in so many different ways is excellent. The awareness to keep moving and create opportunities to shoot these impressive and difficult but ultimately sound shots is invaluable.
And if that were all she could do, she would still carry some intrigue as a WNBA player for front offices. However, Laksa has been called upon to run pick-and-rolls for Schio, and she has the skills to shoot, pass, and drive out of these opportunities.
Of course, there is still definitely room for growth in this area. When a long-range opportunity or early kick-out does not make itself available, she often feels compelled to shoot a difficult shot from around 12-15 feet. Out of pick-and-roll or otherwise, only very rarely is Laksa able to drive all the way to the rim, and she tends to be a bit rushed when she does manage to get there as in the following clip.
Finding ways to preserve her dribble and to finish under control will be crucial for her ability to bring these ball-handling skills to the WNBA level. Finishing in general seems to be a problem for her as she tends to rush even wide open shots near the rim that she earns off diligent hard cuts. In addition, while she is comfortable shooting pull-ups, including out of these pick-and-roll situations, they are generally long 2s. Turning at least the one-dribble 20-footers into three-point opportunities would help her efficiency a good deal (something which, at least in my anecdotal experience, European coaches tend not to emphasize as much as American ones, indicating that this growth may be more accessible than it might first appear).
However, even if it takes a few seasons for the ball-handling to mature at the WNBA level, the fact that it exists at a baseline level (and that her overseas teams will presumably continue to utilize it) provides room for growth. We can use Sami Whitcomb, always prioritized as a scoring option while playing overseas, as a blueprint. Whitcomb has expanded her role in the WNBA as her career has progressed, ultimately taking on significant on-ball responsibilities as a starter for the Liberty in 2021. Any ball-handling Laksa provides will be especially valuable given how much taller Laksa is and how she profiles to play at a bigger position where those skills are rarer (and the effectiveness threshold is also lower). And even if the pick-and-roll skills do not come together at the WNBA level, Laksa remains an astute passer who can preserve opportunities both in transition and in the halfcourt.
With shooters in particular, it is always fair to question how the player holds up at the defensive end of the floor. And it must be acknowledged that Laksa’s footspeed is a bit of a weakness. The key for Laksa is if she can contain dribble penetration long enough for effective help to come to protect the rim. The play below illustrates both the good and the bad. Rebekah Gardner is an athletic small forward, and while she beats Laksa here for an impressive lay-up, smoother footwork from Laksa (as my friend @beenthrifty put it, she has really happy feet) or moderately more alert rim protection would have prevented these two points.
This is not the only defensive area where she struggles. Screen navigation can also be quite difficult for Laksa. Ideally, she should also make strides as a team defender. For example, her failure to help the helper here from the wing concedes an easy lay-up.
After a full review, it seems like Laksa has a lot of weaknesses. However, the tremendous value of her extremely versatile shooting profile cannot be understated. Shooting specialists have succeeded in the WNBA before. In addition to the aforementioned Whitcomb, Shekinna Stricklen and Rebecca Allen have brought considerable value in recent years while playing the forward positions. The ability to keep moving and always be available to shoot a high-percentage three is a massive boon to an offense. In addition, the bigger the player who can provide shooting is, the more ballhandlers can play alongside her, further enhancing the flow of the offense. Especially if she joins a team with smart rim protectors, Kitija Laksa can contribute to a WNBA rotation. If she can expand her off-the-dribble repertoire beyond the three-point line, clean up some of the low-hanging fruit on defense, or improve her finishing ability, she can do a fair bit more than contribute.