In this week’s continuation of my Prospect Spotlight Series, I’m up to the third rookie selected off the big board. After profiling a pair of Ducks, Sabrina Ionescu and Satou Sabally, we move on to a Bear.
Lauren Cox grew up in Flower Mound, Texas, before heading two hours down I-35 to play college ball at the University of Baylor.
This time, she’s making a bigger move, as her next home will be in the Hoosier state. When the Fever selected Cox third overall, she joined current general manager Tamika Catchings as the only players in franchise history taken at that draft spot.
“We are extremely excited about having Lauren Cox join our organization,” Catchings said. “She does a little bit of everything, which will allow her to play in different positions with different players.”
Cox joins a Fever team that needs her to contribute right away, and she’s getting an opportunity that many 2020 rookies are missing out on.
This week saw a devastating round of cuts across the WNBA, as teams trimmed rosters down to a dozen (or fewer) players so that they could start paying them at the start of June. Eighteen rookies-to-be (i.e. half the 2020 draft class!) were let go, suspended or stashed without even a training camp to prove themselves.
The WNBA has yet to firm up its plans for a potential 2020 season, with Cathy Engelbert saying that, as of now, she’s focusing more on “data” than “dates.” There are signs of hope on the horizon, though, as other sports have begun to publicize their return proposals.
“We’re getting closer to a plan that’s not changing so much,” Engelbert said in a Washington Post article. “I think over the next few weeks, we’ll have more to talk about.”
A BEAR OF A CAREER
This has, indeed, been anything but a normal offseason. Everything has been done virtually—from the draft to the playbook to team meetings. Even Cox’s graduation from Baylor happened remotely.
“It’s kind of a good and bad thing,” she joked. “You don’t have to sit through that long graduation, but again, you don’t get that experience of walking across the stage and being there with your classmates.”
Over the course of her four years at Baylor, Cox averaged 12.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 2.8 apg. She fell just 18 rebounds short of 1,000 for her college career but swatted 301 shots.
In 2018–2019, she became a champion, first knocking out Oregon in the Final Four before topping the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the finals. During that game, Cox injured her knee, leaving in the third quarter with eight points and eight rebounds. Those injury concerns have hung over her since.
Lauren Cox’s impact on the program extended outside the lines, however.
This year, Baylor put on its fourth Type 1 Diabetes Awareness Game. In a terrific article, High Post Hoops’ Christine M. Hopkins reported on this past season’s event. Type 1 diabetes is a condition where the body struggles to produce insulin, which helps create energy.
Cox was seven when she was diagnosed and, with the help of Baylor, has used her platform to raise awareness.
“It can’t stop you from doing whatever you want to do,” she said.
After each of these annual games, she would meet the Type 1 fans that showed out for their role model. This year, Cox and her sister, Whitney—who also has T1D—received the Pat Summitt Award for Courage after they helped put on an exhibition.
As Lauren’s star power continues to rise, she’ll inspire more and more young athletes to push past their diagnoses.
COX’S FIT WITH THE FEVER
Having a frontcourt player that can play within the offense gives the Fever a flexibility most teams don’t have.
Cox has a reputation for being a strong passer. In 2019, she was the only player in the NCAA to average 3.5 assists and 2.0 blocks, showing that versatility on both sides of the court.
This is a young Indiana team. Two-thirds of its roster has been in the league for three years or fewer. But even though the Fever haven’t made the playoffs since 2016, this young core is ready to turn the corner, as noted by Owen Pence in his expansive season preview of Indiana for Winsidr.
Having Cox should help the Fever’s rebounding, and her outlet passing will help to improve the team’s pace.
“In both Erica Wheeler and Kelsey Mitchell, you’ve just named two of probably the fastest players in this league. I was really surprised actually to see they were ninth in pace, because I don’t think it’s indicative of what could be,” said new coach Marianne Stanley. “I’m a person that looks at something and sees possibilities. I’m looking at the pace and going, ‘Man, this can be way better.’”
Indiana has complementary pieces at every level, and Victoria Vivians’ return will help space the floor. Though she missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL, she’ll be back when the season tips off.
During her rookie season, Vivians made 1.9 3s per game (tied for 7th in the league with Maya Moore and Sue Bird) on 39.9 percent shooting (17th in the W).
Cox also has the ability to stretch the floor. Though she made just two of her six attempts from deep her senior season, she attempted 118 over the course of her collegiate career and converted at a 32.2 percent clip.
The reason for that fourth-year drop-off in attempts? She played most of her time at center after 6’7″ Kalani Brown moved on to the W.
THE FUTURE IS BIG
Why is Brown’s height worth mentioning? Because Indiana selected 6’7″ center Teaira McCowan at third last year.
She was a force down low, getting stronger and more comfortable as her rookie season progressed. She also closed out August against three of the WNBA’s larger teams: the Seattle Storm (and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard), the Las Vegas Aces (with the Liz Cambage/A’ja Wilson frontcourt) and the Los Angeles Sparks (anchored by four-time All-Defensive Nneka Ogwumike).
McCowan put up 22-19, 24-17, and 24-10 lines across those contests.
Only eight of McCowan’s 230 field goal attempts came outside the paint last season while more than 60 percent of her makes came off assists. McCowan is a traditional back-to-the-basket, post-up-and-clear-out center. She also likes to dive to the basket, and Cox loves to make that pass to the cutter from the low post.
“It’s gonna be a lot of fun being able to play the 4 position with another big inside,” Cox said to ESPN’s Holly Rowe on draft night. “I showed that could be successful my junior year, so I’m hoping that will translate to the next level.”
Cox is even more of an asset when preventing baskets.
In fact, Synergy Stats shows her as a defensive stalwart. During her senior season, she ranked in the 87th percentile or higher in five defensive categories: post-ups, spot-ups, pick-and-roll (defending the roll), isolation and off screen.
According to Her Hoop Stats, Cox’s block rate was over nine percent in each of her four years at Baylor. Every season, that number put her in the top 50 nationally (with more than 3,000 eligible players in any given year). Twice, Cox was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Her 2.7 blocks per game in 2019–2020 nearly mirrored the 2.6 she put up the year before while playing next to Brown.
Baylor won the title with those two protecting the rim.
SECURING THE REBOUND
A big test for Coach Stanley will be managing the rotation. Adding Lauren Cox to the frontcourt will mean splitting minutes with Natalie Achonwa and Candice Dupree—especially if Cox plays the 4 to pair with McCowan. Luckily, Coach Stanley is coming over from the Washington Mystics, so she’s used to staggering her bigs.
As a team, Indiana ranked fifth in rebounding during 2019, pulling down 35.1 boards per game. McCowan’s 9.0 rpg (second behind the Connecticut Sun’s Jonquel Jones’ 9.7) accounted for more than a quarter of that total.
Nobody else on the Fever cracked the WNBA’s top 30.
|2019 Rebounding Numbers for the Indiana Fever|
|Player||Minutes||Rebounds Per Game||WNBA Rank||Rebound Percentage||WNBA Rank|
|Lauren Cox (NCAA)||30.2||8.4||—||14.5%||—|
Lauren Cox’s senior year rebounding rate of 14.5 percent was the lowest of her four years, but that number would have placed her 15th in the W last season. As noted in the table, McCowan led the league with a 19.5 percent rebounding rate.
Dupree has averaged over 30 minutes per game in all but three of her 14 WNBA seasons. But the aging veteran is turning 36 in August. With her next basket, she’ll move into sole possession of fifth place all-time in scoring (she’s currently in a tie with Katie Smith at 6,452 points).
Though never easy, cutting Dupree’s minutes back or bringing her off the bench will help the Fever.
Last year, only the Liberty had a worse defensive rating than the Fever. If Lauren Cox can be as productive on the floor as she was during her four years at Baylor, Indiana can make a run at the playoffs as soon as this season.
But, even if they’re still a year away, the future is bright for Coach Stanley’s squad.
Myles Ehrlich is a TBW staff writer from Brooklyn, NY. He has been writing since childhood when it passed the time better than rolling scenery and folk CDs on family road trips. He legitimized his passion at New York University and The Writer’s Foundry MFA. His work has been published with Castings, MASH Stories, and flashfictionmagazine.com. When not writing, Myles is usually playing, watching or reading about sports. His east coast WNBA fandom resides with the New York Liberty; his west coast with the Las Vegas Aces.