Fantasy Basketball

NCAAW: Khayla Pointer of LSU Tigers bet on herself as WNBA prospect

When LSU point guard Khayla Pointer decided to exercise her extra year of eligibility (granted by the NCAA amidst the COVID-19 pandemic) and return to the Tigers for a fifth season, she was essentially betting on herself to improve enough to get drafted higher in the 2022 WNBA Draft than she would have in 2021. The WNBA has been a goal for Pointer for a long time — she admires Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker, in particular — and while she had already had an impressive career at LSU, a strong graduate season would put her in a better position to realize that dream.

We’ll never know where Pointer would have been drafted had she decided to leave LSU in 2021, but one thing is for sure: She’s playing the best ball of her collegiate career as a graduate student, and it’s coincided with an unexpectedly successful Tigers season that has LSU back in the thick of things in one of Division I’s strongest conferences.

Pointer, a 5-foot-7 guard from Marietta, Ga., was originally recruited to play for LSU by her aunt, Nikki Fargas. Fargas has since moved on, now working with the Las Vegas Aces as team president. Her successor is, of course, former Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey, who has quite a few positive things to say about Pointer:

“She’s one of the premier, elite guards in the country. What is it that she cannot do that makes somebody better than her?”

That’s awfully high praise, but Mulkey has a point. Pointer’s game has become more and more well-rounded over the years. She contributes in nearly every column of the box score and her statistical resume speaks for itself. Let’s take a look at some of those statistics and what Pointer has been doing to assert herself as a WNBA Draft prospect.

Honors and statistics

Pointer was ranked by ESPN HoopGurlz as the No. 70 overall recruit in the class of 2017, as well as the No. 15 point guard. She was named an honorable mention All-American by MaxPreps and All-State by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution four times.

At LSU, Pointer was a full-time starter by her sophomore season. She’s averaged double-digit scoring in every season since 2018-19 — that figure rising steadily from 12.5 as a sophomore to 14.8 as a junior, 16.9 as a senior and 18.7 as a graduate student — and she has also averaged at least four rebounds and four assists per game for the last three-plus seasons. Pointer was named to the All-SEC First Team and All-SEC Defensive Team following her senior season, and was subsequently named to the Preseason All-SEC Team prior to the 2021-22 season.

How she helps the Tigers

An athletic and aggressive lead guard, Pointer is relentless in attacking the basket.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Pointer’s main strength as a point guard has always been getting into the paint. She’s one of the faster players with the ball in her hands in the 2022 WNBA Draft class and she’s capable of starting a fast break by herself with her end-to-end speed and ball handling ability.

In this respect, Pointer is an ideal Mulkey point guard. Mulkey has had success getting the most out of athletic, two-way guards who can defend the point of attack and push the basketball after defensive stops — Te’a Cooper, Chloe Jackson and DiDi Richards are just a few recent examples — and thus far, she’s doing the same with Pointer. LSU’s transition frequency as a team has increased from 16.4 percent last season to 19.9 percent this season (Synergy Sports), with Pointer’s individual transition frequency rising from 18 percent to 23.4 percent — not an outlandish figure, but still representative of how many extra easy possessions she can generate in a pace-dependent offensive system.

The half court, however, is where Pointer has improved significantly. She gets to the rim with regularity, shooting 60.5 percent there, and has ranked in the 90th percentile or better in free throws attempted per 40 minutes in every season (Her Hoop Stats). But her 3-point shot is just beginning to catch up with her effectiveness off the bounce. Pointer is currently shooting a career-high 37.3 percent from long distance, and her off-dribble game, once a weakness, has gradually become more reliable.

“She has a mid-range shot now,” teammate Jailin Cherry said of Pointer’s game. “She always had the floater but now she can stop and pop. Not many guards can do that.”

With Pointer’s scoring skills starting to match her effort level and physical gifts, she’s posting some impressive stat lines. She recorded a triple-double of 16 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists in LSU’s opening-day victory over Nicholls, and earlier this month she became the first player in LSU history to hit career totals of at least 1,500 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists.

“She doesn’t have to do it all and she still gets her numbers,” Mulkey said of Pointer’s stat-stuffing. “She gets it within the team concept.”

That team concept has been a successful one for Mulkey and the Tigers, and it’s perhaps the strongest indictment of Pointer’s improvement as the team’s point guard. LSU is currently 17-4 on the season (5-3 in SEC play) — already eclipsing two of its previous three win totals — and weighs in at No. 12 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. While Mulkey has praised Pointer’s team-first approach, she’s also said that recognition comes with winning — and as a key cog in LSU’s recent rise, Pointer is finally getting her due.

Watch her play

There are still plenty of interesting matchups remaining on LSU’s regular-season schedule, beginning with a Jan. 30 home game against Rhyne Howard and the Kentucky Wildcats (SEC Network). Games against the No. 24 Ole Miss Rebels (Feb. 7; SEC Network) and No. 15 Georgia Bulldogs (Feb. 10; SEC Network) should also be circled on your calendar. Finally, the Tigers will take on the No. 4 Tennessee Lady Volunteers on Feb. 27 in their final game of the regular season, which will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.

All statistics and team records for the 2021-22 NCAA season are current through Jan. 28, 2022.

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