After being drafted in 12th position at the 2021 WNBA draft, Iliana Rupert will finally be able to start her WNBA career this season. Because of a long season with almost no breaks, the 20 years old 6’4″ center has not been able to play with the Aces last season has she obviously made the choice of playing with her national team throughout last summer. With almost no breaks after the Olympics, she started the 2021/2022 season with her team, Tango Bourges Basket. 2 months ago, they won the Women’s EuroCup with Rupert being elected Final Four MVP. Yet, this season is not over for her as she still have to play the French League finals (they qualified themselves for the finals yesterday after beating their opponent 2 games to 1 in semi-finals). Once she’ll be done with the finals, she’ll finally be able to fly to Vegas in order to join the Aces team. A bit more than a year after being drafted, it’s finally time for Iliana to play her very first WNBA games. But why are we expecting her so much ? And what she’ll be able to bring to this Aces team ? Well this is what I’m going to talk about.
First of all let’s talk about her. Iliana Rupert is the future of women French basketball. She’s a skilled and agile 6’4″ center who already won a bunch of trophies. Among the most important ones : a gold medal at the U16 Eurobasket with the French team in 2016, a bronze medal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and more recently, regular season MVP in the French league and Eurocup champion AND Final Four MVP. At only 21 years old, she already has a wide range of skills but also a lot of experience.
So how good is she ? Her statistics from this season might help you to understand why…
Despite being a center, Iliana Rupert is a skilled and agile player. She can set picks, she can shoots in the paint as she has the post moves for it but she can also shoots from the mid-range and from the 3pts line. She’s not taking a lot of these shots (by that understand that she’s rarely forcing those shots), but when she does, she rarely misses. This means that she can score from everywhere on the court. Rupert is not the kind of player who will hesitate to take an open 3pts shot or a mid-range fade away. She knows she can do it so if you let her the occasion to take these shots, she’ll do it. Moreover, her speed makes her a dangerous player during fastbreaks and in transition and as she’s 6’4″, she doesn’t have any issues to finish at the rim. However what I like the most with Rupert is her efficiency. If we look at her statistics, especially in Eurocup, she’s able to score almost 15 points and 7 rebounds in only 24 minutes, with some decent percentages ! This is a huge quality, it means that she can be a threat despite spending less time on the court and not taking a huge amount of shots.
If you want to make your own idea about how good she is, these are her highlights from last year Euroleague season :
So what she’ll be able to bring to the Aces ? First of all let’s have a look a some statistics.
If we look at last year statistics, it’s honestly decent. The team had good percentages both from mid and long distance. Good thing for them, so far this season, these percentages are better than last year. They’re taking less shots, and yet scoring more. However one thing hasn’t changed a lot. The percentages are good, yes, but the shots distribution is quite unequal. Last year, a majority of the Aces 3pts shots were coming from behind the arc as they only attempted 33 shots in the corner. Same for mid-range. Most of the field goal shots were scored in the paint. They attempted 625 mid-range shots but “only” scored 239. So, most of points were coming from either behind the arc or in the paint. This is where Iliana Rupert will be helpful. She can shoot from the mid-range and she can do it well. When Iliana will be on the court, she’ll be able to provide diversity in the Aces game. This means that Las Vegas will have a 3rd offensive weapon, in addition of 3pts and paint scoring. Ultimately, Iliana Rupert can shoot the 3s better than Aja Wilson which is once again, an occasion to play differently, depending on who’s on the court. Finally the ability of Rupert to play in transition and score on fastbreaks will perfectly fit with the Aces game as they like to play fast and no doubt that Becky Hammon will know how to use Rupert in the best way possible. Finally, I think that Rupert will also bring some rebounding as Las Vegas obviously lost some rebounding skills since Liz Cambage is not part of the team anymore.
However and despite everything I said, we don’t need to expect a lot from Iliana this season. First of all because she had a very long season and also because it’s only her first WNBA season. She’ll probably not going to play as much time as she used to in Europe. She’ll need to prove that she can play in the WNBA and she can become more important in this league. Yet, knowing how efficient she is, no doubt she will not need a lot of playing time to produce some good work on the court.