The Washington State women’s basketball team is off to a hot start in the 2020-2021 season, winning six of its first seven games with the only loss coming narrowly at the hands of a top-10 Oregon Ducks squad. This early success comes as a bit of a surprise, as WSU lost major players from last year’s squad (including all-time leading scorer Borislava Hristova) and were picked to finish 12th in the Pac-12. However, that preseason projection clearly didn’t factor in super freshman guard Charlisse Leger-Walker.
Leger-Walker is joined in the backcourt by her redshirt senior sister Krystal, who is also providing a major impact in her first season after transferring from Northern Colorado. Krystal certainly deserves credit for her role in WSU’s success so far, as do many other Cougs, but for now, I am going to focus on the freshman phenom.
It didn’t take long for Leger-Walker to establish herself as the primary scoring presence for WSU and one of the team's better players. In the first game of the season, a 60-52 victory over UW in Seattle, she took 17 shots and 12 free throws on her way to 20 points. Leger-Walker also added seven rebounds, four steals, three blocks, and three assists.
No better way to endear yourself to Coug fans than taking out the Huskies, and that performance helped her win her first of now three Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors. For the season, she leads the conference at 19.0 points per game.
To assess what the younger Leger-Walker has done so far, I am turning to Her Hoop Stats, which provides basic and advanced statistics for NCAA women’s basketball and the WNBA. It offers many of the tempo-free numbers that I prefer, which is not as easy to find in the women’s game. So, I happily forked over the $20 to support the Her Hoop Stats cause.
Quantifying Leger-Walker’s Impact
Leger-Walker takes her fair share of shots to get to that league-leading scoring total—she leads the conference in taking about 18 field goal attempts per game. So far, her shooting percentages are far from spectacular—48 percent on 2s and 27 percent on 3s, leading to a 42.3 effective field goal percentage. Still, she manages to be efficient with those shooting percentages—her offensive rating is a very good 111.1.
At her high usage rate, that's elite efficiency —29.3 percent of WSU’s possessions end with her while she is on the floor (she is almost always on the floor). So, how is she able to be that efficient without shooting a high percentage? Leger-Walker just doesn’t give the ball away.
Her turnover rate is remarkably low for someone that handles the ball as much as she does. Leger-Walker gives the ball away on just 9.3 percent of her possessions. It’s good for a guard to be in the 15-20 percent range, and many that take as many shots as she does can venture into mid-20 percent. To be so stingy is impressive.
She also creates for her teammates—she boasts a solid 24.1 assist rate (percentage of field goals she assists while on the floor) and logged 10 dimes in a win over Colorado on Sunday. At one point, she assisted all three baskets on a 7-0 run, including this entertaining exchange with her sister (leading to three of Krystal’s career-high 25 points):
Leger-Walker is already an elite high-volume offensive player just seven games into her freshman season. If she ever ticks up that 3-point shooting percentage, watch out. The best thing, though, is that she plays defense too.
Offense is more fun, so it can be hard to get young players to commit to playing defense. Leger-Walker seems to be down with playing hard on both ends. She currently leads the team with a 4.5 percent steal rate, good for 58th nationally. Her 4.3 percent steal rate against conference teams is second-best in the league.
As a 5’10 guard, she also blocks shots—she’s logged six so far this season. Her defensive rebounding rate is solid for someone checking the perimeter as well.
This season will be a grueling one for the Cougs—they have embarked on a 22-game conference schedule in the NCAA’s toughest league. However, if Leger-Walker can keep this up, WSU can threaten for its first NCAA tournament berth since 1991.
Getting to the postseason would certainly help Leger-Walker on a personal level—at her current scoring average, she would need 27 games to break Hristova’s freshman points record. If she continues to take care of the ball to stay efficient while shooting at volume, that is very much a possibility.