Cappie Pondexter is Better Than You Think
And she’s already one of the best in the world.
Think you already know how good a player Cappie Pondexter is? Two time All-Star, Olympic gold medalist, WNBA Champion, Finals MVP…
Pondexter has done it all in just three years as a professional. Now in her fourth year with the Phoenix Mercury, she’s out to prove she still has a lot more to accomplish.
The Mercury are off to a hot start in 2009. Only four games into the season they set the record for most points scored in a single game in league history (115). Part of having such a high-powered offense is the inevitable notoriety that comes with the territory—few players and teams could come close to matching what the Mercury do offensively on a nightly basis. Having a successful and effective offense, however, consists of more than just being able to put the ball in the hoop; you need players exactly like Cappie Pondexter—intelligent, unselfish, determined, competitive.
What most people see in the box score are typical aesthetics. Whether it’s total points scored by a team, individual points, or opponent’s total points, it’s the category that is usually looked at first, especially for a team like the Mercury. Unfortunately, many aspects of the offense get overlooked, and this is especially true in Cappie’s case. The amount of times she gets to the free throw line, her exceptional passing ability, and her desire to crash the boards are all aspects of Cappie’s game that have taken a seat next to her scoring ability. Be that as it may, they are no less important.
In short, Cappie is the definition of having the entire package; someone whose greatness shouldn’t be taken for granted.
She is second in the league in FTs made (6.5) and third in FTs attempted (7.5). Now this might not be a stat that immediately jumps out at you, but it’s more important to the Mercury’s success than one might initially think. Cappie’s ability to take virtually any defender off the dribble opens up so much daylight for the Mercury’s offense it’s become absolutely vital to their success. When Cappie penetrates, defenses have no choice but to collapse on her. Cappie is such a great passer (I’ll dive into this more later) that she is able to hit multiple teammates at any given time.
With the amount of scorers and shooters the Mercury have, this asset is invaluable. “When I’m able to get to the line, there is no limit to my game,” Cappie says. “Once I’m in that zone I can pass, rebound, whatever the team needs and it’s hard for anybody to stop me.” Cappie is so good off the dribble that she can also score at will, depending on what the defense gives her. Getting to the line also puts the opposing team in foul trouble, which causes their defense to be more timid and stagnant. It’s like a gold mine for the Mercury.
Perhaps the most underrated part of Cappie’s game is her passing and intelligence. Quite simply, she’s one of the best passers in the league and her court vision is unparalleled. On a team that constantly gets recognition for their offensive prowess, Cappie certainly doesn’t get enough for her ability to find her teammates in the open floor. She’s currently averaging a career-high 5 apg, fifth in league. But passing the rock and getting teammates involved certainly isn’t a new concept to Cappie. “I played a lot of the 1 position in college since we really didn’t have a point guard,” Cappied says. “I look at my role as a scoring point guard. Playing in Europe last year, I was at the point guard position all season which has definitely helped in terms of my passing ability.”
Although she is more known for her ability to score the ball, her foresight and intellect on the court are equally as vital to the Mercury. “When I get in there and see two or three people collapsing, I’m able to dish it off,” Cappie explains, “and that’s something I definitely take pride in.”
What also sets Cappie apart from other guards in the WNBA, is her rebounding. She’s averaging a career-high 4 rpg, which ranks 10th in the league at the guard position. With as far out on the perimeter as she typically plays from the basket in the Mercury’s zone (titled “Rover”), it’s amazing that Pondexter crashes the boards as much as she does. Having this mindset directly correlates with Cappie’s competitive fire and how hard she consistently plays.
Admittedly, basketball isn’t always about stats and accomplishments. Sometimes, it’s more about being a teammate and a part of something greater than yourself. Cappie has embraced her position as a leader for the team. “My role is to be vocal and lead by example on and off the court,” Cappie said. “It’s something I really wanted to focus on; not just connecting with a couple players but everybody, all 11 of us. I’ve been able to communicate better than I have previously and that’s something I’ve really worked on in the off-season. This is the closest I’ve been with my teammates since the championship run. They know they can come to me and I know I can come to them with anything.”
What’s exciting to Cappie is there is the same feeling surrounding the team this year as there was in the 2007 season when they won the championship. “You can always tell a special team by the first day of training camp,” Cappie said. “Even before it [training camp] started we got together for some shooting practice and when it ended, everybody was still down there talking, laughing, going out together; when it’s like that you know you really have something special.”
As I mentioned, Cappie has accomplished more in three years than most players do in their entire career. But that hasn’t left Cappie feeling content and satisfied, not by any stretch of the imagination. I asked Cappie when all is said and done, what do you want to be remembered for? “A heck of a competitor,” Cappie said smiling. “But, also someone who made others around me better. It’s never been about me, it’s always been about my teammates. That’s the biggest thing.” Without a doubt, Cappie is on her way to becoming one of the best guards ever to play in the WNBA.
That’s why, though you might believe she’s great already, she’s even better than you think she is.