Top 20: Sue Bird, no. 6
The definitive ranking of the WNBA’s best players.
Some of you won’t care, and we’re about 99 percent positive we’ll get a few of the traditional “what is the WNBA?” comments we usually do. But this is long overdue – SLAMonline’s first ever in-depth player rankings for the WNBA.
Why just the top 20 and not the top 50? Simple. There are 18 fewer teams in the WNBA than the NBA and roster sizes are limited to 11 players. Thus, the NBA has hundreds of more players than the WNBA does – and this list needs and deserves to be competitive.
This list is based solely on projected performance in the 2011 season. Traditional player statistics are taken into account but being a successful and effective player in The W is so much more than that. It’s what each player means to the team – in terms of responsibility, leadership, management and all-around game.
We know you’ll see players you think should be on the list but aren’t. Conversely, you’ll also see players on the list that you’ll vehemently disagree with. Maybe you agree with the entire top 20. Just be sure to let us know in the comment section.
Also, check out Ben’s weekly podcast at WNBA.com.– Ed.
No. 6 – Sue Bird
“Sue doesn’t realize how good she is. She could average 25 a night, but she’s in it to make others better.”
– Diana Taurasi
A few months ago, I was in a small coffee shop in downtown Phoenix figuring out the best way to format Sue’s bio for her official website. As a starting point, I began jotting down all of the accolades she has attained over the course of her collegiate and professional career.
This was more of a daunting task than I originally anticipated because…well…read for yourself:
- 2010 WNBA Champion, All-WNBA Second Team
– 2009 WNBA All-Star Selection, Most Valuable Point Guard, Ekaterinburg International Invitational, WNBA Peak Performer Award – Assists
– 2008 All-WNBA Second Team, 3rd in MVP voting, USA Gold Medal Beijing
– 2007 WNBA All-Star Selection
– 2006 WNBA All-Star Selection, WNBA All-Decade Team
– 2005 WNBA All-Star Selection, All-WNBA First Team
– 2004 WNBA WNBA Champion and All-Star Selection, All-WNBA First Team, USA Gold Medal – Athens
– 2003 WNBA All-Star Selection, All-WNBA First Team
– 2002 Nancy Lieberman Award, National Championship, Naismith Award, Wade Trophy, Lowes Senior CLASS Award, Sportswoman of the Year, Big East Conference Women’s Basketball Player of the Year, No.1 Pick in 2002 WNBA Draft, All-WNBA First Team, WNBA All-Star, WNBA Rookie of the Year
– 2001 Nancy Lieberman Award
– 2000 Nancy Lieberman Award, National Championship
– 1998 WBCA All-American
Quite a list of accomplishments, eh? To have that successful of a career, in college and as a pro, is extraordinary and something very few players would be able to match.
Then, after finishing the list, I had something of an epiphany – Sue Bird, in spite of all those accolades, is one of the most underrated players in the WNBA.
Yes, you read that sentence correctly. No, I’m not crazy (in spite of what many of you think).
In fact, you could make a legitimate and convincing case for Sue Bird to be no.1 on this list; she is that good. Still, Bird doesn’t come close to getting the recognition she deserves in the media or in the public eye. Don’t get me wrong; she is loved all across the country but her sweet demeanor often overshadows how amazing of a basketball player she is.
I could go on and on about her efficiency and assist-to-turnover ratio (which rival the best in the league) but rather than get into a bunch of monotonous stats, I’d like to focus on exactly what separates Bird from other point guards. Like Steve Nash in the NBA, Bird knows precisely when to set up a teammate for a shot if they are struggling (in order to help boost their confidence), when to take over a game offensively (Bird, like Taurasi said, could average over 20 points a game if she wanted to or if the Storm needed her to), and when to push (or not push) the ball on offense.
She has a feel for the game that cannot be taught. She sees two or three plays ahead of time in her head and understands where to direct her teammates in order to get the best possible shot. As any player and point guard will tell you, that is so much easier said than done. Bird is, perhaps, the best player in WNBA history in terms of anticipating where the next pass should go and facilitating the offense to get to that point.
Sue isn’t overly flashy on the court and I think that is a big reason why she gets overlooked as one of the best players in the league. Again, like Steve Nash, there’s a beauty in Bird’s game that leaves you shaking your head in amazement. She knows exactly what angles to exploit on the court and can shred opposing defenses with pin-point accuracy.
She won’t dazzle you with a ton of behind-the-back passes or put on a dribbling exhibition, but she could teach a class on the best way to make an entry pass or lead a successful fast break. That’s what makes Sue’s game so remarkable – she plays basketball exactly how it was meant to be played.
In a culture where the fundamentals of basketball are often taken for granted, Bird has continually demonstrated why that shouldn’t be the case. For young women learning how to play the game, Bird is the quintessential model both on and off the court.
While we all know how great of a person she is, let’s give her a bit more credit for what she has done for the Storm (and the WNBA in general) as a player.
She doesn’t want it, but she deserves it.