Top 20: Diana Taurasi, no. 1
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. 1 – Diana Taurasi
Mykael Wright, an Arizona resident, has always been a fan of men’s basketball.
Growing up just outside of St. Louis, Wright didn’t necessarily follow a specific college or professional team but anytime hoops were on television, he’d be watching. However, it wasn’t until Wright attended a Phoenix Mercury game a few years back (and saw Diana Taurasi first-hand) that he truly started respecting women’s basketball.
Below, Wright was kind enough to share his unique, personal story on how seeing Diana Taurasi play helped him become a fan (and eventual coach) of the women’s game.
I grew up loving all sports. I’d watch football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the summer. I loved the competition, camaraderie, and really looked up to athletes growing up.
As a kid, my favorite thing about basketball was the dunks. Though, after I could dunk myself it wasn’t as big of a deal. Even though I grew up in the Jordan era, I never really liked the Bulls. Ironically, Scottie Pippen was one of my favorite players; I didn’t think I could grow up to be MJ, but I thought I could pull off Pippen (not so much, but a kid can dream right?). I loved Magic Johnson, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill and Jalen Rose because they were big guards/point forwards. Being tall (I’m 6’6″ now) I always had coaches yell at me to go to the post even though I thought I was the best passer on my teams. Those guys were taller, but got to handle the rock and play on the perimeter some, so I loved their game.
I actually first became interested in the WNBA by accident. During my freshman year in high school we would scrimmage the varsity girls sometimes. We killed them. I kind of wrote off women’s hoops for a while after that because, if I’m honest, at that time I didn’t really think the competition was that great. I went to the games to support my friends in high school but rarely did I see a lot of girls that, at the time, I thought were legit hoopers.
I read something by Arizona Republic columnist, Paola Boivin, when I first moved to the Valley around 2003 that opened my eyes a bit. In her article, she talked about not comparing the men’s game to the women’s and that changed my perspective. I maybe went to one or two games before Diana Taurasi got to Phoenix but I had previously watched her play on television when she was at UConn and thought she was a baller.
So, when the Mercury drafted her, I figured I should go check her out. Looking back, her being here (on the Phoenix Mercury) was the tipping point in me becoming a fan of women’s basketball.
I was fortunate enough to receive courtside tickets to a Mercury game and that totally and completely changed my perspective. Diana Taurasi is amazing. She’s not a good basketball player for a female; she’s a good basketball player for a human being. People talk about MJ being the greatest ever, and I don’t pretend to be an expert on women’s basketball, but if someone told me Diana Taurasi was the greatest ever I’d certainly believe them. I know Cheryl Miller was great, and I’ve heard about/seen Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes, and Lisa Leslie but seeing Taurasi live is different.
First, I love the way she talks trash; she jaws the whole game. Secondly, the game just seems effortless when she plays. It’s like she was literally born to play basketball. It was more than just Taurasi though; from top to bottom, all the women out there were athletic. The skill level was high and everyone did the basic fundamentals of the game better than a lot of dudes I’ve seen.
I’ll never disrespect the league again. Last year, I actually coached the girls basketball team at the school I teach at. Through that experience of seeing how good they were, how they played with so much heart, and ultimately winning the championship has helped me become less chauvinistic.
The change from basically blowing it off to being thoroughly impressed of the women’s game was obviously a a major one. I never thought I’d enjoy a WNBA game so much. I have three step-daughters and it’s cool they can see professional athletes compete at that level. Furthermore, when my soon-to-be one-year-old son gets older I want him to be able to see and understand that too.
Basketball is basketball, and I love the game. Thanks to Diana Taurasi, I’m now of fan of women’s basketball.
- Mykael Wright
I hear stories like this all the time about Diana Taurasi. There is, perhaps, no other player in the history of the WNBA who has generated so much crossover appeal. Like Mykael, there are thousands of individuals who actually started to follow the WNBA because of the way Diana Taurasi plays.
Think about that for a moment…
In a league burdened by preconceived notions and unfair gender stereotypes, Diana Taurasi has managed to break the mold time and time again.
Because of her popularity, Taurasi, like Kobe Bryant, is a polarizing figure; seemingly, you either love her or hate her. You love her because of her immense passion for the game and you hate her because she is so damn good. That comes with the territory and is the mark of a true champion. Taurasi, more than anyone, understands this sentiment and, like Kobe Bryant, accepts it.
Taurasi recently told me she hasn’t felt truly healthy heading into a WNBA season since her rookie year in 2004. Last year, in 2010, she led the league in scoring in spite of playing the entire season with a severe injury to her shooting hand.
To put that into some context, let’s examine what she has accomplished in the league to date.
- Mercury all-time franchise leader in 16 categories: seasons (seven), games played (229), minutes played (7,453), points scored (4,731), scoring average (20.7), field goals made (1,558), field goal attempts (3,568), three-pointers (582), three-point attempts (1,586), free throws made (1,033), free throw attempts (247), rebounds (1,026), defensive rebounds (877), assists (934), steals (288), blocks (222)
- Became the fastest player in WNBA history to record 4,500 points, 1,000 rebounds and 900 assists (224 games)
- Became the fastest player in league history to eclipse 4,000 career points (197 games)
- Became the first player in league history to record 500 or more points in each of her first five seasons… has scored 500 or more points in each of her seven WNBA seasons, the longest streak by any player in league history
- The only player in WNBA history to score 600 or more points in five consecutive seasons (2006-2010)
- Only player in WNBA history to record 800 points in a season… has done so twice (860 in 2006, 820 in 2008)
- Owns league scoring records for scoring average in a season (25.3 ppg), points in a season (860), and shares single-game record (47)
- Owns the WNBA record for most consecutive games with at least one made three-pointer (55 games)
- Second player all-time to record multiple 40-point games in the same season (2006; Smith)… Has most career 40-point games in WNBA history (three)
- Five career back-to-back 30-point performances, most in WNBA history (one in 2008, two in 2006, two in 2010)
- 31 career 30-point efforts, most in WNBA history
- Scored 20 or more points in a WNBA-record 13 consecutive games (final 12 of 2006, first game of 2007)
Imagine what she could do when fully healthy in 2011…
Ultimately, what makes Taurasi the No. 1 player is so much more than just gaudy statistics. For further insight, I’ve asked several of her fellow competitors and colleagues to weigh in:
Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns: “Diana is one of the most talented and charismatic basketball players there is. She’s a champion, she’s a MVP, she makes her teammates better, she can take over games and basically anything you ask of her. She’s one of the all-time greats.”
Sylvia Fowles, Chicago Sky: “What makes Diana great is her knowledge of the game and bottom line, if not one way it’ll be another — she knows she can beat you.”
Swin Cash, Seattle Storm: “Diana is the ultimate competitor. Everyone knows about her incredible stroke beyond the three-point line but the one attribute I always admired most was her court-vision. I learned at UConn to always be ready for her passes even when she’s not looking at you.”
Becky Hammon, San Antonio Silver Stars: “Best player in the world. Top 5 all-time. ‘Nuff said.”
Tina Thompson, Los Angeles Sparks: “She is currently the best player in the game. We have shared so many meaningful basketball and personal moments together. She is one of my son’s best friends and I care for Diana the person, not just the basketball player. These words are for her: I am here whenever and however you need me D-Money.”
Delisha Milton-Jones, Los Angeles Sparks: “Diana is like a bull in a fine china closet; destruction is definitely inevitable. She’s that player that will either be a dream come true for you if she is your teammate or a freakin’ nightmare if you are the opponent. She has the confidence of Kobe [Bryant] and the unselfishness of [Steve] Nash. It is both a challenge and an honor when guarding her.”
Sue Bird, Seattle Storm: “People always ask who the best player in the world is. Diana is the first person I think of and it isn’t because of her ability to score, although she still leaves me in awe at times. And it isn’t even because of her shot-blocking or passing. What people don’t see is Dee’s ability to bring out the best in the people around her and give her teammates a confidence they never knew they had. Her flair for life is infectious both on and off the court and it is why she is so successful.”
For everyone who has taken the time to read and comment on the first-ever SLAMonline WNBA Top 20 list over the past five months, thank you.