In praise of point guards — the best playmakers in the WNBA

 
 

What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you? For me, the answer is easy: “You have the heart of a point guard.” The friend who said that to me might as well have told me I looked exactly like Jennifer Beals. I was on the highest peak of Cloud Nine.

To me, a point guard is the nucleus of a basketball team. Shooting guards may score more and centers may have showy dunks and blocks, but the PG runs the show. Her job is to see everything that is happening on the floor and get the ball to the teammate who’s in the best position to score — or make the shot herself. She has to think on her feet and trust her instincts. And she has to maintain control no matter what happens. 

In many cases, the point guard is the shortest player on the court. She has to be quick and fearless against taller players — and she often ends up sprawled out on the court after a hard play. But she gets up and goes after the ball, undaunted. 

Among legendary players, Nancy Lieberman best personifies the position and, in fact, is namesake of the annual award for the best point guard in women’s division 1 basketball. 

Whatever you think of Lieberman off the court, her ball handling, play making and leadership skills on the court are indisputable. In fact, if you ever get an opportunity to see her coach at any level, take it. Her ability to see everything that happens in each and every play is incredible. 

This year’s recipient of the Nancy Lieberman Award — and the newest member of Team USA — is former Gonzanga PG Courtney Vandersloot, now with the Chicago Sky. 

Vandersloot was the first NCAA Div.1 player, male or female, to reach more than 2,000 points and 1,000 assists in her college career. And her WNBA career looks to be even more impressive. Sue Bird describes Vandersloot as a rare “pure point guard.”

“There’s just not a lot of point guards in the world,” Bird told the Seattle Times. “Each team will have a point guard on their team. But there might not be a backup point guard. There might be a two-guard who can dribble the ball that they make into a point guard. This is all over the world … It’s something that our national team deals with a little bit. I think with Courtney Vandersloot, you finally see another point guard coming through.”

Bird should know. She won the Nancy Lieberman Award three years in a row at UConn and is a joy to watch as she runs the floor for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm. (Yes, she’s flashing an “L.” Ahem.)

This year has been a challenge, though, because Lauren Jackson‘s injury has forced Bird to take on more scoring responsibility for the Storm. She’s performing admirably with a career-high scoring average of 15.5 points per game (and may even end up as league MVP) but “pure” point guard skills have been less evident — and less important — given the team’s challenges.

To see the difference a good point guard can make, look no further than the Minnesota Lynx and Lindsay Whalen

This season Whalen is averaging 15.8 points and seven assists per game (before the weekend). Her shots from the perimeter are gorgeous. But she’s not a flashy player, so you often have to watch closely to see just how good she is at putting together plays. Sometimes a pass to an unexpected player looks so simple that you don’t realize until later how brilliant it was. Flame me if you must, but I’m going to say it: Lindsay Whalen is the best point guard in the WNBA right now. 

Ticha Penicheiro, one of the best point guards ever, is having an interesting season in L.A. Known as a “pass first” PG, she has usually only taken a shot when she sees no other option.

Recently, though, Penicheiro has taken the lead in bringing the Sparks out of a slump. A few weeks ago, she helped break a losing streak by scoring 18 off the bench with 4 assists. Against Minnesota Sunday, she had 16 points and 7 assists. But whether scoring or not, she is unmatched in distribution efficiency — and makes the rest of the Sparks team better. Plus, since she’s taller than most point guards, Penicheiro is able to defend the ball in away other PGs can’t. 

According to some, Becky Hammon isn’t a “real” point guard. But she plays the role much of the time for San Antonio and when she does, she changes the floor. She can set up plays and drive to the basket — and when she starts hitting threes, the other team might as well pack up and go home. 

As of today, Hammon leads the league in assists and treys per game. Whatever you choose to call her, she’s one of the hardest working players in the WNBA – and one of its best playmakers.

This list is completely arbitrary and, obviously, a lot of fine point guards are missing. So, tell us who your favorite point guard is. Better yet, find a shot of her in action and share it with us. Nothing is quite as hot as a playmaker making a play.

If you’d like to see some of these point guards play in person, register for the AfterEllen.com’s Score Your Seats Sweepstakes for a chance to win a trip for two to Game 3 of the WNBA Finals!

 
 

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