Summer Hoops: 15 WNBA-to-NBA Comparisons

I’m tired of feeling like I have to begin every women’s basketball column defending the sport and explaining why I watch women’s basketball. So for that, I’ll just say this: As a man, if you don’t have any deep-seeded problems with women in general, then you shouldn’t have any problems watching, appreciating and – stick with me here – maybe even enjoying women’s basketball.

That isn’t to suggest any man who doesn’t like women’s sports should be labeled a misogynist. But if you’re the type who can’t respect a female athlete’s skill unless she fits your definition of “hot,” you might need to check yourself. Or if you can maintain a simple, “No thanks, I’ll pass” relationship with, say, men’s tennis, but you have to slap a layer of disdain on top of your distaste for women’s sports, there may be some things you need to work on.

So as the NBA Finals gets smaller in the rearview mirror, those looking for a pro basketball fix to carry them through the summer need look no further than the WNBA. The 2014 regular season is just past the halfway point, with the All-Star Game set for July 19 in Phoenix, and the title picture is starting to take shape.

If you’re thinking of diving in but don’t know where to start, here are some WNBA-to-NBA comparisons to give you a basic lay of the land:

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1. Maya Moore is LeBron James – The two-time WNBA champion and leader of the Minnesota Lynx is a small forward on paper, but similar to LeBron, she plays whatever position her team needs on a possession-by-possession basis. Moore is the league’s top scorer (23.7 PPG through Wednesday), but you could strip her highlight reel of everything but her passing and defense and she’d still look like the best all-around player in the game.

2. Diana Taurasi is Kobe Bryant – While she’s no longer in her athletic prime at 32 years old, the Phoenix Mercury shooting guard continues to knock down milestones and re-write record books with her craftiness, superior fundamentals, competitive fire, and more self-confidence than anyone in the league. Taurasi (18 PPG, 5.9 APG) recently became the WNBA’s No. 2 all-time scorer, with 6,546 points through Wednesday.

3. Skylar Diggins is Stephen Curry – If you can get past the marketable face and friendly demeanor, you’ll see a hard-nosed assassin at work. Diggins (21.1 PPG) isn’t the outside shooter Curry is, hitting just 32 percent beyond the arc this season, but the Tulsa Shock point guard is one of the WNBA’s hardest to cover one-on-one. Like Curry, Diggins is one-half of an explosive young backcourt tandem; she and rookie Odyssey Sims are the future of the Shock.

4. Candace Parker is Tim Duncan – Is she a power forward? Is she a center? Does it matter? From the moment the L.A. Sparks lucked out and landed Parker (20.1 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.9 SPG, 1.5 BPG) with the No. 1 pick in 2008, they knew what they had: An offensive and defensive anchor that would keep them among the best teams in the league for the next decade-plus.

5. Danielle Robinson is Jeff Teague – The San Antonio Stars point guard excels in attack mode, when she’s using her quick first step and slight frame (5-9, 125 lbs.) to slip through the smallest of open spaces and score at the rim (13.4 PPG) or create for teammates (5.2 APG).

6. Angel McCoughtry is James Harden – The stats don’t paint the picture of a great shooter or a particularly efficient scorer, and yet McCoughtry (20 PPG) simply pours in points from all over the court. She’s especially good at drawing contact and getting to the free-throw line. McCoughtry usually plays off the ball, but when the Atlanta Dream need a clutch bucket, the play call is usually Give It To Angel And Get Out Of The Way.

7. Cappie Pondexter is Kyrie Irving – The New York Liberty point guard is the closest thing the WNBA has had to Allen Iverson, just as Kyrie is the NBA’s current-day answer to “The Answer.” Pondexter (14.5 PPG) possesses the best handle in the league and routinely makes allegedly impossible circus layups like she actually practices them.

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8. Brittney Griner is Dwight Howard – The most coveted, anticipated sure-thing post player to enter the WNBA since Parker, Griner was a game-changing defender (3.8 BPG) and rebounder (8.5 RPG) from her first day in the league. Now she’s developing her offensive game (15.2 PPG) to match her defensive dominance, and her improvement is apparent in Year 2 as she helps lead Phoenix into title contention.

9. Shoni Schimmel is Rajon Rondo – Check back in a few years and I’d bet Schimmel’s career in Atlanta plays out just like Rondo’s has in Boston. Right now she’s just finding her stride as the precocious young point guard helping the Dream’s standout veterans complete their championship puzzle. But eventually Schimmel will be the leader of her own team and will put on the full display of her skills. Like Rondo, Schimmel doesn’t see the court the same as everyone else.

10. Becky Hammon is Steve Nash – Although she’s nearing the end of the road – before inevitably taking a job in the TV industry – the 37-year-old San Antonio Stars point guard is still a deadly shooter (47 percent from three, 100 percent at the line) who can run an offense effectively and get buckets with her trusty scoop shot.

11. Elena Delle Donne is Kevin Durant – It’s not a matter of if, but when and how many times will Delle Donne (21.2 PPG) lead the WNBA in scoring. The Chicago Sky’s franchise player has missed all but nine games this season due to illness and injury, but when she’s healthy she’s a nightmare for opponents. At 6-5, Delle Donne has the height of a center with the ball-handling and shooting range of a guard.

12. Seimone Augustus is Carmelo Anthony – If you were curious how LeBron and Carmelo would’ve played on the same team, just watch how Augustus (17.2 PPG, 52.6 FG percentage) co-exists with Maya Moore in Minnesota. All they’ve done together is win two championships and turned the Lynx into the WNBA’s marquee attraction. Augustus may be the best pure scorer in the league, with a solid handle, strength in the paint and a sweet shooting touch from the perimeter.

13. Courtney Paris is Al Jefferson – She won’t outrun anybody, but Paris (9.9 PPG, 10.5 RPG) will get her nightly double-double via size, power, more power, and a surprising bit of finesse. The Tulsa Shock center is the WNBA’s leading rebounder through Wednesday.

14. Sue Bird is Tony Parker – All she’s done throughout her career is beat every point guard that has been put in front of her touted as the next great one, while leading the Seattle Storm to two championships along the way. Nothing in particular seems to stand out about Bird’s game (10.6 PPG, 4.3 APG), but every year she manages to stay up there with the best PGs in the league.

15. Nneka Ogwumike & Chiney Ogwumike are Pau Gasol & Marc Gasol – One difference between the Ogwumike sisters and the Gasol brothers is that not everyone predicted both Gasols would be stars on the pro level, whereas the Ogwumikes each came into the WNBA with sky-high expectations. Nneka, a forward with the LA Sparks averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 boards, was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft; Chiney, a forward with the Connecticut Sun putting up 15.4 points and 8.4 boards, was the top pick in the 2014 draft. So far, both sisters are living up to the hype.

What do you think?

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