The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, May 6, 2020

I mean, if we're doing Diana Taurasi comps... it's Kobe — Seimone Augustus talks Sparks — Must-click women's basketball links

Hi! Howard Megdal here. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. In this moment, freelance budgets are being cut, reporters are losing their jobs. Women’s sports always bears the brunt of that first.

Continue reading with a subscription to The IX

Get unlimited access to our exclusive coverage of a varitety of women’s sports, including our premium newsletter by subscribing today!

Join today

We’re here for you. And we are so thankful you, our subscribers, have been here for us. Let’s keep growing together! Tell a friend. Forward this offer along. If you’re on our free list, consider becoming a paid member and get all five women’s sports we cover every single weekday. Or become a founding member, and supercharge our move toward longer-term goals to expand our coverage. And thank you for making sure that whatever happens next, women’s sports coverage always has a home.

Not Magic, Not Like Mike, Like Kobe

Instagram star Sue Bird, who could also be found on the basketball court back in the Great Before, took up the conversation with Geno Auriemma Tuesday night on who from the NBA is Diana Taurasi’s best comp.

Bird compared her to Magic Johnson in terms of how she plays, but Michael Jordan in terms of her will to win. Now, leaving aside how often we hear that (a disservice to Magic, who won plenty, and was willing to play center in an NBA Finals to make it happen), I don’t really understand why these are the comps.

Because clearly to me, and it’s not close, the Diana Taurasi figure in NBA history is Kobe Bryant. (Here’s where I stipulate that the argument we shouldn’t compare women’s players to men’s players is incomplete. We shouldn’t ONLY compare women’s players to men’s players, and I think the beautiful thing about the game of basketball is that it can go in both directions. One of these days I’ll give you my Chris Paul-Briann January comp. The best Lauri Markkanen comp, by far, is Emma Meesseman. So the real goal should be, I believe, making sure it goes both ways, not segregating comps. But I digress.)

Let’s start with on-court game. Taurasi’s offensive profile is far closer to Bryant than Jordan or Johnson. She’s an excellent passer, but how often she chose to shoot, rather than pass, more closely mimics Bryant — Magic’s career assist percentage was 40.9%, Bryant’s 24.2%, Taurasi’s 25.6%. (Jordan’s, by the way, was 24.9%.)

But the shape of their games — how and where they got their shots, attacking the basket, when they took threes — reinforces how Taurasi is a Kobe-like player.

Let’s take 2009. Diana Taurasi took 22.3 percent of her field goal attempts at the rim. She attempted 6.3 threes per game that season — Kobe, in the year he first won the scoring title, 2005-06, averaged 6.5 threes per game. Neither Michael not Magic approached anything like this split between at the rim and beyond the arc.

Take a look: they both got theirs in the same areas of the floor.

Part of that discrepancy in threes vs. midrange is just a question of era, probably, with far more threes going up in the mid-00s than in the 1980s and 1990s. But part of it was that Taurasi is a better shooter from distance than, frankly, any of them: 36.7 percent to Kobe’s 32.9 percent, Michael’s 32.7 percent, Magic’s 30.3 percent.

Taurasi’s overall true shooting percentage ranks second of the four, ahead of Bryant (it helped that Taurasi embraced the analytics of the three earlier in her career than Kobe did) and Jordan and behind Magic. Even that reflects the ways in which Taurasi, at 6’, is around the median height for the WNBA for most of her career, like Kobe at 6’6, but distinctly NOT Magic, getting open looks above those defending him since he was a 6’9 point guard.

If you want to argue that Taurasi was a more efficient version of Kobe, I’m not going to disagree.

But I’ve saved the most obvious part of the comparison for last: Diana Taurasi is a villain. A villain! I don’t mean this as an insult, it is the highest possible praise I could give her (and she’s agreed with me when I’ve asked her about it). Diana Taurasi comes into opposing arenas, the more fully-packed the better (I know, I know, I miss it too) and she destroys the will of the opposition and drinks the nectar of road fans’ tears.

I had the privilege of covering her when she did this, three years in a row — first at Madison Square Garden in 2016, then in back-to-back seasons at Mohegan Sun in 2017 and 2018. There are so many stats you can cite when discussing Diana Taurasi’s greatness, but the one that will live with me forever is her record in playoff road elimination games: 13-1. The lone blemish, of course, coming from her best friend Sue Bird’s Taurasi-like performance in Game 5 of the 2018 WNBA semis.

At the risk of oversimplifying: Magic Johnson loved winning. Michael Jordan was obsessed with winning. Kobe Bryant lived to beat you. That’s Diana Taurasi.

So just as not a day goes by when I don’t think about how proper promotion and equitable media coverage for the WNBA would have turned Diana Taurasi into the transformative figure for the league a generation ago, you’ll never convince me that Taurasi was the Magic Johnson of the W. Not even Sue Bird can convince me of that.

Taurasi was, and is, the Kobe of the W (or Kobe is the DT of the NBA, how I think of it, anyway). Kobe is gone, and that carries with it its own tragic implications for, among many others, the world of women’s basketball.

But thankfully, Diana Taurasi is still here, and even better, still playing. And it will be one of the greatest joys for us all, when this global pandemic is behind us, to go experience that once again.

This Week in Women’s Basketball

PJ Brown details Madison Conner’s rise to Arizona (and her sister’s compromise).

Robyn Brown of the Connecticut Sun interviews Natisha Hiedeman.

This is a lovely Eric Nemchocke piece that captures so much of the WNBA fan experience.

Ben Dull has a basketball newsletter!

WInsidr conducted an all-time WNBA Draft.

Don’t miss Jenn Hatfield on Hanna Hall.

Terrific piece from Mitchell Northam on the winding path Tim Taylor took to the Navy job.

Bria Felicien catches up with Joni Taylor.

Madeline Kenney details how the Chicago Sky are staying ready.

The Atlanta Dream look dangerous now.

Matt Ellentuck breaks down the Sue Bird-Diana Taurasi Instagram show.

Elena Delle Donne is a Youtube star now.

Brendon Kleen explains why Las Vegas is the best choice for a quarantined WNBA season.

Kerith Burke and Logan Murdock did a podcast with Sue Bird, and it is amazing.

Briann January has some food thoughts.

Gonzaga is going to be good next season, too.

Great Brian Hamilton deep dive on Ruthy Hebard.

PJ Brown has your two-sport Arizona update.

Gabe Ibrahim explains why it is a bad year to be a second-round pick.

Greg Esposito is excited about the Phoenix Mercury.

And Chiney Ogwumike is reviewing “The Last Dance”.

Tweet of the Week

Five at The IX: Seimone Augustus, Los Angeles Sparks

(Yes, Seimone chatted with media recently about her transition west. No, I’m not emotionally prepared to see her in a Sparks jersey.)

Mirjam Swanson, LA Daily News: You mentioned on your Instagram Live, shortly after you signed with the sparks, that you needed a minute to wrap your mind around being teammates with players that you’ve been opponents and rivals with for so long, and that training camp and preseason were going to be important in that regard. Obviously that’s not happening yet, so where are you mentally with the idea of being teammates with girls you’ve been going up against for so long?

Seimone: It took a couple weeks to get over the idea of playing with players like you said, that we’ve had intense rivalries, intense games with, but I think it was most important for my family. It was hard for them to transition their mind from me going from Minnesota to Los Angeles, but they’ve had reassurance from family members about flying out, going to games, things like that. They’ve become comfortable, which made me more comfortable with the decision and being able to play with these ladies. Once I got into my mind that I’m going to have the chance to play with Nneka Ogwumike, Candace, Chelsea, Kristi, all players that have won at the highest level that we’ve competed against. I know what it feels like to be around and play with great players so just the feeling of being able to experience that once again is what’s keeping me focused on not the rivalries and the past tensions, but the possibilities of the future.

Mechelle Voepel, ESPN: With everything that’s happened, what are some things you’ve been doing to stay in shape and be ready for the season? Do you think it’s a benefit that you’re such a veteran that you’ve been through a lot, because there’s so much unknown, including when the season may start. Does being a veteran help you be ready for anything basically?

Seimone: Yes, I think so. We prepare like any other season as far as vets, our mindset is the same. As we get older, obviously we focus on our nutrition, doing the proper workouts to make sure we aren’t beating up our bodies so when we do enter training camp, we’re kind of exhausted because we’ve been overextending ourselves. As a vet I feel like we have that bit of an edge. As far as workouts for me, it’s mainly therapy, rehab, and just continuing to build on strengthening and conditioning to get my quads and my knees able to hold myself, and not have random swell ups and things that I’ve experienced in the past. As well as my nutritional part of it is eating right and trying to keep my weight down during the quarantine which is very tough, because you’re just in the house kind of going about it, 2-3 hours a day just sitting in the house and then I leave for a workout and come back. So I try to get at least two workouts in to try to deal with the fact that we’re probably eating a little more than we normally do.

Thuc Nhi Nguyen, LA Times: You were just talking about workouts, what opportunities do you have to work out, there are no gyms right now, what’s your workout situation looking like? What equipment do you have, what do you use to be able to work out right now?

Seimone: I actually have a full gym, so I’m okay. I have treadmills, a little turf that’s about 20 yards that I can actually try to sprint with, a vertimax, anything you can probably think of that’s in a normal gym I have it in my gym. I’m basically working with the LSU Strength and Conditioning Coach like via ‘Bridge’ its like an app, and he posts all the workouts that he wants me to do and I just go into my gym and get it done.

Howard Megdal, High Post Hoops: I was hoping to get your take on when you think back, and you’ve shared a lot about your decision-making, do you feel like there was a breaking point or a moment where you made a decision to change your path from staying in Minnesota to going to LA. Is there something that sticks out as a definitive moment for you?

Seimone: No. Like I said before, negotiations didn’t go as I expected. It brought up the idea of okay, I understand where they are as an organization, and where I’m at as a player, and it’s hard to try to rebuild and also honor and do the right things by a player that’s been there so long. And then me, I’m thinking end of the road, just want to go out with a bang. Unfortunately we couldn’t come to an agreement on that, so it came to opening the door to see what was out there. Honestly I didn’t believe that anyone would bite, but LA did. They were one of the first ones that bit on the opportunity for me to come to LA. After speaking with [Coach Fisher] and Michael [Fisher], they were like we’ve been looking for a big guard, but we didn’t even think that you were an option because of the love and the loyalty that I’ve had with Minnesota. Once we started talking, it felt comfortable. It felt genuine, it felt true. Just speaking with [Derek Fisher], and speaking with Michael [Fisher] as far as the role and where the team’s going, and just knowing the players that I was going to have around me, it really brought an ease to me; a comfort. I felt right about if I had to make that decision to come, this possibly would be the place that I would be.

Howard Megdal: Given the new CBA, given that there’s more freedom of movement, how significant do you think that is not just for you, but for players who are able to chart their own paths now in a more significant way going forward?

Seimone: Like you said, there’s freedom of movement. This was the most movement that I think I’ve ever experienced in 14 years of seeing free agents. Players were ready to move, but were locked in contractually for a little bit longer than they wanted to be, or whatever it was. Now with the new CBA, you’ve got the movement that players were waiting for. They wanted to team up with different teammates or different organizations for whatever reason, and we were able to do so. We were able to make those decisions so I think that it felt good for a lot of players, just speaking to some of them that made those moves in the offseason.

Ari Chambers, Bleacher Report: I’ve heard you say you have an easing comfort with your new teammates, what are some unique talks that you’ve had with them, coming into the new family setting that you have? And how have you been taking care of your mental health, 2020 has been a turbulent year anyway, and now this new setting and now there’s social isolation, how have you been taking care of yourself?

Seimone: To answer the first question, I’ve played with Nneka overseas, so she’s probably been the one that I’ve talked to the most. I’ve been around Chelsea a little bit with USA Basketball. Just knowing those two and their personalities, like Chelsea’s a goofball, always making people laugh, that little bit makes me feel more comfortable. Nneka knows me in a different way like we used to hang out together overseas, and she would cook food so she’s like come to LA, the food here’s great, there’s places to go, people to meet, and things like that. The comfort with knowing Candace as a competitor, like the only message I really received from her was ‘Congrats, glad you’re here, let’s get it.’ To be honest that’s all I really needed to hear from a player. That she wants me here, and that we’re going to work our butts off to achieve our goal, which is to possibly get a championship for this city. Onto the second question which was about how I’ve been dealing with mental health, I’ve always been a person that was into yoga, meditation, and things like that, so I’m continuing those practices. Me and my family, we’ve always been an isolated family. We never really got outgoing people unless there’s a sporting event or something like that. This has actually been very peaceful times for us, kind of relearning each other. With the way that women’s basketball is set up, we play year round. So I would be in and out of town, and never really get to spend this kind of time with my family other than around the holidays. It was great to get back to learning who my parents are, after 14 years of traveling with basketball, like enjoying those moments again, laughter, just getting out and doing those things that we normally do.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala,@ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.