They are three of the best players in the history of women’s basketball. Each of them has won multiple WNBA championships and Olympic gold medals, helped grow the league and broke WNBA records. And one of them turns 40 on Saturday.
Diana Taurasi, Sylvia Fowles Y Sue Bird have redefined several statistical categories in the WNBA. But her dominance is most evident at the top of three of the game’s biggest stats: Taurasi is the WNBA’s all-time scoring leader, Fowles is the all-time rebounding leader and Bird is the assists leader. of all times.
While longevity has played a part in his rise to the top — Taurasi is in his 18th WNBA season, Fowles is in his 15th. and Bird in his 19th. — sustained excellence has set them apart. Bird, a 5-foot-9 shooting guard for the Seattle Storm, turns 42 in October, and Fowles, a 6-foot-6 center for the Minnesota Lynx, turns 37 that same month.
As Taurasi, a 6-foot shooting guard for the Phoenix Mercury, turns 40, we take a look at each player’s path to the record, the other WNBA legends who’ve passed along the way, and the players behind them in the scoring tables, rebounds and assists.
Taurasi, who says she has no plans to retire anytime soon, is widely considered the greatest player in women’s basketball history. Voted the GOAT last year by fans as the WNBA celebrated its 25th season — and ranked the No. 1 player of all time in WNBA history by an ESPN panel last September — Taurasi is known for two distinctive characteristics as a scorer. She possesses an incredibly quick and effortless release no matter where she is shooting from on the court. And she has full faith that she should be the one to make the shot, no matter how high the stakes are.
Even for someone like Taurasi, who has so often been counted on to hit game-winning shots, they have to accept that he’ll miss some of them, too. But Taurasi, a three-time WNBA champion and 2009 regular season MVP, has never shied away from that responsibility.
And she has lived up to it in a big way. The first pick in the 2004 draft, Taurasi is a five-time WNBA scoring champion, the only player in league history to score at least 600 points in six consecutive seasons, and the only player to record 800 points in a season in multiple occasions (2006, 2008). Taurasi also holds WNBA career records for field goals made, 3-point field goals made, single-season scoring average (25.3), and single-season points (860).
Taurasi became the league’s leading scorer on June 18, 2017, surpassing Tina Thompson, who scored 7,488 points in 496 career games — in her 377th career game.
It is a brand that may never be equaled. Taurasi has averaged more than 15 points per game in 15 different seasons of his career, the most of any player in league history. She and her twice this season she has scored at least 30 points, becoming the oldest player in the league to do so.
Taurasi has now scored 1,856 more points than any other player in regular season history. And as ESPN Stats & Information points out, the difference between Taurasi and his closest shooting guard Thompson is a bigger gap than Thompson and Angel McCoughtry, who ranks 16th (1,691-point difference).
Perhaps the only question that remains is whether Taurasi, who has 9,344 points, can add another 656 points to reach 10,000.
Taurasi is averaging 15.5 PPG this season; if he hits that average in every game going forward, he would need 42 regular-season games to reach 10,000 career points for him, according to ESPN Stats & Information. However, if Taurasi can match his career scoring average of 19.3 PPG, it would take 33 regular-season games to reach 10,000 points, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Phoenix has played 11 games so far in 2022 of an expanded 36-game regular season. If Taurasi stays healthy and doesn’t miss a game, and maintains or reaches any of the above scoring averages, he could top 10,000 career points for him sometime next season.
(Note: Candice Dupree, who hasn’t officially retired but hasn’t played a game in 2022, is the next closest active player on the scoring chart with 6,895 points, good enough for fourth overall.) The Phoenix center Mercury, Tina Charles, ranks sixth with 6,749. In third place, Tamika Catchings with 7,380 points and Cappie Pondexter with 6,811 round out the top five).
Fowles: A dominant force around the rim
Fowles has said this is her last season, but her rebounding is as dominant as ever: She’s the only player in the league to average a double-double (16.5 PPG, 10.3 RPG) this season.
Fowles’ rebounding ability has never been based solely on his size and strength, although both are prodigious. He has classic positioning and plays like an old-style center who refuses to give up his space at the low block. They’ll never see Fowles — a two-time WNBA champion and 2017 regular-season MVP — walk away from contact; she always accepts it and almost always wins the battle.
Defense is a very important part of Fowles’ game. Of his 3,836 total rebounds, 2,743 have come from the defensive end. But when considering her 1,092 offensive rebounds, it’s important to remember that she’s shot a WNBA-record 59.8% from the field during her career. Whether it’s with her own accuracy or her mastery over her crystal, she just eliminates so many second chance point opportunities for her opponents.
A four-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, Fowles has been a consistent and equally effective rebounder, whether she’s had to be an anchor alone or paired with another strong player in the post. Fowles and former Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson were as fierce a rebounding duo as the WNBA has ever seen, helping the Lynx win titles in 2015 and 2017 (Fowles was Finals MVP both times). On July 28, 2020, in the second game of the bubble season in Bradenton, Florida, Fowles’ 3,357th career rebound passed Brunson for the WNBA career record.
Another big element of Fowles’ sustained success: Despite playing in such a physical style, he has largely avoided injury. A calf injury limited Fowles — who also holds WNBA records for rebounds (404) and single-season defensive rebounds (282) and rebounds per game (11.9) — to seven games in 2020, but that’s the first significant amount of time he’s missed since joining the Lynx in 2015.
On Thursday, however, the Lynx announced that Fowles will be out indefinitely due to cartilage damage in his right knee. Through 12 games, she leads the league in rebounds per game and field goal percentage (64.1), while also averaging 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks.
Right now, Fowles is on track for his fifth season averaging at least 15 points and 10 rebounds and shooting at least 60% from the field. According to ESPN Stats & Information, no other player in WNBA history has had even one such season — and Fowles would tie Naismith Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore for the most such seasons in the history of the WNBA or the NBA (he also had five). Fowles was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 WNBA draft.
Bird: The best delivery girl and leader
Like all great point guards, Bird has exceptional court vision and a high level of decision, which are a must if you are the general of the court. But a few other things really set the four-time WNBA champion apart as one of the greatest point guards of all time, male or female, at any level.
Bird, who has said all signs point to 2022 being his final season, not only knows the game, he feels it. That means that while he knows the playbook inside and out, he also understands the twists and turns that come when you’re in the flow of the game.
Like Taurasi, Bird has set an all-time assists mark that could be hard to beat. Bird currently has 3,100 assists, and the next active player, Courtney Vandersloot of the Chicago Sky, he ranks fourth with 2,254 assists, behind retired Ticha Penicheiro (2,600) and Lindsay Whalen (2,345). Taurasi checks in at number 5 (2,079).
Bird is averaging 6.5 assists per game this season, and if he maintains that pace for 2022, it would mark his 15th. season with an average of at least 5.0 APG, a WNBA mark. Penicheiro’s nine seasons follow, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Fifteen five-plus APG seasons would also tie her with the NBA’s Steve Nash and Mark Jackson for the fifth-most such seasons in NBA or WNBA history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only Lebron James and John Stockton (19 each), Jason Kidd (18) and Chris-Paul (17) have more.
Bird has said it took her years to hone in on the nuances of running the games and the personalities of her teammates, and that she made some mistakes along the way. But the fundamental ability to lead others to be the best they can be has always been a strength of Bird.
In fact, leadership is perhaps your most valuable quality. Bird has always taken the time to understand his teammates as players and people, but he does so very quietly and never exposes anyone on the court. She is able to express her point of view and even discipline her teammates in a respectable manner. People want to follow Bird’s lead, and that’s been true of every team she’s been on, from UConn to the Storm to the US Women’s National Team.
Bird, a three-time regular season assists leader, passed Penicheiro for the WNBA all-time record on 1st. August 2017, with her 2,600th attendance. She also holds the WNBA record for most regular season starts (557). Bird, the first overall pick in the 2002 WNBA draft, has never come off the bench in her career.
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Transcendent trio: How Diana Taurasi, Sylvia Fowles and Sue Bird have rewritten the WNBA record books