The legend began on May 20, 2004 in Phoenix.
Rookie guard Diana Taurasi suited up for her first WNBA game in front of 10,493 fans at what was then called America West Arena.
It didn’t take long for Taurasi to make her first impression and give the home crowd a taste of what was to come over the next 13 seasons (and counting).
Just three minutes and 24 seconds into her professional debut, Taurasi launched her first shot, a 3-pointer that found the bottom of the net. Those were the first three of the 7,494 points she’s scored during her WNBA career, as she became the league’s all-time scoring leader on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, just 30 miles from her hometown of Chino.
Taurasi entered the game needing 14 points to pass Tina Thompson’s mark of 7,488 career points. She got off to a slow start, recording three points and three fouls in the first quarter. But she began to find her groove in the second quarter and had a shot at history in the final minute of the first half.
It started with a pin-down screen from Camille Little to free up Taurasi and get the ball in her hands, outside the 3-point line shading the left side of the lane. With All-WNBA defender Alana Beard checking her, Taurasi got a screen from Emma Cannon that sealed Beard and forced Nneka Ogwumike to step up and defend her.
Diana exploded past Ogwumike with a drive down the right side of the lane. As she approached the basket, she slid in front of Ogwumike to seal her off and prevent a block, then scooped the ball off the glass for the layup. Those two points took her from 7,487 to 7,489 and into the record books as the WNBA’s all-time scoring leader.
Play was stopped to acknowledge the record as Taurasi received a standing ovation from the Los Angeles crowd, including Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who attended the game with his daughters to celebrate Father’s Day. It was fitting that the third-leading scorer in NBA history was on hand to witness the greatest scorer in the history of the women’s game.
In the 4,778 days between her first points and the two that put her above any player that’s ever stepped on a WNBA court, Taurasi has put together a career worthy of the title of Greatest Of All Time.
Taurasi, Thompson and Catchings are the only players that have eclipsed the 7,000-point barrier. What sets Taurasi apart from the other two greats is the speed in which she joined the exclusive club.
While Thompson and Catchings played in 496 and 457 career games, respectively, Taurasi has now passed both of them in just 377 career games. That’s 119 games (nearly 3.5 seasons worth) fewer than Thompson and 80 fewer than Catchings.
Taurasi has not only scored more points than any player in WNBA history, but she also owns the third-highest scoring average at 19.9 points per game. She is topped only by Cynthia Cooper (21.0 ppg in 124 games) and Elena Delle Donne (20.6 in 114 games). Taurasi’s combination of consistent scoring and longevity are simply unmatched, as are her five career-scoring titles.
That consistent, elite-level scoring has allowed Taurasi to climb the scoring ladder faster than any player in league history. She consistently hit milestones faster than any player had in the past as she set a new standard for competitors to chase.
In addition to becoming the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, Taurasi also claimed the top spot in 3-pointers made earlier this month. That record came at the expense of the Chicago Sky as Taurasi exploded for a record-tying eight treys in Phoenix’s 99-91 win to blow past Katie Smith (906) for the all-time lead.
Taurasi’s 933 career 3-pointers are a major contributor to her being able to climb the scoring ladder so quickly. They have accounted for 2,799 (37.3 percent) of her 7,494 career points, while 1,763 (23.5 percent) have come on free-throws as Taurasi trails only Catchings (2,004) in career free-throws made. The remaining 2,932 points (39.1 percent) have come on 2-point shots.
Not only does Taurasi own the record for most 3-pointers made in a career, but she also holds the mark for a single season (121 in 2006) and is tied for the most in a game (eight), having accounted for three of those four performances.
While the 3-point shot is an extremely dangerous element of her scoring arsenal, Taurasi has proven to be much more than a sharpshooter. Whether it is pump faking from deep and dribbling in for a mid-range jumper, using a screen to drive the lane for a floater among the bigs, or getting out for easy buckets in transition, Taurasi can score from pretty much anywhere on the court.
To get a better understanding of how she gets her points, we dug into the Synergy data, which dates back to 2010, to break down which play types she uses most frequently and most successfully.
During this stretch of time – which accounts for nearly half of Taurasi’s career – we see that nearly a third (31.8 percent) of her possessions have ended in a pick-and-roll with Taurasi as the ball handler. Taurasi has scored 0.933 points per possession on those plays over the past six-plus seasons. But she’s been even better this season, as her 1.00 points per pick-and-roll possession ranks 10th in the WNBA.
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As the chart above illustrates, Taurasi scores about a point per possession on most play types (see isolations, handoffs, put-backs, post-ups), but has been even more efficient in transition opportunities, coming off screens, cutting to the basket or spotting up. This season in particular, Taurasi is leading the league at 1.556 points per possession on spot-ups with an effective field-goal percentage of 75.0.
Taurasi is not only the greatest scorer the WNBA has ever seen, but also one of the greatest basketball players in the game. We could list her never-ending résumé of awards and accomplishments from every level of the game, but there really isn’t a need to do that anymore.
Diana is a transcendent talent, a player that could hold her own in any era, against any competition, whether it be a pickup game at the YMCA, the NCAA Final Four, Game 5 of the WNBA Finals or the gold medal game at the Olympics. There is no basketball stage that is too bright for her.
At age 35, she has accomplished just about everything the game has to offer. She has nothing left to prove. Yet, she’s still here. Still getting buckets. Still competing. Because that is what ballers do. Her love for the game and love for competition keep her coming back to the gym every day. It’s been that way since she was a kid in Chino. She took it to Connecticut. Then to Phoenix. And all around the world.
On Sunday, she surpassed Tina Thompson as the greatest scorer in the history of the WNBA. The only question is how high will she set the bar for future generations to chase? If she maintains her current season scoring average (18.3 points per game), she would be right on the cusp of 8,000 career points by the end of this season. Will she play long enough to reach 9,000 points? What about becoming the first player to score 10,000?
In her 11 full seasons in the WNBA, Taurasi has averaged 655 points per year. This excludes her injury-shortened 2012 season (eight games) and this season (10 games), which would be outliers in her finding her true average. Should Taurasi play three more WNBA seasons beyond 2017, she would challenge the 10,000 career-points threshold.
Considering Taurasi has already stated that she would like to compete in her fifth Olympics in 2020, it’s not unrealistic to think she would continue playing professionally until that point as well.
The more time we have Diana Taurasi in the WNBA gives us more time to truly appreciate her greatness and what she has done not only for this league, but for the game overall.
By Brian Martin
First appeared on WNBA.com