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How Good Is Maya Moore? She Makes Tanking Look Perfectly Honorable

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Photo courtesy of UConn

Let me begin by saying that I hate the entire notion of tanking.

It's anti-competitive and I'm all for any sort of format in the NBA -- a play-in tournament or some sort of round robin group play (provided first rounds are also cut accordingly) -- to mitigate the incentive to tank in an 82 game season in which the Golden State Warriors some franchises perennially find their seasons over with by January.

However, watching Maya Moore this past Saturday almost makes tanking look honorable.

I'll put it to you the way someone put it to me earlier this year -- statistically, Jayne Appel, Tina Charles, and Kelsey Griffin were by far the best draft prospects this year. Appel is an All-Star (!!) still looking to find her rhythm in the pros, Charles is a fringe MVP candidate, and Griffin is a productive role player on a playoff contender. Statistically, Moore was a better prospect than all of them last season. In other words, statistically, she's an almost certain MVP candidate the moment she suits up for a WNBA team. Her performance in the Stars at the Sun game just proved that, as described by The Guru.

Womhoops Guru
Following Thursday night's pair of games prior to the two-day break, and with the regular season soon to hit the stretch drive, speculation of sorts can begin and the Maya Moore race suddenly has become very intriguing.

But exactly how good was she against WNBA competition?

Although Moore was the last player off the bench for USA Basketball, the key is that when she did get in she didn't look terribly out of place.

Lone college player Maya Moore blends right in with USA Basketball teammates - ESPN
Nerves weren't an issue, Moore said. But she was well aware of how many shots hadn't fallen.

When she finally did break through with 6 minutes, 31 seconds left in the third quarter with an up-and-under scoop shot -- the same go-to shot that has foiled countless college defenders in three years with the Huskies -- Moore let her age show just a little bit, giving a small pump of her fist.

"And it was kind of a tough shot," Moore joked. "I didn't want to blow a layup, either. That's the worst."

Moore settled in thereafter, finishing with 12 points, five assists and team highs in rebounds (eight, tying teammates Sylvia Fowles and Candice Dupree), steals (three, tying Angel McCoughtry) and turnovers (four) in 22 minutes.

To put those numbers in context, Moore was arguably the third most statistically productive player for USA Basketball behind Dupree and Fowles and the minutes were relatively evenly distributed. That should be said with caveats: first, Moore played the majority of her minutes in what could be considered garbage time. Second, her scoring efficiency wasn't that good despite finishing with a 60% two point percentage, which means she's a player that has the ability to finish against the best.

Those things aside, consider what Auriemma said about Moore after the game.

Lone college player Maya Moore blends right in with USA Basketball teammates - ESPN

Even though Moore hoisted a team-high 13 shots from the floor, her performance was a far cry from the jaw-dropping displays Connecticut fans are used to. More than anything, she just blended in with the rest of the team. Which, for Moore, might be even more rewarding.

"The great thing about our team is that you can't tell who the college kid is," Auriemma said. "If you line up all of our players and say pick the one in college, you can never figure it out. She blends right in, she plays like them, she handles herself like them. It was a great way for her to get started today."

Moore wasn't done either -- on Sunday, Moore played with USA Basketball against Australia and Dishin reports that she was similarly impressive then.

Looking at USA vs. Australia, at Mohegan Sun, 7/11/10 - Swish Appeal
Maya Moore can play with the big girls. Eight points, including on a terrific Harding-Charles-Moore backdoor play.

Think about that for a moment: Moore blends in with the best the WNBA has to offer. Maybe you can say that about Charles who is having an outstanding year. But even Stanford fans can admit that Jayne Appel, injuries aside, did not blend in (nor could it be said about Christian Laettner who played for the Dream Team in 1992). Yes, that was garbage time, but it was also garbage time against some of the best in the league. And keep in mind, Moore just completed her junior year -- she still has a year left of eligibility. That means another year for Auriemma to push her and whip her into shape.

There are times when hype over a collegian are overblown. This is not one of them. That might be partially because of the spotty coverage of women's basketball and partially because in men's basketball, talk of young players with upside tickles the imagination in ways that a four-year collegian just doesn't.

Yet here is a 21-year-old player that has yet to graduate college that is already worthy of consideration as one of the top 15-20 players in the world. As Scotter has written previously, she is already statistically the best player in UConn history, not ignoring the likes of Bird and Taurasi. Male basketball players that good would have left college two years ago and you'd see them on ESPN nightly. Moore really is that good. And if you're a GM whose hopes of a championship were already dwindling before the All-Star break, the prospect of obtaining a prospect like Moore has to be enticing. Although I hate saying it, one could very easily rationalize doing everything in one's power to obtain a player of this caliber.

Fans could probably stand to be even more excited about the prospect of Moore entering the WNBA.