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USA Basketball Adds Brittney Griner & Courtney Vandersloot: A Brief Look At A Bird-Approved "Pure Point Guard"

In a Seattle Times article last week, Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird named Chicago Sky rookie point guard Courtney Vandersloot as one of a dying breed of "pure point guards".

Storm | Dishin' it with Sue Bird | Seattle Times Newspaper
There's just not a lot of point guards in the world. Each team will have a point guard on their team. But there might not be a backup point guard. There might be a two-guard who can dribble the ball that they make into a point guard. This is all over the world...It's something that our national team deals with a little bit. I think with Courtney Vandersloot, you finally see another point guard coming through.

So in officially adding Vandersloot and Brittney Griner today, the USA Basketball Women's National Team has a Bird-approved successor at the point guard spot to go along with an up and coming 6'8" center to help lead them into the future.

"I was really excited when I found out," said Vandersloot in a release. "I felt fortunate to even get the opportunity to train with them in May, but once I found out they were adding me to the pool I was really excited. It's a great opportunity to me to be able to play and learn from some of the best players in the world. I thought maybe later in my career, I would hopefully be given this chance, but I really didn't think it would be this soon. To even be considered is an honor."

Part of the reason to add a player like Vandersloot now is that she is among the best pure point guards available in the U.S. and will arguably be the most pure point guard on the US WNT roster, even if she didn't outplay anyone by her own assessment.

I've noted elsewhere that Bird herself has not even been a particularly pure point guard herself this season, as she has taken on a much larger scoring burden for the Storm for a combination of reasons. Using the point guard purity scale that SB Nation's Tom Ziller described in a recent article sort of illustrates that a bit more concretely.

Lehning, Shalee Atl. 1.25
Penicheiro, Ticha L.A. 1.17
Bevilaqua, Tully S.A. 0.72
Swanier, Ketia Pho. 0.70
Johnson, Temeka Pho. 0.69
Robinson, Danielle S.A. 0.62
January, Briann Ind. 0.58
Gray-Lawson, Alexis Pho. 0.55
Vandersloot, Courtney Chi. 0.55
Mitchell, Leilani N.Y. 0.53
Whalen, Lindsay Min. 0.49
Bobbitt, Shannon Ind. 0.48
Thorn, Erin Chi. 0.45
Taylor, Penny Pho. 0.43
Hammon, Becky S.A. 0.42
Miller, Kelly Was. 0.41
Quinn, Noelle L.A. 0.39
Bird, Sue Sea. 0.37
Lawson, Kara Con. 0.37
Harding, Lindsey Atl. 0.36
Phillips, Erin Ind. 0.36
Montgomery, Renee Con. 0.35
Wright, Tanisha Sea. 0.32
Wiggins, Candice Min. 0.31
Pondexter, Cappie N.Y. 0.31
Toliver, Kristi L.A. 0.30
Taurasi, Diana Pho. 0.24
Latta, Ivory Tul. 0.23
Riley, Andrea Tul. 0.22
Perkins, Jia S.A. 0.14

2011 WNBA point guard purity (with a few non-point guards included for points of reference).
Italics = current member of USA Basketball Women's National Team.

There's a lot that could be said (and left alone) about this list, but the advantage of going for purity given the other players on the roster is that they don't necessarily need a big scorer to run this team - they need players to facilitate scoring opportunities for the long list of other talented scorers on the roster. Danielle Robinson stands out as another young point guard option*, but what separates her and Vandersloot is three point shooting ability - Vandersloot currently shoots 32.7% from long range while Robinson has yet to attempt one from deep.

Of course, in being more about the character of a point guard than quality (as Ziller described), "purity" doesn't take into account turnovers - Vandersloot is the most turnover prone starting point guard in the WNBA as of today (18.66% turnover ratio), which is an area of improvement that Chicago Sky coach Pokey Chatman has noted to the media on occasion. A number of her turnovers come when trying to dribble under intense pressure - which could be a matter of building strength - but some are basic ball handling errors that are surprisingly familiar from her college days.

In any event we can argue with the accuracy (and value**) of this purity metric, but it's safe to say that Vandersloot's combination of skill and youth makes her a great choice - and arguably a perfect fit - for this team.

"Brittney and Courtney fit right in with the rest of the team during our last training camp in Vegas," said Geno Auriemma, 2009-12 USA National Team and University of Connecticut head coach in the release. "They proved during that training camp that they deserved to be there and I'm glad that the committee has added them to the team. Brittney adds a new dimension to the post play with her size and ability to not only block shots, but she's a game changer on the inside. She kept getting better and better each day.

"And I was also impressed by the way Courtney picked up everything quickly. You tell her once and she's running it. She's very smart and can do a lot of different things that you need in a point guard."

Griner has become an imposing defensive force at Baylor and is becoming increasingly dangerous as she expands her game on the offensive end. Griner raised a few eyebrows last year after Auriemma said she had declined an invitation to attend camp last summer, but whatever reasons led her to that decision previously have obviously dissipated in a year's time.

"At the training camp, I tried to do everything they would tell me," said Griner in the release. "I was asking questions, talking to the coaches, trying to go as hard as I could and just compete with them. I talked with some of the players after practice about different things I could do, Candace Parker pulled me aside and was telling me all these different things to work on and I would just try to do the things she told me."

Something that might help Griner become more of an offensive threat is improvement as an offensive rebounder - at Baylor, her offensive rebounding percentageo of 10% is average and below that of 6'1" Brooklyn Pope. Granted, there's only a finite number of rebounding opportunities so with Pope rebounding well Griner is going to get less rebounds. But it's primarily the long stretches that Griner has without an offensive rebound that are sometimes surprising.

Neither of these players is perfect at this stage in their career, but both have immense potential that make them great additions to the USA Basketball program.


* - I noted in my last rookie rankings that Robinson and Vandersloot were virtually tied. Since that point, Robinson has held steady whereas Vandersloot has been a bit more inconsistent.

** - The point of Ziller's is quite clearly that "purity" is separate from "quality". I agree. In fact, there are times when having a pure point guard is simply unhelpful given a team's complement of players. The numbers, which generally square with common sense in the NBA and WNBA, merely illustrate that point point.