With about seven minutes left in the Minnesota Lynx' 13th win of this season this Wednesday, guard Seimone Augustus was left unchecked after a missed shot Taj McWilliams-Franklin and found her way to the basket for an easy offensive rebound.
Augustus casually dribbled the ball back out to the wing with Mercury forward Charde Houston chasing behind her and surveyed the court from the left wing with fellow guard Candice Wiggins coming around a screen at the top of the 3-point arc.
And at some point Augustus went from taking her time to set up the offense to recognizing that her unsuspecting defender was isolated on the left side of the court almost entirely flat-footed.
Click here to see the highlight package from Wednesday's game with Augustus' play.
Perhaps some long-time WNBA fans watched that scenario unfold and saw something rather routine evolving - Augustus has an array of tools at her disposal to break down defenders ranging from the simple to the spectacular.
She's can easily drive by most defenders with either hand if they crowd her. If she doesn't get to the basket, her mid-range shot is a thing of beauty that she's capable of rising up and hitting over most defenders her size. But her trademark move - or at least the move that sets her apart in the WNBA - is the crossover, which is probably what people who have seen her play would expect in that situation.
As someone who is still learning the game of women's basketball, I've had a tendency to sort of reduce what really makes Augustus stand out as having one of the best mid-range games in the world, not excluding the vast majority of men's basketball players.
Augustus shot more shot 11-15 foot jumpers than anyone in the league last year (92) and made a league-high 51.1%. Just to put that in perspective - while acknowledging differences between the NBA and WNBA game - nobody with more than 90 attempts from 11-15 feet hit more than 50% of their shots from that range. The closest perimeter player was the Miami Heat's LeBron James, who made 47% of his 134 attempts from that range (in this past lockout-shortened 66-game season). Of the 60+ NBA players who did cross the 50% mark, Jason Maxiell's 60 attempts was the most of any.
Augustus has stepped her game out a few feet this season - entering this week, nobody in the WNBA had attempted more shots than her (44) from the 16-20 foot range this season and again she's shooting 50% from that range, which is a league-high among players with more than 10 attempts. There's no exact match for that range in the NBA - the 3-point line is three feet further out - but if you combine her shooting from the 16-25 foot range, Augustus is shooting 49.31%, which less than 10 NBA players who shot from that range with any regularity exceeded.
The point is not to say that she should go try out for the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, who were looking for a shooter this off-season; the point is simply that Augustus is a special, special basketball talent and coming from watching the NBA in the modern era to the WNBA, it's just really hard for that not to stand out.
Augustus' shooting prowess can have the effect of overshadowing the rest of her game for new fans to the WNBA. She is a much better ball handler and passer than she's usually given credit for. Last year, her length and agility on the perimeter defensively was a significant part of what helped the Lynx win a franchise-first WNBA title.
So it really wasn't until last year that I grew to fully appreciate Augustus' crossover. As in stop on a number of occasions and just say, Wow.
And plays like the one she pulled off against Houston sort of take that "wow factor" to the next level.
Augustus set up Houston with another casual motion, dribbling the ball through her legs to simultaneously face up to attack and lull her defender to sleep. With a quick change of pace, Augustus went to a rapid left-to-right crossover, whipped the ball around her back as Houston's body weight shifting toward the middle of the court, and left Houston behind her. With 6'3" Avery Warley rotating over to protect the basket as Augustus drove baseline, Augustus stopped on a dime, rose up and floated a one handed shot through the net.
Naturally, Augustus just sort of nonchalantly landed, turned, and sprinted back on defense with her job done.
I don't much care what time of basketball you're watching - it's rare to see a player with the combination of body control, court sense, skill, and scoring options anywhere. She recently joked on Twitter that if she was 6'8" she'd have no mercy on the basketball world, but it's not as if she's doing defenders any favors as is.
In talking to a former women's college basketball coach a while back, he mentioned that one of the notable differences between men's and women's basketball is that the women's game sometimes look like they're playing on "tracks" - players following the game plan, but sometimes not recognizing when to break the routine. People unfamiliar with the WNBA tend to think similarly - a consequence of people regarding the game as more pure is that they assume individual highlight plays like that are sort of sacrificed for the sake of high movement team ball.
The dominant assumption when people say that the game is boring is that plays like we saw on Wednesday simply don't happen that in women's basketball.
The men's game is certainly dominated by of individual displays of athleticism in ways that the women's game isn't; we can point to a number of NBA players being paid millions of dollars simply because of their athleticism. But watching Augustus is a beautiful blend of athleticism, skill, and basketball intelligence that most closely represents why I've spent most of my life in love with basketball - Augustus is the personification of creativity as a scorer much in the way point guard Ticha Penicheiro is as a distributor, with the ability to perceive options and the talent to bring them to fruition like few other basketball players anywhere possess.
Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi tends to be the player that people unfamiliar with the WNBA immediately identify as possessing the type of dynamic individual ability they're use to in the NBA because she's a dominant scorer with a confidence and swagger that people don't normally expect from women's basketball players. But after settling into the game for a few years, it's becoming increasingly obvious that Augustus is also the type of dynamic scorer that should be showcased as the ambassador from the WNBA to the rest of the basketball world.
It's really hard to pick a favorite Augustus highlight, but I spent a few days looking for this one on YouTube and there are few better players that represent why so much of my life has been spent in love with basketball.
What's your favorite WNBA highlight? From this week? Or any time that comes to mind? Feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments.