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See how she runs: Appreciating how WNBA players get up and down the court

How one moves up and down the court is one of the most essential, yet overlooked, elements of basketball. Here’s a look at how five WNBA players navigate the basketball court’s 94 feet.

Seattle Storm v New York Liberty
Ezi Magbegor has one of the most graceful gaits in the WNBA.
Photo by Evan Yu/NBAE via Getty Images

One of the wonderful things about the WNBA, like all of basketball, is the diversity of ways that players can achieve success.

For instance, last Sunday, reigning MVP A’ja Wilson passed newly-minted Hall of Famer Becky Hammon for the second-most points in Utah Starzz/San Antonio (Silver) Stars/Las Vegas Aces franchise history. The 6-foot-4 Wilson thrives on close-range face ups and post ups, accumulating and-1s due to her combination of power and finesse. The 5-foot-6 Hammon, in contrast, relied on a sweet stroke from deep and cunning contortions in the paint to overcome her apparent physical limitations and still get buckets.

An under-appreciated distinction between the different players that populate the W is how they navigate the 94 feet of hardwood. Or simply, how they run. As a former runner, I find the stylistic nuances of how players carry themselves up and down the court, both with and without the ball, fascinating.

Here’s a look at five players whose on-court sprints, jogs, skips and ambles capture the WNBA’s spectrum of athletic characteristics:

Alyssa Thomas (Connecticut Sun)

Connecticut Sun v Phoenix Mercury
Alyssa Thomas.
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Appropriately nicknamed “The Engine,” Alyssa Thomas motors around the court, oozing effort, force and intensity.

When getting back on defense, she charges with head down and arms pumping. When leading the fastbreak, she pounds the ball as her feet pound the hardwood. When she steals the ball, she streaks toward the basket, extending her strides in order to outpace a chasing opponent.

In short, there’s nothing subtle about Thomas as she traverses the court. She moves loudly; her engine is an F-150, not a hybrid. And approach her at your own risk, as she is unafraid to claim her space by throwing a bow or bump.

Chelsea Gray (Las Vegas Aces)

Las Vegas Aces v Minnesota Lynx
Chelsea Gray.
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

When she brings the ball up the court, Chelsea Gray often saunters toward one side of the court, giving herself an opportunity to survey the scene.

How she jogs may seem unremarkable, but how her mind churns and whirls as she moves is. As she ambles with apparent casualness, she takes everything in. She is instantaneously calculating the conditions in front of her in order to exploit any and every advantage. It is why she is the Point Gawd, with the muscles of her body and mind operating in a synchronicity that then produces some of the most stunning highlights in WNBA history.

On Thursday night, it all resulted in a triple-double that propelled the Aces past the Liberty.

Courtney Williams (Chicago Sky)

Minnesota Lynx v Chicago Sky
Courtney Williams.
Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

In another life, Courtney Williams could have been an elite distance runner. She has one of the most economical running forms in the WNBA, which possibly explains why she has the extra energy needed to be one of the best rebounding guards in the league.

When a teammate brings the ball up on offense, Williams lithely, almost casually shuffles down the court, like a marathoner conserving energy as they trudge through the meandering middle miles of a race. But when she has the ball, Williams operates with alertness, moving with the sharp and purposeful pace of a miler.

Yet, unlike most distance runners, Williams maintains a short-range quickness, which she unleashes to escape defensive pressure for a shot or, more frequently this season, a dime to an open teammate.

Ezi Magbegor (Seattle Storm)

Seattle Storm v Chicago Sky
Ezi Magbegor.
Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

Ezi Magbegor moves with mesmerizing grace.

Her grabs and gos are especially graceful, the blossoming of a latent skill she has been given the space to show for a Storm team in transition. Even at 6-foot-4, she comes up the court with a smooth composure and control, almost as if she is wading through water like some mythical sea queen. Oftentimes, it seems as if opponents are, in fact, mesmerized, as her forays frequently take her all the way to the basket. She is a single-woman transition attack, accomplished not with ferocity but finesse.

This element of her game, along with her precocious defensive instincts and still-developing offensive repertoire, suggest that her 2023 All-Star honor will be the first of many.

Diamond Miller (Minnesota Lynx)

Washington Mystics v Minnesota Lynx
Diamond Miller.
Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

The 94-by-50 feet of the court can barely contain Diamond Miller.

In a sport full of elite athletes, Miller’s athleticism pops on a different level. It is as if her 6-foot-3 frame almost cannot harness it all. She moves with an extra spring (or two) in her step, so much so that it sometimes seems like she is going to trip over her legs as negotiates her way around the half court. Yet, Miller remains in control, exploding in tight spaces as she beats defenders off the dribble and drives to the basket.

The July Rookie of the Month is an athletic wonder girl.