Commentary

Comparing Taurasi and Parker

Updated: September 23, 2009, 2:48 PM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

Two of the top women's basketball players finally meet with something on the line. Candace Parker's Los Angeles Sparks, the No. 3 seed in the West, host Diana Taurasi's Phoenix Mercury, the West's No. 1 seed, in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Wednesday. From national player of the year honors and NCAA championships in college to Rookie of the Year accolades in the WNBA and Olympic gold medals in Beijing, Taurasi and Parker have reached levels of success that few players could match. And oh yeah, did we mention they were part of one of sports' biggest rivalries -- Taurasi is a UConn Husky and Parker a Tennessee Lady Volunteer -- but were never on the court at the same time in college? So how do their games stack up? Here's a look at how they rate:

DT3 vs. CP3

Diana Taurasi, Phoenix, G, 6-0

Candace Parker, Los Angeles, F, 6-4
Key 2009 stats: 20.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.4 bpg, 46 percent from the field, 41 percent from 3-point range Key 2009 stats: 13.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.6 spg, 2.1 bpg, 49 percent from the field, 21 percent from 3-point range
Résumé: Three consecutive NCAA titles (2002-04); two-time Naismith Player of the Year (2003, 2004); No. 1 overall pick in 2004 WNBA draft; 2004 and 2008 U.S. Olympic gold medalist; 2007 WNBA championship; 2004 WNBA Rookie of the Year; four-time WNBA All-Star; seventh player to win NCAA and WNBA titles and Olympic gold medal Résumé: Two NCAA titles (2007, 2008); 2008 Naismith Player of the Year; fifth woman to dunk in Division I, first to dunk in the women's NCAA tournament; No. 1 overall pick in 2008 WNBA draft; 2008 U.S. Olympic gold medalist; WNBA's 2008 Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year; second player to dunk in a WNBA game
As a ballhandler: Both in college and in the pros, even when she hasn't officially been in a point guard role, she has still often been a playmaker and the one you'd want with the ball in her hands at the end of a game. As a ballhandler: Outstanding … for a 6-4 player. Much has always been made of Parker's being able to play all five positions; some might say they've heard that enough to make their ears bleed. Can she run the break? Yes, yes, yes. But she's a post player, OK?
As a shooter: Her range is basically … anywhere. She can make difficult looks appear simple because her mechanics are excellent. The word for this type of shooter is "pure." And there has never been a time when she's going to hesitate taking the shot that could win or lose the game. Her fourth-quarter daggers in Game 3 of the first round against San Antonio were vintage Taurasi. As a shooter: This is one way her game is going to grow, and playing alongside Lisa Leslie and Tina Thompson is a great education in how big women can be lethal from outside. But at this point in her career, Parker doesn't yet have quite the range that players such as Leslie and Thompson have.
As a defender: She has always been an offensive whiz, but she didn't always commit to 40 minutes of defense. Or even 30. That has changed, though, as Taurasi dedicated herself to becoming a multidimensional superstar. Getting into the best shape of her life has helped her become a more aggressive and reliable defender. As a defender: With her wingspan and instincts, a lot seems to come naturally to Parker. But this is another area with room to improve, and Leslie is a particularly important person for Parker to emulate. Defense is obviously not just the flashy stuff that people see, like blocking shots. There are many subtleties that Parker is still incorporating into her game, and it's going to be very important to the Sparks that she continue that with Leslie retiring.
As a leader: She has been the biggest personality on every team for which she has ever played, and her teammates generally have always liked and respected her. She has had good rapport with her coaches because she understands the game so well. She likes being in charge and having the weight on her shoulders. As a leader: She definitely has a different personality than Taurasi. At times, Parker looks really miffed, and it's up to her teammates to figure out that's just her perfectionist streak. She worked on being more consistently positive in her demeanor while at Tennessee, and that's part of her WNBA growth, too.
How she's most dangerous: As an all-purpose defense destroyer. When she has any room to work, she has so many ways to score against you that it's pretty much impossible to stop her. But if you commit to trying to clamp down on her, she can still beat you by distributing to others. How she's most dangerous: If she gets the ball in her comfort zone, in and around the low block, she has the strength, the hops and the footwork to finish consistently no matter how you defend her. And she's only going to get more creative.
Taurasi is better at: Nobody out-trash-talks Dee; few would even try. But what can you say in response to someone who can back up whatever she says? What is Diana better at than other players? Let's just say, "Pretty much everything." Parker is better at: Rebounding, both on the offensive and defensive glass. She has the necessary nose and hands for the ball and a combination of power and athleticism that makes her very hard to box out.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.