- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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Shooting guard. It's the glamour position in basketball, the one where the very best players demonstrate a potent combination of skill and swagger, and a great one can lead a team to a championship.
The WNBA is loaded with talented, experienced shooting guards who can put the ball in the basket above all else.
But there are five who stand above the rest because of their consistency and their impact on the game every single night.
Two of them, the top two on the list, in fact, have spent as much time this year bringing the ball up the floor as they have shooting from the perimeter. But Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter aren't true point guards. They will always be shooting guards who might collect a few more assists than they used to.
If 36-year-old Becky Hammon were healthy, she would have made a push to be on this list -- she is certainly one of the best shooting guards in league history. But an ACL injury means it's time to make room for some of the WNBA's best younger players.
1. Diana Taurasi, Phoenix: Over the past five years, Taurasi has simply been the best guard in the world. She has everything you want in a shooter: skill, smarts and total confidence that she can make every shot she takes even when she can't. As a bonus, she is one of the most compelling figures in women's sports -- honest, funny, petulant and personable. And never, ever boring. Taurasi, again the WNBA's leading scorer, became the sixth player in league history to score 6,000 points in her WNBA career. And nobody else did it faster. She is a player you build a team around ... heck, build a league around. A no-brainer No. 1.
2. Cappie Pondexter, New York: Like Taurasi, Pondexter is playing something of a different role this year in New York, playing more of the "lead guard" spot, as coined by Bill Laimbeer. But she has been, and always will be, a pure scorer. Pondexter, who ranks No. 3 in the league in scoring at 19 points a game, is better off the dribble than anyone else in the league. She's currently leading the Liberty's second-half resurgence (three wins in five games since the All-Star break), putting up 33 points Sunday in a big Eastern Conference victory over Atlanta.
3. Seimone Augustus, Minnesota: Augustus' jumper is just so pretty that it's easy to forget how much damage she can do every night on the floor. Augustus' numbers are not always gaudy, although averaging 16.2 points a game on the league's best-scoring team isn't bad at all. There's so much offensive talent in Minnesota with Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen taking their share of shots. Still, Augustus, 29, has found her groove with a title in 2011 (she was named the WNBA Finals MVP in that series) and a couple of Olympic gold medals. She's also the only guard among the league's top 10 in field goal percentage (.535).
4. Kristi Toliver, Los Angeles: Toliver was able to return to the 2-guard with the additions of Alana Beard and Lindsey Harding, and coach Carol Ross has been able to capitalize on Toliver's fearlessness as an offensive player. Toliver is averaging 14.3 points a game on a team that does not lack for scoring punch. Like she had in college at Maryland, Toliver has had a gift for clutch shooting in Los Angeles, hitting big shots in big games. The Sparks will need that down the stretch if they are to make a run at the first WNBA title in the Candace Parker era. "She's got a lot of confidence and moxie," Ross said last week after Toliver hit a pair of big shots to lift L.A. over Connecticut. "It doesn't matter what happens in the first 38 minutes of the game. When things are on the line and tough, she wants the ball. We want her to have the ball."
5. Epiphanny Prince, Chicago: The Sky's young guard proved how valuable she was last year when her injury issues caused Chicago to fall short of the playoffs again. This year, she doesn't have to do it all with the addition of rookie superstar Elena Delle Donne. But Prince is not only quick off the dribble and dynamic, she's a consistent scorer -- failing to reach double figures only twice all season so far. She is averaging 15.1 points a game.