Inside The W with Michelle Smith

On the same day that one of the most anticipated regular-season matchups in league history will be taking place, more history was made as the league unveiled the Top 20 players of all time, as voted by a panel of “experts.”

I am proud to say that I was one of those so-called experts, a title that apparently comes with the distinction of covering this league for the past two decades.

And I’m excited to say I got most of them right. My ballot matched 18 of the 20 honorees.

To be honest, I have no absolutely issue with the two that didn’t get my ‘X’ on the square next to their name. Because everybody on this list is worthy, everybody has a great case.

Let’s review the 20 players who did make it. I’ll let you know the two players I voted for and who are in line to be included when the list expands to 25 in a few short years.

THE TOP 20 LIST

Seimone Augustus. Mone is one of the greatest shooting guards in league history. She has bided her time in Minneapolis until the Lynx became a powerhouse. Now she has three championships in five years and is in great position for a fourth.

Sue Bird. A strong argument as the greatest point guard in league history. A seven-time All-Star with two championships under her belt in Seattle, Bird ranks second in league history in assists behind Ticha Penicheiro. At 13.3 points a game this season, Bird – at the age of 35 – is having her best offensive season in five years.

Swin Cash. Cash is playing in her final WNBA season and will be remembered as one of the league’s all-time greats with three championships, four All-Star appearances, two All-Star game MVPs and a reputation as one of the game’s most elegant spokeswomen.

Tamika Catchings. When “Catch” won her only title for Indiana in 2012, there wasn’t a player in the league (save for a couple on the opposing Lynx), who wasn’t thrilled for her. One of the WNBA’s best-ever defensive players and a heart-and-soul player in Indiana for the entirety of her career, Catchings has made 12 playoff appearances in 14 seasons and she’s going to finish among the WNBA’s top scorers with more than 7,000 points in her career.

Cynthia Cooper-Dyke. “Coop” arrived in the WNBA with an impressive international resume, but a name that was under the radar. That changed quickly. Her fearless game and swagger propelled the Houston Comets to become the league’s first dynasty with four straight titles. Simply wouldn’t have happened without her.

Yolanda Griffith. Griffith came to the WNBA after the ABL folded. When I saw her play in person in Sacramento, I thought she was the greatest women’s player I had ever seen. She played with a power and athleticism and was a ferocious defender of the glass. The 2014 Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee was an eight-time WNBA All-Star, a league MVP, a Defensive Player of the Year and a champion, having won a title with the Monarchs in 2005.

Becky Hammon. Hammon’s impact on the women’s game has been felt more recently because of her tenure as the first female assistant coach in NBA history for the San Antonio Spurs. But in her previous life, she was a spectacular guard for the San Antonio Stars and New York Liberty. Hammon was a big-game player, who hit shots in the clutch and exceeded expectations at every turn. She made 13 playoff appearances and finished with a career-scoring average of 13.3 points a game.

Lisa Leslie. The greatest post player in women’s basketball history. A founding WNBA player. The first player to dunk in a WNBA game. Leslie won back-to-back championships in Los Angeles with the Sparks, finished with career averages of 17.3 and 9.1 rebounds a game and is an eight-time All-Star, two-time league MVP, two-time Defensive Player of the Year and eight-time first-team All-WNBA. A no-brainer if there ever was one.

Lauren Jackson. LJ. Two titles in Seattle. Three MVPs. Seven All-Star game appearances. Three-time scoring champion. The greatest international player ever to play in the WNBA.

Maya Moore. Three titles in her first five seasons as pro. How many more before she’s done? She’s one of only two players ever to win the league’s MVP Award, the MVP of the WNBA Finals and the All-Star Game.

Deanna Nolan. “Tweety” is one of the two players who didn’t make my list, having played just seven seasons in the league. But Nolan won three titles for the Shock and had a career average of 18.1 points a game.

Candace Parker. I’ve long thought there is no more talented player in the world than Parker, who can do it all. Her ball-handling, scoring, rebounding. Her sheer ability to dominate a game. Parker has two league MVPs, a Rookie of the Year Award, an All-Star MVP Award, but she’s still waiting for her first WNBA title. Maybe this is the year.

Ticha Penicheiro. The WNBA’s all-time leader in assists and one of the best floor generals in the history of the game. Pencheiro won a title in 2005 in Sacramento, led the league in assists seven times and set the standard for point guards in the WNBA. She always dished with such flair and finesse.

Cappie Pondexter. Seven-time All-Star, two-time WNBA Champion and the Finals MVP in 2007, where she averaged 22 points a game in a five-game series against Indiana that has ranked as one of the best in league history. Pondexter is one of the league’s best mid-range shooters with a deadly crossover and a killer instinct.

Katie Smith. Nothing less than the all-time leading scorer in women’s professional basketball, combining her point totals from the ABL and the WNBA. A seven-time All-Star, the league scoring champion in 2001 and owner of two titles in Detroit in 2006 and 2008. She became the first American women’s basketball player ever to score 5,000 points in her career and is a true pioneer.

Sheryl Swoopes. One of the league’s founding players – in fact, she was the first player to be signed to a contract by the league – she was a bedrock of the Houston Comets run of four titles. She was the league MVP in 2000, 2002 and 2005, the scoring champion in 2000 and 2005. Never a doubt.

Diana Taurasi. Making her case as the greatest women’s player in history, nobody has won more than Taurasi. Three times a WNBA Champion, she’s been an All-Star 9 times, won the league’s scoring title five times and at 35, is the same driven, take-no-prisoners player she’s always been. If there was a short list of, say, the top three players of all time … she’d be on it.

Tina Thompson. The leading scorer in the history of the WNBA, Thompson’s longevity (she has played the second-most games in league history) – not to mention four titles in Houston – gives her a unique place in the WNBA annals. A leader, a mentor and a tough, tough competitor. No doubt here.

Lindsay Whalen. Whalen has three titles with Minnesota and a legacy as a leader, a distributor and a clutch scorer when the moment calls for it.

Teresa Weatherspoon. Spoon is the other player that didn’t make my final cut, but really, how can you deny the impact that this guard/leader had on the league in its early days, becoming of the WNBA’s signature players in New York.

TWO I VOTED FOR

Delisha Milton-Jones. Milton-Jones was a key component in the Los Angeles Sparks’ back-to-back title runs in 2001 and 2002. She was a three-time All-Star and has played in more games than any player in WNBA history in 16 seasons – 499 games. She averaged double-figures in 12 of those seasons.

Angel McCoughtry. The Atlanta Dream’s star is one of the most disruptive defenders ever to play in the league, not to mention one of its top scorers since she entered the league in 2009. She’s a four-time All-Star, a two-time league scoring champion, has led the league in steals three times and has led the Dream to the Finals in three of the last six seasons.

WHO IS NEXT?

Tina Charles, New York Liberty

Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles Sparks

Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury

Elena Delle Donne, Chicago Sky

Veteran WNBA reporter Michelle Smith will have a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the 2016 season.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.