By Cal Barash-David
In 2002, Sue Bird came into the league coming off an undefeated senior season at Connecticut and her second NCAA title. Then just a 22-year-old pup fresh off of an illustrious career as a Husky, she averaged 14.4 points and six assists per game during her rookie campaign in the WNBA. During that season, and in the 15 years since, Bird has been the paragon of leadership, professionalism and performance for a pass-first point guard.
She is a consummate pro, a point beyond compare.
Averaging 12.3 points and 5.4 assists per game for her career, Bird stands at ninth overall in points scored, and she is just 107 assists away from surpassing Ticha Penicheiro and securing the title of all-time league leader in assists.
Bird has propelled herself to nine All-Star games – second to only Tamika Catchings, who attended 10 during her career. But unlike Catchings, Bird has been selected as a starter in the All-Star game for seven of the nine years in which she was voted to participate. No other WNBA player has earned more than four All-Star game starts.
Now, to make the case for Bird as a 2017 All-Star, one can only agree that she is meeting the standard that she has set for 15 years.
While Bird certainly has the ability to be an elite scorer (she boasts a 42.7% career field goal percentage), she is most known for her passing ability. In her 11 games this season, Bird is averaging 7.5 assists per game, on pace for the most in her 15-year career. This season, no other WNBA player is averaging more than 6.3 dimes per game. In fact, only Penicheiro has averaged more than 7.5 assists per game in a season.
“She sees everything,” said sophomore forward Breanna Stewart. “She knows where people are going to be before we even know we’re going to be there.”
“It makes things a lot easier for us. She’s making us all better,” Stewart added.
Bird also takes care of the ball while she distributes dimes. She is third in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio. Neither of the two players above her in this category average more than 24 minutes per game. Bird is averaging 30 minutes per contest.
What’s more, Bird is more efficient than ever. She is posting the highest offensive and defensive ratings of her career.
Bird’s teammate Jewell Loyd praised her captain’s basketball IQ.
“She’s such an intelligent player,” said Loyd. “The way she sees the floor, the way she’s so unselfish to give it up, it makes our offense really go.”
Her presence has certainly been noticeable in the offense. Bird missed the first two games of the 2017 season due to injury. In those two contests, the Storm averaged 77.5 points per game. In the three games following her return, the Storm averaged 87.3 points per game.
Of course, what makes Bird so special is that she has been able to play at this level for so long. She embodies the old adage that the best ability is availability. She has played 458 career games, third of all current players and fifth all-time in the WNBA. Besides the 2013 campaign that she missed due to injury, Bird has averaged 31.9 games per season. She has never come off the bench in a single game.
“She just has so much wisdom of the game,” said Loyd. “She’s played so many years, she’s won gold medals and she’s just a total veteran. She’s a legend. Why would you not want to play with her?”
Now in her 16th season in the league, Bird has played many roles during her unmatchable career. She has been a scorer, passer, leader and mentor. But throughout, she has always been one thing – the foremost example of a point guard the WNBA has ever seen.
As Verizon WNBA All-Star 2017 comes to KeyArena, the grounds upon which Bird has cut her teeth and honed her game for a decade-and-a-half, it’s clear that she deserves to be in the lineup.