As with the point guards, the leading scorers for this year’s WNBA Finalists are both very effective, but in very different ways. After all her injury troubles, Seimone Augustus has been back to something very close to her best this season for Minnesota. She may not be quite as quick as she once was, but her game was never based around being the fastest player on the floor. It’s all about that pretty jump shot, and her ability to rise up and hit it at a moment’s notice from anywhere on the floor. For someone who takes the vast majority of her shots from mid-range or deeper, shooting over 50% from the floor this season is a remarkable achievement. She was also over 40% from three-point range, a number that McCoughtry probably doesn’t even reach in her dreams. Much of Minnesota’s offense revolves around running Augustus off baseline cuts and multiple screens to create shooting opportunities for her, and with accuracy like that you can see why. She’s simply one of the greatest shooters the women’s game has ever seen. Her defense has also improved markedly this year, and sliding over from small forward to mainly being a shooting guard hasn’t caused her any problems. Rather than struggling with smaller, quicker defensive assignments, Augustus has learned how to use her size and length to trouble opposing scorers. She’ll need those attributes in this series, against the speed and quickness of the various Atlanta wings. She could be on any of Price, Castro Marques, McCoughtry and Miller at various different stages, and they all present different problems.
Angel McCoughtry isn’t a shooter. Whatever her fans may tell you, she was 101-326 from outside five feet this season (31%). For comparison, Augustus was 176-383 from the same range (46%). But what McCoughtry can do is drive, and drive, and drive again. More often than not, she’ll either finish at the rim, draw a foul, or both. She shot 71 more free throws than anyone else in the WNBA this season, over 120 more than anyone not named Taurasi or Fowles (and she played markedly fewer minutes than either of those two). She slides into the lane and bullies her way to the rim, creating contact just as all the best penetrators do, and forcing the officials to make decisions. Also, while she’s a volume scorer from the perimeter rather than a dead-eye shooter, when she finds a rhythm she can score from outside as well – and if her jumper’s dropping, she becomes practically unguardable. She’s also quick to break out, joining every other wing on the Dream roster in flying down court looking for quick, easy scoring opportunities. She uses her long limbs and anticipation to play passing lanes defensively and create steals as well, starting several of those fastbreak chances herself. While I don’t see her as quite the WNBA All-Defensive First-team player that she was voted as this year, she’s certainly an effective nuisance at that end of the floor.
Not many. Augustus doesn’t drive much these days – not that it was ever exactly her favourite method of scoring – which does mean that if her shot is off from outside her scoring options are limited. She’s great at finishing on the break, but you won’t often see her break an opponent down in the half court and head for the rim. Which also means she’s the opposite of McCoughtry when it comes to free throw shooting – very good at converting them, but she doesn’t create the opportunities like Angel can.
McCoughtry’s main negative is her head. As we saw in the Fever series, she sometimes gets so upset at officials, or her coach, or her teammates, or herself, or anything else she happens to come up with, that she takes herself out of games. That same head also leads her to keep firing away from outside on occasion, rather than driving or creating opportunities inside. If the length of Augustus and Moore on the perimeter, plus the help defense of Brunson and McWilliams-Franklin inside, can keep her out of the paint without fouling she’s liable to just keep shooting. If she takes 20 shots per game in this series and most of them are from 10-feet and out, Minnesota will probably sweep.
McCoughtry’s also not the greatest free throw shooter in the world. Exceptional at getting there, inconsistent at converting the opportunities into points.
This one’s hard to call, and may well fluctuate from game to game. McCoughtry has the greater tendency to take over a game, both with her driving ability and the strength of her personality. But that’s in part because with all the weapons Minnesota possess, Augustus hasn’t needed to take over nearly as much this year. Augustus is far quieter on the court, except for the occasional outburst after a particularly exceptional play, but her shooting is a constant threat from everywhere on the court. It’s going to be very hard for Atlanta to stop her, because all she really does is run around, catch passes, rise up and shoot. It sounds incredibly simple, but she’s amazingly effective at it. The Price/McCoughtry/Castro Marques group that will take turns defending her can only try to challenge the shots or – ideally – prevent her catching the ball in the first place. That won’t be easy.
Of course, it’s not easy to stop McCoughtry either, but the theory behind it seems more plausible. If her individual defender – Moore, Augustus, possibly even Brunson on occasion – can stay in front of her, and the help comes over to keep her away from the rim, her effectiveness plummets. Danielle McCray did an excellent job in the series against Connecticut, and it took the rest of the Dream to carry them through, but McCoughtry seemed to rediscover her rhythm in the final two games against Indiana. Assuming Minnesota do a better job avoiding turnovers and working back in transition than the Fever did, a lot is going to depend on McCoughtry’s ability to penetrate in the half court. She’s typically their first option when the fastbreak opportunities dry up. Atlanta need the McCoughtry from the latter stages of the Indiana series to show up – preferably without the histrionics of refusing to leave the floor when her coach subs her out.
Augustus 9/10, McCoughtry 9/10: Edge to nobody, call this one a tie.