It's the eternal argument in sports and especially basketball -- does good defense beat good offense? Or vice versa?
They are the two parts of the game coaches at the college level continually complain are most lacking in today's players -- defending and shooting. And they are the first two categories in our annual Best of Summer Series that chronicles a travel season that kicked off June 30, in the Northwest at the Nike Skills Academy, and wrapped up July 31, in the Southeast at Nike Nationals.
Both are skills through and through. Being a good defensive player is not the same as knowing how to lock up somebody. There are several great defensive teams out there operating in various zone traps or disciplined man-to-man half-court sets with willing help-side defenders. But having a great defensive team doesn't mean you have a great defensive player.
Having a truly special defensive player changes the game. With a lock-down defender you can effectively remove one of the opponent's players from the offensive end. She can keep the point guard from her regular duties and force the team to use a different player to bring the ball up and start its offense. She can keep a scorer from being a factor by smothering her and not letting her catch the ball and we all know you can't score without the ball. And then there are the dominant post defenders and shot blockers.
Similarly, being able to shoot is not the same as being a shooter. Shooters can not only make shots, but know what situations in games will make those shots available, where to move on the court and are always ready from their feet being squared to their hand positioning. Perhaps no single play can change the face of the game the way a 3-point shot can, making shooters that much more important.
Top Defenders Of The Summer
There are so many facets of playing defense, so a great defender can come in many molds. The two predominant types are lock-down, on-ball defenders and paint-thinning post defenders. This summer, on-ball steals and blocked shots were front and center in gyms across the country.
The queen of tormenting opposing point guards was an easy selection because nobody in recent years has been on the same level defensively as Sims. She is as fierce a competitor as you will find, which fuels her on-court harassment, usually of the opposing point guard.
What's special about Sims is her eyes. She throws the oft-taught theory of focusing on the ballhandler's waist out the window as her eyes penetrate the ball, constantly calculating the odds of jumping in and ripping the ball cleanly. As a spectator you can almost see the countdown in her face. Three ... bounce ... two ... bounce ... one ... lunge, rip and layin.
Joining Sims as some of the best on-ball defenders of the summer were Jemerigbe, Tellier, Robinson, Ellison and Faulker. Jemerigbe has the athleticism to hang with just about anyone and what puts her over the top is her physical strength. Robinson has a fierce competiveness about her and you can see the enjoyment on her face when she has someone locked up. Tellier utilizes some of the smoothest athleticism in the class to not only get stops, but she makes it look easy. When it comes to locking on to the opposing team's best ballhandler there are few as tough as Ellison and Faulkner.
These players truly believe they can and should shut down any and all challengers -- regardless of their reputation or skill level. Confidence, toughness, competitiveness and swagger -- it's all there for these kids.
In the paint, there are few that can match the defensive prowess of Williams. She blocks and changes shots so frequently that she can change the opponent's offense completely. She has that rare timing to block shots both defending on the ball from the blocks or rotating over from the weakside-help position. She leaps skyward as quickly as anyone and she can play above the rim. It is because of defenders like her that the runner has become so popular in the sport because settling into a pull-up gives her time to react and she blocks her fair share of jumpers too.
The other imposing forces in the paint from the summer included 6-foot-6 Mitchell, Hollivay and McDaniel, all of whom have at least one more year to build their reputations as a top shot eraser.
Hollivay and Mitchell both have never-ending length and both anchor their teams defensively. McDaniel is one of a trio of bigs for her club team, but she stands out defensively because she's relentless. She impacts the play by blocking or altering shots. She undoubtedly has inherited some of her dad, Xavier "X-Man" McDaniel, who was a workhorse in the NBA for 12 years.
Top Shooters Of The Summer
The top shooters of the summer truly made a difference for their respective teams and they came in all different sizes. From 5-8 rising senior guards Rodriguez and Lyles to front-court gunners 6-feet and up, the nets were ripped often from behind the 3-point arc this summer.
At the Music City Classic in Franklin, Tenn., one court was lucky to keep its nets intact after Rodriguez caught fire. In the bracket championship game, she put on a shooting display that will be the bench mark for marksmanship for summers to come. The 10-for-12 3-point performance from this Oak Creek, Wisc., native, ended with teammates jumping all over her and running for the score sheet to see just how many she hit. Simply on fire.
A sibling rivalry is always interesting to see on the court, though both Bonnie and Karlie Samuelson play for separate teams in the Cal Swish program. Bonnie's shooting exploits have been known on the national level for at least a year. This year she added some clutch to her usual net-ripping displays, but nipping at her heels for recognition as one of the West Coast's best shooters is her younger sister Karlie. In three consecutive games at the Music City Classic she tallied at least five 3-pointers and joined the short list of prospects yet to play a high school game that were receiving the face-guard treatment this summer. With two years of playing together, Edison High School is going to be a tough team to defend.
Some shooters need to have an unobstructed view of the goal to knock shots down from long range, but Mosqueda-Lewis and Doherty are so skilled that a defender closing out never alters their shot. They make it look easy. These shooters may get blocked here or there, but they are so confident and have had so many repetitions of their shot they know altering their form will only lead to a miss. Anytime either of these two get off a clean release, one word echoes in your mind as the ball travels through the air -- bucket. These two are also among the best in the country at shooting the 3 off the dribble. Both have picturesque step-backs in their respective repertoires.
Not far behind Mosqueda-Lewis and Doherty is Glymph from Greenville, S.C. The shooting guard doesn't need a lot of space and you know as soon as she releases her shot that she's a shooter due to her pretty wrist action.
Liston was on the radar last summer as a big guard with shooting ability, but the Oak Park, Ill., prospect looked like a completely new player this summer. More agile, more lift and the same sweet release.
Other players just find a way to score. Parkers Prarie, Minn., native Noga is one of those players. She's not blessed with elite athleticism, but she finds a way to get her shots. She could very simply be smarter than the opposition.
Regardless of their size or how they get their shots, this collection of shooters were vital to their teams' success this summer and entertained us along the way.
Lisa Bodine, Chris Hansen, Mark Lewis, Glenn Nelson, Kelvin Powell and Mindi Rice comprised the panel that made Best of Summer choices.
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Chris Hansen is the National Director of Prospects for ESPN HoopGurlz and covers girls' basketball and women's college-basketball prospects nationally for ESPN.com. A graduate of the University of Washington with a Communications degree, he has been involved in the women's basketball community since 1998 as a high-school and club coach, trainer, evaluator and reporter. Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.