The Next Great Thing

By Jerry Brewer
Updated: July 13, 2008

SEATTLE — Candace Parker swiped the basketball from Swin Cash and gazed upon an open court. When you’re dealing with a talent as complete and charismatic as Parker, an open court is packed with more possibility than a blank check.

What do you want to see? A reverse just to be fancy? A 360 with English on the layin? A self alley-oop concluding with a fingeroll?

A dunk? Another dunk? The imagination overflows.

On this night, the WNBA’s new superstar took a vanilla approach. She raced downcourt, softly tapped the ball off the backboard and jogged back on defense. A layup, nice and easy. The fundamental play.

A tiny portion of the KeyArena crowd booed for a couple of seconds, same as it would have if Vince Carter turned conservative on a breakaway. In this thrill-centric sports world, Parker should consider it a compliment.

Two months into her professional career, Parker has already established an incredible standard. Most nights, she’s even better than her enormous hype, so big and skilled, the prototype for a women’s basketball player.

At 6-foot-4, she is either position-less or position-ful on the court, depending on how you view it. That is to say Parker cannot be labeled a guard or a forward, and although she’s definitely not a center, she can play the spot if asked.

We’ve become accustomed to attaching the numbers one through five to identify positions in basketball. Parker is the first six in hoops history.

The amazing part is she still has considerable room for growth. The prima rookie scores 19 points a game now and stuffs the stat sheet with close to 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals.

But she can become a better ballhandler, better shooter, and, oh, wait until she gets a full offseason of rest for that left shoulder she dislocated during the NCAA tournament.

In a preseason survey, 67 percent of the league’s general managers thought that, in five years, Sylvia Fowles (the No. 2 overall pick) would be the best of the 2008 rookie class.

Only 25 percent voted for Parker. It’s like saying gelato will surpass ice cream. It’s a quirky, contrarian thought, but sometimes people get too carried away with being different.

Parker is everything this sport needs: substance with flash tucked underneath, someone new and fresh with a classic understanding of the game.

“She’s different than what you’re used to seeing,” Storm guard Sue Bird said. “Lauren [Jackson], she came into the WNBA and introduced us to a post player who can shoot from deep. At 6-4, Parker can dribble down the court. She’s so versatile. You can play her anywhere.”

The Next Great Thing endured a rough one Saturday night. The Storm beat the Los Angeles Sparks 70-52, with Parker laboring through a 14-point, six-rebound performance. Jackson blocked Parker’s shot three times. We have evidence that Parker is mortal.

She scored 40 and grabbed 16 rebounds last week, but she can’t do that every game. She often fills up the five most recognizable statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks), but she’ll come up empty sometimes. She’s dunked twice this season, but she’ll settle for a layup.

Actually, no, that’s not settling. Parker was quick to quell those flashy expectations.

“Honestly, I didn’t really worry about it,” Parker said of the breakaway. “We got two points. It was on to the next play.”

She spoke quietly in the locker room, upset over another loss. The Sparks are 12-8 this season, good for third in the Western Conference. But they began the season 8-1. They want another championship, and right now, they have work to do.

For Parker, progress will require accepting her limitations. Jackson swatted her shot repeatedly because Parker figured she could out-jump Jackson. Wrong. Now, it’s time for the player Sparks coach Michael Cooper calls “Silk” to adjust.

“People talk a lot about Silk, who’s a rookie in this league, that she’s done great things, but she’s still trying to figure this out,” Cooper said. “Two times, she went with the same move and got it blocked. This is not college. She’s got to come with something different, and she will.”

When Parker figures everything out, she will leap into another level of greatness. She can do anything on the court, and not just the high-flying, rim-rattling stuff.

It’s good to know because, like a simple layup in the open court, the rest of her development requires only fundamental change.