Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve calls Maya Moore "the perfect superstar," a selfless athlete in a selfish age who personifies accountability. "For some people work is a four-letter word," says Reeve. "Maya enjoys work, and her work ethic has been contagious for this team."
The 6-foot forward also enjoys winning, and there is no doubt a cause-and-effect here. Moore is on an early but unmistakable path to becoming the most decorated women's player of all time. She is 24 and has already won two WNBA titles (in three pro seasons), a 2012 Olympic gold medal, two NCAA titles (at UConn), three high school state championships (at Collins Hill High in Suwanee, Ga.) and even a Women's Chinese Basketball Association championship (she plays for the Shanxi Flame during the WNBA's off-season). In last week's three-game sweep of the Atlanta Dream, Moore was named the 2013 Finals MVP after averaging 20.0 points.
Before this season Reeve told Moore that she needed to improve her decision-making when defenders closed on her to take away her shot. She also needed, her coach insisted, to become a better on-ball defender. Moore set a goal of shooting 90-50-40, which is 90% on free throws, 50% on field goals and 40% from beyond the arc. (Only two WNBAers who have played more than 15 games have pulled off that trifecta.) She fell just two made free throws shy of this accomplishment, finishing the season with averages of 88.2, 50.9 and 45.3. Moore was second in the regular-season MVP voting after also improving her averages in points (18.5 per game), rebounds (6.2), steals (1.7) and blocks (1.0) for the third consecutive season.
There is her leadership, too. "The game that showed Maya's improvement and maturity more than any other was Game 2 of the Finals," says ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo. "She had only 14 points but found the means to impact the game in every other way." Moore finished with eight rebounds, four assists and one blocked shot, which Lobo describes as "an incredibly athletic play from the weakside, where she flew through the lane and emphatically stuffed [Dream guard-forward] Angel McCoughtry."
October 21, 2013
That play was further proof of Moore's improved defense. Though McCoughtry groused after the game that Moore's block was overly physical, Lobo was impressed with Moore's response. "Maya told us, 'I don't pay attention to anybody except my head coach and teammates.' She was clearly focused on winning and didn't care who or what was in her way."
In a 45-minute exit interview with Moore last Saturday at the Minneapolis apartment complex where most of the Lynx players live, Reeve and her coaching staff reminisced about the championship season and told Moore the team expected her to be even better next season. That improvement can come in the transition game, in which Moore admits she needs to be more comfortable with the ball in her hands. "I can be tough on her, but she can handle it," says Reeve. "Maya has higher expectations for herself than I do."
Since Moore entered the WNBA as the first overall pick in 2011, Minnesota's 99 wins, including the postseason, is the highest aggregate three-year total in league history. (Los Angeles won 95 between 2000 and '02.) The scary thing for the rest of the league is that the Lynx are built for an extended run. All-Star guard-forward Seimone Augustus won't turn 30 until next April, and point guard Lindsay Whalen, 31, is one of the 10 best players in the league.
Asked to compare all her titles, Moore says with a smile, "It's like comparing kids. I love all my championships. I love to compete, and when you have the talent, the discipline, the work ethic and teammates who do the same thing, winning follows you around."
The 6-foot forward is on an early but unmistakable path to becoming the most decorated women's player of all time.