Argue About What Brittney Griner Might (Or Might Not) Be All You Want, But Don’t Lose Sight Of What She Already Is

  • Glenn Davis

The Baylor women’s basketball team is probably going to win the national title, and they showed off why last night, obliterating Florida State 85-47 in second-round NCAA Tournament action. More specifically, the reason the Bears are running roughshod over everyone: they have Brittney Griner, and everyone else doesn’t. The 6-8 phenom played one of her best games, posting 33 points, 22 rebounds and four blocks in 34 minutes in front of an audience that included George W. and Laura Bush… oh, and she also dunked three times:

Please, someone commission a George W. painting of a Griner dunk. (It won’t be half bad!) Those three Griner slams last night means she now has more than every other women’s college basketball player in history combined, and that level of dominance leads to the asking of a familiar question:

Palmer then followed up with this…

As one might expect, reaction was spirited. You can see it here, and we’ll sample below:

You get the idea, and though it couldn’t be more clear where the overwhelming majority stand on Griner’s status as a potential NBAer, it won’t be the last time the question is asked. And it definitely wasn’t the first, either: Ball Don’t Lie tackled the question back when Griner was still in high school, in fact. Their verdict:

With a few solid years of coaching, you’d have to at least consider it a possibility, right?

Well, no. And here’s why: While Griner’s 6’8″ frame might make her the swat-blocking Gheorge Muresan of Texas women’s high school basketball, it would mean nothing in the NBA. Can you imagine her trying to defend someone as athletic and strong as Rudy Gay or Andre Iguodala? It would be impossible.

That’s the big issue. Griner’s still way bigger than pretty much everyone she plays, even in the college game. She’s way bigger than just about everyone in the WNBA, too. In the NBA? A whole lot of people are 6-8 or taller, and also weigh significantly more than Griner’s listed 208 pounds. (Indeed, Rudy Gay, listed here at 6-8, 230, isn’t a bad comparison.) Griner has her massive 7-4 wingspan going for her, which could give her potential as a shot-blocking threat, but the ability to physically dominate like she can now just wouldn’t be there.

We’re torn on the Griner talk. One the one hand, we get people who say it’s as ultimately pointless as the “could [dominant college team] beat [terrible pro team]?” debate – we doubt Griner actually will try to play in the NBA. On the other hand, though, if she did try? Yeah, we’d watch.

But on the other other hand, all the hypotheticals can’t help but detract from what Brittney Griner actually is right at this moment: a historically dominant women’s college basketball player. No one can stop her – no one’s ever been able to stop her, really. She’s got career college averages of 22.2 points, 8.7 rebounds, and five blocks per game. Players who overwhelm opponents to this extent don’t come around too often, no matter what sport you’re talking about. She’s on a run that deserves to stand on its own, regardless of whatever sport she might or might not be able to play – especially if she caps that run with another national title.

And yet – our minds keep drifting back to that NBA thing. Specifically, another tidbit from that old Ball Don’t Lie post:

I’m still convinced that the first woman to play in the NBA will actually be a short, lightning-quick point guard with great decision-making skills and a jumpshot.

That’s a logical stab at how it happens (and we do think it’ll happen – not necessarily soon, but someday). But there’s another possibility that interests us more – that the template for the first female NBA player is already out there in the form of two players – Griner and Delaware’s Elena Delle Donne. Delle Donne is 6-5 but is listed as a forward/guard; she’s got the skills of a smaller player while also having a slightly bigger frame than Griner. Oh, and also she’s awesome: check the stats.

Eventually, there’s going to be someone who combines Griner’s completely dominant inside game – and height/wingspan/athleticism for that size – with Delle Donne’s all-around skills, and is stronger than either (plus probably grows up playing against guys all the time). Could that person be the first woman to play in the NBA? We think so. It’s exceedingly unlikely that Brittney Griner herself becomes the first female NBAer, but she’s a force of nature on the court – one who represents an big step in the evolution of women’s basketball. She’s not an endpoint, but a (completely dominant) part of the process, and that ought to be enough.