Despite too often being viewed as a mere “summer curiosity” to a fan or a “summer job” to an overseas pro, the still-twelve-team circuit continues to attract the best and the brightest women professional hoopsters year after year – except for maybe Liz Cambage.
And not even the absence of the big 6’8” Aussie seems to have hindered the quite literal “growth” of the game – those “best and brightest” are becoming increasingly bigger and more athletic. The Rebekkah Brunsons and Sancho Lyttles bring a size and quickness that’s difficult to match – while that element of size is packaged with an uncanny skill set in players like Candace Parker and Elena Della Donne. Every team, it would seem, needs a pair of “twin bigs” just to compete.
There are certainly some Dynamic Duos – Commissioner Richie could put on quite a two-on-two tournament if she so chose. LA (Parker & Ogwumike the Elder), Atlanta (Lyttle & Erika DeSouza), Phoenix (BG with either Bonner or Dupree), Chicago (old pro Sylvia Fowles & EDD), maybe Minnesota (Brunson & McCarville) would figure to be the favorites, although I think I’d enjoy watching rugged Plenette Pierson or shifty Danielle Adams in such a format.
You see, that’s one of the cool things about women’s ball – there’s actually some good old-fashioned post play in the game – clever interior passing and everything.
A well-executed pick-and-roll is indeed a thing of beauty – but as the virtual vortex of a team’s, if not a league’s, offensive philosophy, it can make for a rather repetitious product.
A softly-arched entry pass over a “fronting” defender creates just as much advantage for a team as a highlight-reel-worthy lob up by the rim – perhaps even more advantage for a crafty post-player with a live dribble and an opponent in a bad spot.
I still await the player – male or female – who’ll consistently use the backboard for an entry “pass” to set up a similarly-defended teammate for an easy “put-back.” (Maybe they’re all too worried about what that would do to their FG percentage!)
With all this WNBA “tall talent,” let’s take a moment to examine how it impacts second-chances. Who’s best at getting those additional scoring opportunities – and who’s best at keeping the other guys from “getting’ them some”? Here are the numbers for the 2014 regular season.
Tulsa .296 [.323 – No.2]
Atlanta .293 [.323 – No.3]
Connecticut .285 [.325 – No. 1]
Indiana .274 [.305 – No.4]
Washington .258 [.292 – No. 5]
New York .242 [.266 – No. 6]
Los Angeles .241 [.263 – No.7]
Minnesota .230 [.259 – No.8]
Chicago .230 [.258 – No. 9]
San Antonio .229 [.254 – No. 10]
Phoenix .212 [.223 – No. 11]
Seattle .187 [.207 – No. 12]
Opp. Off. Rebounding Percentage* (“Box-out Score”)
New York .227 [.252 – No. 2]
Minnesota .228 [.251 – No.1]
Seattle .242 [.271 – No. 5]
Phoenix .243 [.275 – No. 6]
San Antonio .245 [.267– No. 3]
Los Angeles .248 [.275 – No.7]
Atlanta .249 [.271 – No.4]
Indiana .253 [.281 – No.8]
Washington .257 [.287 – No. 9]
Connecticut .260 [.295 – No. 11]
Tulsa .267 [.288 – No.10]
Chicago .278 [.305 – No. 12]
A Parting Shot – in a “Tall Glass”
To a fan of the history of basketball, and particularly of sport-altering post players like Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Russell and Olajuwon, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re ignoring the continuing evolution of the phenomenon that is Brittney Griner. She’s getting ready to tip the balance in women’s pro hoops in the same way that Auerbach and Russ did almost 60 years ago.
As Brittney was growing from You Tube Wonder to prized recruit to NCAA champion and prized recruit all over again, through a high-profile squabble with her college coach and an open and free-spirited life-style, I’ve been a big fan of both the ballplayer and the kid. My confidence in her grounding emanates from a familiarity with the athletic culture of the high school which nurtured her development – and especially with three women who shaped and sustained that culture.
My kids came through a competing high school in the same school district not quite a decade before a volleyball player from Teague Middle School got recruited to the basketball court. For all we know, Coach Debbie Jackson may have seen Brittney as a middle-schooler, as Aldine Nimitz High School had traditionally hosted summer leagues for both sports.
Curiously, the coach from whom the volleyball talents of Ms. Griner were appropriated just happened to be the woman who’d been my daughter’s softball coach for a season or two. (She’d jumped at the opportunity to become part of the Nimitz tradition, the regular scorekeeper at the softball field for years thereafter.) Fairly new to her position, she deferred to a 20+-year veteran and bonafide Texas High School Coaching Legend.
One thing was true of all the Nimitz teams against which my daughter (who ultimately earned a basketball scholarship) competed through four years of high school – volleyball, basketball and softball (Dee’s primary sport as a youth baller). They’d be tougher to beat the second time you played them – regardless to the level of talent, the team’s play would improve as the season progressed…invariably.
The coaches demanded their players exercise discipline and that they compete. By April, the softball coach (sadly, no longer with us), as much a fixture as her hoops counter-part, was rarely calling out, “Pinch the middle!” – her shortstop or second-baseman had beaten her to the punch when a runner reached first. Coach H could be stern…I was downright scared the first couple of times I had to umpire her games. But she was beloved by her players and respected by her peers, and I was soon feeling the same way. (That was easier to do after Dee graduated!!)
It was the nurturing and expectations of this environment, along with a good home, that forms the foundation of this exceptional kid still exploring the limits of her potential. The highly-adorned walls of the gymnasium area of Aldine Nimitz honor many exceptional kids and the amazing stories they have lived. Here’s one of the best