Lynx, WNBA Prepare For Arrival Of Brittney Griner

Alex Conover
Wolves Editorial Associate

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The legend began in 2007 with a YouTube video.

Still to this day, a quick search for “Houston girl dunking” brings up a clip of a skinny sophomore at Nimitz High School who effortlessly shows off her stuffing abilities. That particular video has six million views and counting; another clip mentions that college coaches are already keeping their eye on the sophomore with eye-popping capabilities as a young, female basketball player.

Now, after four standout years at Baylor—including an NCAA championship—Brittney Griner will enter the WNBA Draft this month. And the rest of the league is preparing for the impending impact.

She is predicted as the consensus No. 1 overall pick going to the Phoenix Mercury when the draft begins on April 15 at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

“You want to be prepared to compete against Brittney Griner,” Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said. “That’s going to be hard to do in one fell swoop. You’ve got to decide your best attack in combating her; you can play small ball and stay away from her, or you can try to go big and physically compete with her. We’re not really there yet on a decision.”

Reeve made it abundantly clear that Griner will be a member of the Phoenix Mercury. When asked if the franchise would ever trade that pick, Reeve quickly replied, “Not for anything.” Teams across the league are already looking at Phoenix’s roster and evaluating it while assuming that Griner is a member of the Mercury.

For the Lynx, there is a little more urgency. They will be facing Phoenix plenty of times as co-members of the Western Conference, and Reeve’s eyes are dead set on her team building a playoff-bound resumé during the regular season.

“We know that we play them five times in the first six weeks, and so our training camp is going to be very geared towards preparation for playing those games,” Reeve said. “That’s an important tie-break, what we did in those five games is going to be very important. It comes down to home-court advantage.”

Looking at the Lynx roster, nobody has the size to match Griner. They will have to use different tactics, like double-teams, to work against her.

“Well from a size standpoint we’ve got some issues, because our biggest player is Amber Harris,” Reeve said of her 6-foot-5 forward. “I think she’s best suited with the physical attributes. She’s athletic and she’s long. I think Devereaux Peters has the most fight in her. Jessica Adair with her size and agility will be really interesting, I think the others are probably at a little bit of a disadvantage giving up six, seven inches.”

The dunks might be the flashiest part of Griner’s game, but a rule against defensive 3-seconds in the lane has already been established in the WNBA to try and equalize her innate blocking ability. This isn’t just any normal defender—this is a player who blocked more shots as a junior than any Division I team combined that season.

“You might as well call it the ‘Brittney Griner Rule,’” Reeve said. “It was something that during the course of last season, anticipating and watching Brittney even more, it was something we knew we were going to go for.”

Predictably, the only team to vote against the rule was Phoenix. And you can’t blame them; their coaching staff will still teach Griner how to work around the rule and get her fair share of shot rejections.

“[Phoenix coach] Corey Gaines has some NBA background, he participates on the Suns side,” Reeve said. “He has an understanding of ‘defensive 3’ and how to teach it, how to still get the job done from a shot-blocking standpoint. But I do think it’s going to impact her a little bit.”

On the offensive end, Griner isn’t the first scoring phenom from the college game to enter the WNBA. But none of the big names in the past have had size like she has.

“If you look at the last five or so years with Candace Parker, [Diana] Taurasi, Maya Moore,” Reeve said, “I think what you saw with each of those big names is that there is an adjustment period coming into our league. The difference between Brittney Griner and those players is the physical size; I think that will allow her to be successful right away.”

The scary thing about Griner’s offensive game is how it continues to expand. Her shooting range—even with her back to the hoop—has stretched out to 12 feet, and although she prefers shooting over her right shoulder, she is working on becoming more versatile.

“I haven’t seen much in a face-up game where she’s picking-and-popping or catching and shooting,” Reeve said. “I know she’s talked about that’s something she’s working on; she’ll need that in our league. Every post player has to be able to go 15 feet.”

And then... there’s the dunking.

Some might say two points are two points any way you can get them. But for women’s basketball, this is a big deal. Other players have dunked in the WNBA, but none have come even close to the frequency that Griner has been pulling off since high school.

“We have a lot of fans that love the WNBA because we play below the rim,” Reeve said, “but there seems to be another pool of fans that really enjoy the high-flying dunking. So I think to attract additional fans that maybe enjoy that part of it, that will be fun to see her impact there.

“I’m not necessarily looking forward to seeing it happening against us,” she added with a smile. “I don’t mind watching the highlights, but we’re certainly going to guard against it happening on our watch.”


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