Friday, April 5, 2013

A Woman in the NBA: Why Mark Cuban's Dallas Mavericks Would Draft Baylor Star Brittney Griner

What are the odds Brittney Griner stays in Texas with the Dallas Mavericks? (

Brittney Griner has been an enigma in college basketball since her freshman year in 2009-10. She has a list of achievements to her name that most players male or female, NCAA or NBA will never fathom, let alone accrue. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban knows this. That's why Cuban mentioned he may steer the team toward drafting the Baylor post player, if she is the best option on the board this summer. But not to be overlooked is the caveat that Cuban acknowledged: the financial coup of marketing the NBA's first female player.

See, Cuban is a businessman first and foremost. That is what allows him to be an NBA owner. The fact that he happens to be a good one is a direct reflection of his business acumen and intense interest in his investment. When he spoke about taking a flyer on Griner as a draft pick, Cuban did so knowing the Mavs will likely miss the playoffs after a predictably rocky season; that his team will soon be out of the headlines as its already aging star player comes off a campaign in which he missed nearly 30 games to injury; that even with possibility of a future with O.J. Mayo as a first scoring option and the fully realized potential of Jae Crowder, the Mavericks are not a particularly attractive franchise right now.

Enter the idea of drafting one of the most dominant players in NCAA women's basketball history. An all-conference and All-American selection several times over, a four-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and an Olympian before college graduation, Griner would seem to have the easiest transition to make for any woman hoping to play in the NBA to date.

Ann Meyers, a former UCLA guard, tried out for the Indiana Pacers in 1979, when the pro game was much different than it is in the league's current iteration. At 5'9", 134 pounds, Meyers would have been out-muscled and outmatched, a common argument against the idea of a woman playing any professional sport alongside men. However, that is not the exact case being leveraged against Griner. The Baylor star is 6'8", 208 pounds, according to last summer's Team USA roster.

A survey of every NBA player on an opening night roster in 2007-08 returned an average height of 6'6.98" and a mean weight of 221 pounds, putting Griner an inch above most Association players, albeit slightly leaner. There have been plenty of skinny NBA players — Tayshaun Prince and Kevin Durant, to be current; Reggie Miller, Manute Bol to drop names — that overcame their perceived disadvantage to make professional careers, be it with unorthodox or traditional, one-dimensional or well-rounded skill sets.

Griner's issue would not be a physical unpreparedness, but rather a need to change the fundamental basics of her game. She would have to learn to guard players on every inch of the court, not just the interior. Her scoring prowess has been predicated on muscling through defenses in the low post, being able to dunk over the usual women's NCAA ilk. Griner would not be able to do this against players like Tyson Chandler or Zach Randolph. With an improvement in lateral quickness, Griner could use her already solid footwork to score in the paint, but she could not feast there like she has while at Baylor. Even in the midst of the positional revolution, Griner would be more suited to play as a small forward than in the four or five spot in the NBA. Furthermore, she would need to greatly improve her ball-handling and extend the range of her jumper, moving outside of the 10-foot arc surrounding the basket. Griner has been reliable from 3-point range, shooting 40 percent from downtown through four years, but going two-of-five from long range through 148 games is not exactly a large sample size. If her jump shot is true, it is not unthinkable that Griner could become a spot-up option in the NBA, particularly as a complement to a slashing guard or on possessions against zone defenses.

First, though, Griner has to enter the NBA Draft and get selected. Cuban properly summed up her stock:
"Right now, I'd lean toward yes, just to see if she can do it. You never know unless you give somebody a chance, and it's not like the likelihood of any late-50s draft pick has a good chance of making it."
The hypothetical if of drafting Griner is compounded by where she would be picked. Draft picks, especially those in the first round, are more valuable than ever under the new CBA, but a "late-50s" pick relegates her to one of the last five spots, which rarely produce viable players from the droves of men's college players or the overseas stock. Fairly, if she was the best option available, this is where Griner would be chosen. It is where history would be made. She would proceed to go through the normal rigors of an NBA freshman, attending the NBA rookie symposium and possibly playing in the summer league. The latter is something Cuban is also aware of, saying "That'd sell out a few games."

He's right, of course. Assigning her to the Mavs' D-League affiliate would do the same for the Texas Legends, a team experienced in making splashy moves. Bringing her onto an NBA roster would do the same. To the general public, Griner would be a novelty until she proved she could compete and, based on Dallas' roster management in recent years, Griner could very well be an option for the Mavericks if she proved herself to Cuban.

On paper, Cuban can break down a defense. He knows what Griner would need to do to help the Mavericks win. Cuban can also break down an expense report and a budget, and he knew exactly what he was doing when he mentioned a chance of the Mavs drafting Griner. It created a buzz about a floundering franchise and executing such a plan would attract a previously unmined interest in attending games, whether they are in the Las Vegas summer league or on Dallas' home court.

Beyond the questions of "Could she compete with men?" and "Could she get drafted?" is another, less bandied but equally buzzworthy query: "Why would an NBA team draft Brittney Griner?" Cuban knows the answer to this question and he knows it is not all about which remaining player is best on draft night.

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