“If she is the best on the board, I will take her. I’ve thought about it. I’ve thought about it already. Would I do it? 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-50’s draft pick has a good chance of making it.” – Mark Cuban on the possibility of drafting Brittney Griner
It’s the topic that has been blowing up Twitter all day. Could Brittney Griner, fresh off arguably the most dominating career in women’s college basketball history, make it in the NBA? What would happen if she was selected? I enlisted the help of Steve, Jared, Amin, and Derek to answer these questions and more.
1. Make your best case for why she could succeed in the NBA.
Eric: Basketball wise, she’s 6’8″ with an 88″ wing span, possesses great timing on the defensive end, is a fantastic shot blocker, can rebound the ball, and shot 60% from the field this season. Intangibles wise, she would come in to the league with a chip on her shoulder with no shortage of people telling her that she’s going to fail spectacularly. The extra motivation of wanting to prove people wrong could conceivably push her game to the next level and allow her to be successful in the NBA.
Steve: Although the league as a whole is growing ever more athletic, the emphasis is more on finesse and flexibility than brute strength. Sure, there are players like Pekovic who bang inside, but he seems like the exception instead of the rule. As such, a very athletic woman player seems like she could find a place on the right team with the right scheme. The scheme is the second important part of this; deployed in a disruptive way to change the complexion of the game, Griner could be effective as a small-ball power forward in spots.
Jared: She’s 6’8 and presumably has some basketball skills, which is more than you can say for a bunch of NBA bench players.
Amin: She’s a fantastic basketball player, and gender segregation is fucking stupid.
Derek: Well, if you’re the NCAA’s all-time leader in blocks (men’s or women’s) then you clearly have some instincts, and being 6’8 with a 7’1 wingspan which makes her an NBA sized perimeter player, and MAYBE a small ball four at best. And of course shooting 60% isn’t bad either.
2. Make your best case for why this could fail.
Eric: She’s never faced anything remotely close to an NBA level of competition before. While her height allows her to be dominant at the women’s level playing against opponents who are, on average, shorter than her, she will be simply average height when going up against NBA players on a nightly basis which should, theoretically, diminish the number of shots she will be able to block. As with any other rookie in the league, she’ll be adjusting to an 82 game schedule as well, complete with back to backs. Add in the media scrutiny and taunts she will surely receive on the road, and it becomes easy to see why the odds are stacked against her.
Steve: There are very few teams that could do this right. You need a team whose culture is stable enough that the trust of the players in that system would not be questioned over this, over whether it was just a PR move. The Spurs come immediately to mind, maybe the Heat. But with a team like Dallas where Cuban seems to be casting around for attention, I think it weakens the internal structure of the team. And not because she’s a woman, but because it’s too easy to view it as a stunt.
Jared: While she’s an overpowering, overwhelmingly athletic center for her college team, she’d likely be an underwhelmingly (in comparison to NBA players at her position) athletic small forward with a weight disadvantage against nearly every opponent in the NBA. She’d need to develop skills I don’t know if she has (cards on the table: I’ve never watched her play a full game. I’ve only seen SportsCenter highlights). And then there’d be the whole media circus thing, which can throw off anyone, man or woman.
Amin: Two reasons: A) She’d likely be playing out of position, and that would take some getting used to (a time period for which many teams might not have patience). B) She’s a woman entering a male-dominated profession who will likely face discrimination by players and fans. That seems pretty hard to deal with to me.
Derek: Well, at 6’8 and 200 pounds she would not be an NBA center, meaning she would have to learn an entirely new position while going against players with athleticism she has never seen before. As Kelly Dwyer pointed out, Mavs center Brandan Wright is 6’9 or so and 210 pounds and he has struggled to get much burn in the NBA, and Griner is smaller than he is. And then there’s just the physical differences between men and women which would be difficult to overcome at this level. That’s not sexist or saying in any way that women aren’t as good as men, or that her achievements are lesser because she’s a woman; it’s just scientific fact given the way our bodies are.
Let me change direction for a moment and remind ourselves that we’ve also seen tons of players that were terrific college players, but struggled to adapt to the speed of the NBA and adjust to facing more talented players that are also more athletic than they were used to. We’re talking about the NBA, where even the less-talented players can be ridiculously athletic. You don’t think the learning curve for Griner would be even steeper here when you take into account everything I mentioned above?
3. Hypothetically, your favorite team is picking in the middle of the second round in the draft. Would you be OK with taking her?
Eric: As a Cavs fan who has seen Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, and Dion Waiters struggle with injuries all year thereby weakening an already suspect bench by thrusting usual bench guys into starting roles, I would be fine with taking anyone who could add even a modicum of depth to the team. I don’t care whether they come from the Harlem Globetrotters, the AND1 Mixtape tour (BRB guys, ordering a Professor jersey), or women’s college basketball. For every Daniel Gibson that the Cavs have taken in the second round in the past years, I swear to you Gibson used to be at least semi-productive, there are the Milan Macvans and Ejike Ugboajas of the world. Would I take Griner over those guys who will never see the light of day on an NBA court? Sure.
Steve: I’m not okay with David Kahn drafting anyone ever period.
Jared: No. The Knicks are win now. All rookies need to have at least 10 years of NBA experience. (Don’t check my math on that.)
Amin: I’ll answer for both of my teams: If the Cavs draft her, I don’t think there’s any problem. All the guys on the Cavs are young (about her age), and they’ll have grown up in a more gender-neutral era. They could be pretty welcoming. If the Wizards draft her, then Ernie Grunfeld will probably find a way to stash her overseas, like so many of the 2nd-round Wizards draft picks before her. He’ll get really confused when she pleads that she’s from America, and she’ll still probably play ahead of Jan Vesely and Cartier Martin anyway.
Derek: If it were the Timberwolves, I’d say no because I could do without the draft day sideshow and jokes. And much of the reason why I would only want to see it is if they were going to give her a serious chance to make the team, and not just a PR stunt, because she is talented and deserves to have a legitimate shot at utilizing those talents. As Cuban himself said, what’s the difference with taking her with the 50th pick or taking someone else if the success rate is about the same? Either way, I’d only like to see her selected or invited to camp if someone was going to give her a real chance. I have no problem with her being selected, or invited to camp because she’s a woman, and I’d like to see her be successful at it, but I would want to see it done right. Regardless of gender/race/orientation/
4. What would the general reaction be among players on the team that drafted her?
Eric: I think it goes without saying that at first, there would absolutely be some trepidation. Any time that a barrier (racial, gender, or otherwise) is broken, you are going to have differing opinions in the locker room. Some will be staunchly against it, some will go out of their way to embrace it, and some will reserve opinion for a later time. At the end of the day though, athletes in any sport are about winning. As Charles Barkley put it when he was asked about his opinions on playing with a gay teammate, “I’d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can’t play.” If Griner proves to be better than any other option that would be considered for that position, eventually her teammates would accept her.
Steve: I think there are layers to the reaction. I think our assumption that they would have a problem with it is a very surface-level reaction that treats all jocks as misogynist assholes—which is not to say that some of them will have that reaction. Overall, I think NBA players have a very deep appreciation for their fellow players, whatever their gender. In some ways, professional women basketball players are a lot closer to NBA pros than male college players. I’d like to think there’s a mutual understanding there among a lot of players in the NBA and WNBA right now. But on the other hand, no matter their genuine opinion, you’re going to have a hard time getting a good read on it because they’re so good at toeing the line of saying the right thing while saying absolutely nothing.
Jared: Would probably depend on the team. The Spurs (players) would welcome her with open arms, even though the front office would never take her because they hate media attention. The Kings coaches would manage deploy her wrong and playing with Reke and Boogie would ruin her spirit. Her and Jimmer would be fast friends, though. The Nets would put her on every billboard in America and Kris Humphries would try to get her into his commercial with James Harden for next season. Brook Lopez would take her to a few comic book shops in Brooklyn. Kobe would take her under his wing and give her a nickname, like he did for Pau (Swan) and Nash (Gatsby) but hasn’t done for Dwight (Dwight).
Amin: I think it depends on the age of the players on the team. If the core of the team is young, then they’ll be more welcoming, just by virtue of being raised in a less discriminatory era. I don’t know how welcoming, but it’s a pretty common phenomenon that discrimination biases tend to get weaker generation by generation.
Derek: I’m sure it would be a different dynamic than they were used to, especially for veterans. Really, all of the basketball stuff is the same, but they may treat her differently, I don’t know. I’m sure that as far as the locker room stuff went, if the WNBA can have male coaches with a female team, a male team and male coach could make it work with a female player on the roster. Now that I think about it, it is interesting we’re discussing the possibility of a female player before we are discussing a female general manager or head coach. It would seem to me that having a female general manager or head coach would more likely set the precedent for having a female player, but this is where the discussion has come first. Just a thought.
5. What’s the ratio between the decision to take her because she helps your team vs the decision to take her because it drives interest (Marketing, PR, etc.)?
Eric: In an ideal world, this would be a 100/0 ratio with helping the team on the court being the only reason she would be selected. Unfortunately, I think it’s closer to a 30/70 blend league wide. Of course, it’s going to depend on the team that takes her. Mark Cuban and Co. might take her both for the marketing opportunities and because they rank 28th in the NBA in rebounding rate this year. For the most part, however, I see a team taking her in an effort to sell more tickets, be the topic of discussion on PTI, and set the blogosphere ablaze. I hope I’m wrong.
Steve: I feel like this ratio has to be as close to 1:1 as possible for it to make sense for the above stated reasons. If it doesn’t make sense from a basketball perspective, any marketing or PR gain will quickly dissipate. But it’s equally true that no rational person could buy taking her as a strictly basketball decision. At best, any rookie requires time and acclimation to the league, and you can bet on that being even more fraught for Griner.
Jared: Again depends on the team. If a team took her specifically to drive interest, that would suck. I’d hope any team spending a draft pick on her would value draft picks enough not to spend one solely for PR purposes.
Amin: That’s gotta depend on the team. You’d like to think that teams draft only to try to help get better, but I guess that’s not the case. If she’s drafted in the 2nd round, the earlier she’s drafted, the more likely she is to be used (because those teams are worse and have rotations that need players). The later she’s drafted, the less likely she’ll be used (better teams, deeper rotations).
Derek: That’s the thing considering she’d be learning a new position and going against far better athletes, I’m not sure just how much NBA people would actually think she could help a team. She would certainly have to prove a lot in exhibition play, and that leads me to believe that it would mostly be a PR stunt.
6. Why not take her? Seriously, what’s the harm in this?
Eric: The biggest drawback is if a GM takes Griner, she turns out to be completely overmatched, and someone selected after her goes on to be a rotation player or, in the worst case scenario for that GM, a starter in the league. That GM will have to go through the rest of his career with the equivalent of a scarlet letter on his chest and forever be branded as the guy that took a woman over [Insert rotation player/starter's name here]. Do we hold every other GM in the league accountable for allowing 56 picks to go by before Manu Ginobili was selected in 1999? No, of course not. Will that stop people from criticizing the GM who took Griner? No, of course not.
Steve: I think the greatest risk it poses is to the idea of building the culture of the team, something that Stan Van Gundy alluded to numerous times when he spoke at the Sloan Sports Conference. A team is not made simply by making the best decision at every opportunity. I know: that sounds weird. But we—all of us—are the products of both good and bad decisions. It’s both impossible and undesirable to only make the right choices. It’s paralyzing, first of all, and secondly, it leads to a sense of instability when you’re talking about an entire organization. This is why I think a team like the Spurs can deal with this: their culture is rock solid, and it says, “We can take anyone who has skills and make him (or her, I guess) a Spur.” For a team that has principles of how they grow the team, this could work so long as it’s seen as something that grows the team according to those principles. If a team doesn’t have those principles, it risks being seen as a shot in the dark.
Jared: Because she would probably be available as an undrafted free agent.
Amin: The only harm in it would be psychological to her because of the very-likely-ignorant crap that’ll be flung at her. But if she can play, and she wants to play, and she’s picked up, there is zero harm.
Derek: Well, you probably figure out a way to sell more tickets to those preseason games that you just can’t move, and season ticket holders may be more inclined to attend them instead of giving them away or letting them go unused. And they probably could sell some merchandise off of it, of course. However, the harm that I could see coming from a franchise’s standpoint is if you make it look like a PR stunt or a cash grab if you didn’t play your cards right. As far as basketball reasons I don’t see much harm at all, though. I would really hate to see more of the current dialogue continue of, “Is she a woman?” and ignorant stuff like that, and I don’t see that going away even if she were successful. But as Amin mentioned above it would be a reality she would have to face, and she would have to be mentally strong to deal with that possibly intensifying in the NBA.