As basketball goes small, there will always be a place for the bigs

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While analytics now rule sports, especially basketball, in determining talent among other things, and as players drift farther and farther away from the paint to launch shots, watching two giants operate on the blocks gives one hope that the game hasn’t totally changed.

It seems ages ago, but actually, it was just in the last century that, when a player was 6’-5” or taller, their playing down low was virtually mandatory. This changed in the 1980s and ’90s, especially in the NBA. Now the evolution of the little man’s game, either in size or thinking, is evident in today’s game.  

But in the WNBA, there still are bigs who stay within the paint. Minnesota’s 6’-6” Sylvia Fowles and Phoenix’s 6’-8” Brittany Griner are throwbacks to legendary NBA big men like Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Lanier, and others of their size. 

The two female post players have a healthy respect for each other, but they do go at each other as well. “Every time we go at each other, it’s a big clash,” Griner admitted.

“She is taller, but the thing with BG is that she is so long,” Fowles said of the seven-year veteran. “Anywhere you throw her the ball near the rim, it is going to [be] hard to guard [her].”

“She’s a hard guard [in] her physicality,” Phoenix Coach Sandy Brondello said of the 12-year Lynx center. “She is physically stronger than anyone else in this league.”

The Mercury coach gets to watch the Griner-Fowles matchup first hand. “Fowles has got more physical strength,” Brondello observed. “BG is getting stronger and probably has more offensive moves than Sylvia does.”

Griner and Fowles now rank third and fourth respectively on the league’s all-time blocks list, each player having amassed over 600 blocked shots. “Two dominant post players,” Brondello pointed out.

Along with the aforementioned two bigs, Liz Cambage (6’-8”) is an offensive load at Las Vegas, and former Gopher Amanda Zahui B. (6’-5”) is finally hitting her stride down low this season in New York, complementing 6’-6” Tina Charles, who’s listed as forward.

Connecticut Sun Coach Curt Miller has a giant in 6’-6” Jonquel Jones, but he quickly points out that she isn’t a big in the classic sense as are Fowles and Griner.  Jonquel “is one of those hybrid posts now,” Miller said of Jones. “She is really talented, and she’s growing and getting better with her back to the basket [moves].”

He noted of Fowles — the two-time WNBA champion, three-time Best Defensive Player, and 2017 league MVP — “[She] is one of the great back-to-the-basket players. She gets more shot attempts in the league.”

“I think the matchup [with Fowles] is good,” Griner continued. “I always enjoy the Minnesota games. I love it. She’s my height, size, wingspan. She really challenges me every time.”

Fowles said, “My main focus is to keep moving [defensively]. She [Griner] keeps me guessing on offense because she is so long. She keeps me thinking on offense.

“I do love the challenge,” Fowles marveled on her clashes with Griner. “She goes out there and does her thing.”

As the game continues to go small and analytics rule the roost, the bigs will still be needed on the court, especially in the W, Miller said. “This league has a lot of basketball games [that have] small ball, but you still see a lot of dominant bigs in this league,” the Sun Coach concluded. “There always will be a place for them.”

About Charles Hallman

Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at challman@spokesman-recorder.com

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