Brittney Griner will be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 WNBA draft.
Will she be a pick in the NBA draft, too?
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was the first NBA owner to speak up about Griner's place with the boys on Tuesday, claiming to reporters that he might take a flyer on Baylor's star center in the second round of the 2013 NBA draft (via ESPN).
While Cuban is no stranger to media attention, the thought of a women's college basketball player taking the leap to the NBA is quite strange indeed. Cuban believes she has the skill set to thrive—even playing against an entirely different level of athlete:
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-50s draft pick has a good chance of making it.
Griner, never to shy away from a challenge after a Baylor career that included 748 blocked shots, 18 dunks and a perfect season that led to a National Championship in 2012, responded positively to Cuban's remarks on Twitter:
That's all fine and dandy, but is there any chance Griner can compete in the toughest basketball league on the planet?
Her stats in college would suggest yes.
Over her four-year stint with Kim Mulkey and the Bears, Griner averaged 22.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.1 blocks per game while completely dominating the college level. Her awards and accolades are simply too many to list, but provide a deeper level of how much she has impacted the women's basketball scene over the last four years.
A place in the WNBA awaits. The Phoenix Mercury hold the top pick in the 2013 WNBA draft, and Griner will be headed for Arizona unless the surprise of the century happens between now and April 16.
With the WNBA draft a clear two months ahead of the NBA draft and the WNBA season slated to start on May 25, Griner would likely have to forgo her rookie season with the Mercury—or whatever team selects her—for a shot at the NBA that would be anything but guaranteed.
We know she could continue her path of destruction in the post against fellow women. But against NBA power forwards and centers (Griner is 6'8"), can you imagine what her role would be on offense? Better yet, how would she defend the league's top post men?
When you watch Griner play, it's clear she takes full advantage of her demonstrative height. Catching the ball in the post is quite easy, as is pivoting towards the basket and shooting a set shot that goes largely uncontested against smaller defenders.
It wouldn't be that simple against NBA forwards.
Imagine Griner going up against guys like Zach Randolph, Paul Millsap or Brandon Bass. She would be physically outmatched when trying her patented set shot, while quite defenseless when one of those guys decided to use a quick spin or power move to the inside.
While her talent would be intriguing in a 2-3 zone, the NBA's defensive three-second rule would nuke any added advantage she would gain from being a shot-blocking expert.
On the flip side, Griner does have enough athleticism to be considered as a 3-4 hybrid.
She has the ball skills to dribble up the court, has a nice mid-range game that wasn't ever necessary due to being bigger than most teams and has even stretched the court from the three-point line from time to time.
On the wing, things get even dicier. How would Griner play defense against a guy like Rudy Gay, Shawn Marion or Kevin Durant? She has the basketball IQ to compete in short stretches, but not the speed to play 40 minutes per night and contend with either bigger forwards or faster guards.
All that said, this is not an attack on Griner, or women's place in sports. In the spirit of fairness, she deserves a shot. Anyone who dominates the women's ranks with motivation to play in the best basketball league on the planet should get the chance to achieve their goals.
ESPN's Tim MacMahon agrees, as the Las Vegas Summer League would be warrant publicity for Cuban's Mavericks he couldn't get anywhere else:
Right now the tale of the tape on Griner is simple: The odds are stacked against her NBA prospects.
She would be challenged in the WNBA. The challenge might not be enough to where she wouldn't succeed—something the NBA could provide an athlete that has largely had her way since being considered the nation's top recruit.
But how do you evaluate her NBA chances when she's never played against NBA talent?
Call Cuban what you will (opinions are wide-ranging) but he's right about one thing—Griner has done enough to earn a shot. She has a nice post game around the basket, is a developing passer with all the double-teams that came her way in college and already has something you can't teach—size.
At the next, next level, Griner would have to evolve her game even more. She's not bulky enough to play in the post for 40 minutes. Nor is she stout enough to handle the NBA back-down of a guy like Al Jefferson or Amar'e Stoudemire. I hate to keep sounding negative, but the speed isn't there to guard guys on the perimeter, either.
All that adds up to one conclusion—Griner might be the most intriguing NBA prospect in this year's draft. With what we know about her right now, an extremely positive recommendation for her NBA prospects would be a 10th woman of sorts, playing about 10-12 minutes per game against some of the less imposing frontcourt players on NBA rosters.
The Baylor star has a decision to make. Cuban has already made his, and likely has a place waiting on Dallas' Summer League team if she decides to put the WNBA on hold for a season.
This is groundbreaking stuff, people. Whether Griner makes it long-term in the NBA or not, she has warranted herself a chance in the eyes of someone calling the shots.