The Follow Through is my weekly column about the cool things that are happening in the WNBA. Nothing was cooler this week than Brittney Griner dunking, but also the entire dunking conversation when it comes to women’s basketball is fraught with sexism, so we’re going to talk about that too, plus some other things.
Let’s get going.
Brittney Griner’s Dunk Was Cool as Hell. It Also Brought Out the Twitter Sexists.
Brittney Griner dunked on Saturday night against the Wings. It was extremely fun and we’re going to talk about the actual play in a little bit, but first, let’s just talk about dunking.
I like when people dunk. Dunks rule! But when we talk about women’s basketball and dunking, we invariably end up having the same conversation over and over, which is that a bunch of sexist dudes on social media will say that women’s basketball is boring because there aren’t enough dunks and that the rim needs to be lowered so dunks happen more. And then when a dunk does happen, those same people will be like “oh, well, she didn’t dunk it well enough so it’s still boring and I’m still not watching.” The concern of these people isn’t dunking. They don’t actually want to see more women dunk basketballs; they just want a reason to hate on the WNBA. Lowering the rims wouldn’t fix that.
Yes, men’s basketball has significantly more dunks. But even in the NBA, those dunks aren’t necessarily exciting. Rudy Gobert led the NBA in dunks this year, but literally no one turns on the NBA and says, “I better see some Rudy Gobert dunks or I’m turning this off.” And lots of NBA players who people enjoy watching don’t dunk. Lou Williams is an extremely fun NBA player. He dunked zero times this year. There are exciting dunks, but let’s not pretend that every single dunk in a men’s basketball game makes you jump out of your seat and scream, “WOW THAT DUNK WAS SO GREAT.” Most dunks don’t!
Anyway, I’m getting on a tangent here, but the point is that the whole “lower the rims to encourage more dunks” talking point is bad. Lowering the rim fundamentally changes how the game is played. It would disadvantage women’s basketball players around the world as they would suddenly have significantly less access to playing on courts with the same rim height as the courts they’d be playing their games on. Everyone would have to relearn lots of things about shooting a basketball because all of these players have learned to shoot on a 10-foot hoop. It would be bad for women’s basketball and wouldn’t solve the issue of sexists not liking women’s basketball because they’d just find some other reason to hate on it. Don’t cater to those kinds of people!
Okay, rant over. Keep the rims where they are and appreciate the rare dunks we get to see for what they are: a super cool play that’s made even cooler by rarity.
With that said, let’s talk about the Griner dunk:
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 30, 2021
HOW. HOW DALLAS. HOW DO YOU LET GRINER GET THIS OPEN.
This is just a pretty simple pick play. Skylar Diggins-Smith is on the ball, and Griner comes over to set a pick for her. But Kristine Anigwe stays dropped back in her spot even as Griner is moving toward the ball. Moriah Jefferson chases Diggins-Smith around the screen, which suddenly leaves Griner with a free release to the basket.
I’ll repeat this again: How, Dallas.
I get that Griner isn’t a threat from deep so you don’t necessarily need to stick to her, and Diggins-Smith does a good job fooling the defense by driving inside, forcing Anigwe to confront her. Jefferson is behind Diggins-Smith here, so Anigwe really has no option but to pick her poison in terms of who to worry about. And so, there goes Griner, open to the bucket for the one-handed jam.
Tiffany Hayes Is Back
It seems like 2020’s bubble season made people forget that Tiffany Hayes is really good. But hey—she’s back this season and she’s playing some good basketball.
On the year, Hayes is averaging 16.6 points per game, the most of her career. She’s also adding 2.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.6 steals per game.
Hayes missed the season opener, which means the Dream are now 4-1 when she plays. Per Positive Residual, the Dream have a net rating of -1.0 on the season despite the 4-2 record. But with Hayes on the floor, that net rating rises to 0.9. If isolated down to just minutes when Hayes hasn’t played this season, the team’s net rating falls to -4.4, which means they’re being outscored by 4.4 points per 100 possessions when Hayes isn’t on the floor while they outscore teams by 0.9 points per 100 possessions when she is on court.
It’s a small sample size, but Hayes is really helping get Atlanta out of the cellar that the entire media and fan community expected the Dream would be in.
On an individual level, Hayes ranks in the 93rd percentile in points per possession (PPP) in the half court. She’s excelling as both a pick-and-roll ball-handler and a spot up shooter. She’s scoring 1.667 PPP on jump shots, which ranks in the 97th percentile, and she’s hitting 44.4 percent of her threes. Hayes has never been the most consistent three-point shooter, but with Courtney Williams drawing so much attention now because of the development of her own three-pointer, the Dream guards should see a rise in efficiency.
LAYSHIA IN MINNESOTA
The New York Liberty moved on from Layshia Clarendon earlier this season. And that move made sense at the time; the Liberty have a system they like to run and Clarendon’s skill set doesn’t fit too well in that system as they haven’t historically been a great three-point shooter.
But after Sunday, maybe the Liberty want to call backsies on this?
Clarendon made her Lynx debut against the league’s best team. He finished with 12 points, five rebounds, and three assists. Oh, and they made a huge three-pointer in overtime:
so extremely cool to see Layhia hitting go-ahead threes in overtime after being cut so recently pic.twitter.com/GziQcpaalv
— Justin Carter (@juscarts) May 31, 2021
This is just one of those classic “oh, we don’t need to guard this player and can send their defender to the ball if we need to” plays. Don’t do that! Clarendon has space here and she’s able to take a clean shot from deep. Game changed.
Also, let’s just admire this shot, which didn’t count but almost won the game for Minnesota in regulation:
Inject. It. In. My. Veins. pic.twitter.com/FVrbPfntFK
— Arielle (Ari) Chambers (@ariivory) May 31, 2021
Maybe if a player does this just a few minutes earlier, you should try not to lose them defensively a few minutes later!
Do I think they’ll have this kind of game every night? Probably not. But even without that, the Lynx get a lot of leadership in that backcourt. Clarendon’s a reliable veteran point guard. Depth behind Crystal Dangerfield has been an issue so far, and the addition of Clarendon is something that helps fix that.
Some Other Things I Thought This Week
- Is it too early to say that the Rookie of the Year race is over? Because Michaela Onyenwere seems to have snatched that title already. She’s playing reliable minutes for a contender and just had 29 points against the Dream, though it was a loss.
- The Wings are confusing me. Charli Collier’s minutes have been down. Awak Kuier and Chelsea Dungee are barely playing. Bella Alarie is out of the rotation. These are things you do when you’re trying to win now, but most teams in win now mode don’t have three of the first five picks on their roster as well as three more first round picks from 2020. This is when a team needs to make some big trade for a star, taking those assets and turning them into someone who can make your Arike/Satou/Gray core into contenders. Will that happen? I doubt it. There doesn’t seem to be any star players looking to be dealt right now, and the last two disgruntled WNBA stars to request trades were requesting to be traded out of Dallas. This past free agency when all the Sparks stars were available might have been the last chance for Dallas to make this kind of move.
- The Sky have lost four in a row. With how they’re built to play, not having Candace Parker and Allie Quigley takes away so much of what makes them a threat offensively, and then the defense without Parker just seems to fall apart too much. Diamond DeShields is scoring in just the 32nd percentile in transition, which is also a bad sign for a player who really needs to make a star leap for this team to be real contenders.
- Over the last three games, the Aces have a net rating of 14.5 in the 54 minutes where Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson shared the floor. That’s still the worst net rating of any Aces duo to play 50 or more minutes together, so don’t assume things have been figured out, but it’s worth noting that in 2019, the 429 minutes they played together resulted in a net rating of just 2.9. Maybe this can work!