In its 17-year history, the WNBA has been the target of a lot scrutiny and criticism.
That was not the case last Monday during the league’s draft, when the WNBA not only received positive media attention, but received a lot of it.
For the first time in the league’s history, the WNBA draft was on primetime television. And for good reason.
The talent level in the WNBA has undoubtedly been on the rise in recent years, but never has there been a draft class like this. Campaigned as the “3 to See,” Brittany Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins will make an immediate impact on the women’s game.
Griner has become a household name in the basketball world with her 6’8’’ frame. With a wingspan longer than that of Andrew Bynum, Griner brings a presence that the WNBA has never seen before. Yes, there have been taller players than Griner to play in the WNBA, but none that can jump or have the talent of Griner.
Coming from Baylor University, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind, including Griner’s, that she would be going as the No. 1 pick to the Phoenix Mercury. General Manager and Head Coach Corey Gaines knew as well, even if he tried not to admit it.
The accolades for Griner are numerous. She set an NCAA record for blocked shots, ranks second on the all-time scoring list, tallied a 50-point performance last season and led the Lady Bears to a perfect, unprecedented 40-0 season in 2011-12. Not to mention, she’s already dunked 18 times. And these are real dunks.
Without a doubt, Griner will change the game with her dunking and blocking ability. Heading to Phoenix, there was an initial question of whether she would fit in with the Mercury’s run and gun high-paced offense. However, Griner’s rebounding ability will only jumpstart Phoenix’s break and give them a post presence in the half court set they’ve yet to have.
Plus, for a team that doesn’t focus on defense, Griner’s blocking ability will only help the Mercury execute its game plan: outscore the opponent.
For the first time in years, all the attention will not be on Griner. The game will be more physical for her, but she won’t have the constant triple team she’s accustomed to. The reason for that is that Phoenix also happens to feature the No. 1 player in the world — and I’m not talking about Griner.
Diana Taurasi is back this season after missing last season with a hip flexor injury. She’s the best scorer in the world and can knock down the three-point shot from NBA range, which will allow Griner freedom down low.
It’s hard to bet on who will win the WNBA championship this early, especially with the defending champion Indiana Fever returning its core group, but it is certain that Phoenix should dominate the Western Conference and be contending for a WNBA championship.
Elena Delle Donne
After this year’s NCAA Tournament, Delle Donne has become America’s sweetheart in a women’s basketball jersey.
She boasts a phenomenal story, signing with Connecticut after becoming one of the top high school recruits in the country only to leave overnight during the summer without telling anyone due to homesickness. She wasn’t enjoying basketball anymore and stepped away from the game.
Thankfully for women’s basketball, Delle Donne did return to basketball, but this time for Delaware, the college close to home.
Dominating for the Fighting Blue Hens, Delle Donne led her team to the school’s first ever Sweet 16 performance, going in as the underdog and defeating great teams like North Carolina.
Like Griner, Delle Donne is used to seeing double and triple teams on a nightly basis, but what sets Delle Donne apart is her versatility. Delle Donne is 6’5’’ and can easily body up down low, but she also has a spectacular three-point shot and the ball handling skills of a guard.
She finished fifth on the all-time NCAA scoring list, finishing with over 3,000 points, which is remarkable considering she missed time on the court during her career due to Lyme Disease.
She’s a player unlike anybody the women’s game has ever seen before, almost resembling a combination of Lauren Jackson and Diana Taurasi — which says a lot considering those are the best two players in the women’s game today.
Delle Donne will join the Chicago Sky, a team with potential that has also never made the playoffs. Playing with the great inside presence of Sylvia Fowles and young guards like Courtney Vandersloot and Epiphanny Prince, Delle Donne will fill a large role in the forward position and should mesh well with Swin Cash on the wing.
Despite the recent media attention that comes with her success, Delle Donne still remains an underrated player after playing at a smaller college. But look out Eastern Conference, she’s ready to play.
Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer, Diggins brought the Fighting Irish back into the national spotlight in women’s basketball.
While she leaves without a national championship, Diggins is the future point guard in the WNBA.
A solid all-around player, Diggins has great range on her shot, but also can be deceptively quick getting into the lane, showing essences of a Becky Hammon-like guard.
However, Diggins also gets it done on the defensive end and is known for picking the pocket of her opponents’ point guard, leading to easy layups on the other end.
As equally important as her play, though, is her leadership. For Notre Dame, Diggins was always the player to get her teammates fired up and has a competitive spirit unmatched by any other rookie this year.
Selected as the No. 3 draft pick to the Tulsa Shock, Diggins goes to a team that will probably surprise people this season. Tulsa has yet to find success since its days in Detroit and finished last in the Western Conference the last two seasons.
However, they are a completely different team than last season, and Diggins will fill a role much needed by the Shock. She will facilitate an offense with plenty of talent, playing beside Stanford grads Candice Wiggins, Nicole Powell and Kayla Pedersen. All will be great options for Diggins on the drive and dish, or she can lob the ball down low to the young Australian, Liz Cambage, who, by the way, is also 6’8’’.
She may be a rookie, but this point guard could lead the Shock to its first successful season. Already beyond her years, this team will belong to Diggins.
With all bringing something different to the table, Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins have created a buzz around the WNBA this season.
The WNBA is continuously improving and showing the capability of women as basketball players. With every year, the league brings in more and more talent, and this rookie class is absolutely no exception.
For a still very young league, the future looks bright.
This article is an online exclusive and did not appear int eh print edition of the Daily Nexus.