The revenge of the bigs — Curt Miller talks Connecticut Sun playoff clinching — Must-click women’s basketball links

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To talk to the general managers around the WNBA over the past few seasons was to hear a group largely dedicated to finding, and matching, the positionless, speed-based units that have won championships three seasons running in Seattle and DC.

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Scouting 5s meant finding the centers who can stretch the floor. An effort is underway in New York to go five-out as much as possible. And teams from Dallas to Chicago have moved toward this free-flowing basketball as well, mirroring an NBA movement that has now made traditional centers all but obsolete.

But a funny thing has happened to traditional centers on the way to the trash heap of history — they’ve taken over the 2021 narrative.

In Minnesota, Sylvia Fowles is having perhaps her best season ever, and put up a 29 and 20 monster game Tuesday night. Brittney Griner is setting career highs in both true shooting and rebounding percentages.

I was in Connecticut, watching the Sun take apart the Las Vegas Aces. Bill Laimbeer’s team has been a difficult matchup all season, combining the league’s best pace with more effective duality from Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson. But Connecticut could counter with a pair of bigs in Jonquel Jones and Bri Jones who, with the help of DeWanna Bonner, shot the duo down for the evening.

Still, all the bigs I mentioned, other than Syl (who doesn’t age, making her time on earth irrelevant for future projections) are young — only Griner and Cambage turned 30, and only just last year and week, respectively. It’s easy to see how, for the next few seasons should Cambage stick around and keep playing in the WNBA, these two teams can come to define a significant part of the WNBA power structure. The same is true of Minnesota, since the core around Syl is in its prime, age-wise, and again, Fowles somehow gets better as she gets older.

And it’s working: Connecticut, Las Vegas, Minnesota and Phoenix are in the league’s top five, alongside Seattle.

The zagging here is fascinating. I talked to Curt Miller about why he’s done this in Connecticut, and it’s largely been about compensating for the loss of Alyssa Thomas, who he called “the best defender in the world”, but isn’t a traditional five as much as a new-age point power forward. And Bill Laimbeer is simply Bill Laimbeer: he wants his teams big, period, and he is impervious to league trends. (Keeps on working, I’d note.)

But the knock-on effects might be even more interesting. Winners earn copycats, and as surely as we’ve seen teams try to emulate Seattle and Washington. The already-intense interest in positioning to draft Aliyah Boston once she plays her four years at South Carolina will only increase as teams try to figure out how to beat a team with two bigs.

Now, Breanna Stewart might make this all moot by simply deciding to do that thing where she steps on opponents necks, a common refrain throughout her career. But if Stewart is proving anything, beyond creating a GOAT resume that will be difficult for anybody to best, it is that you probably can’t build your team around Breanna Stewart without, you know, Breanna Stewart.

And so it will be fascinating to see how this resurgence of bigs plays out, not only in the season’s final weeks, but the playoffs to come. It could matter for the future stock of every big playing collegiate ball right now, too, and even how teams are built.

This Week in Women’s Basketball

Derek Willis, a favorite journalist of mine I never knew cared about women’s basketball, writes about the U19 team.

Jackie Powell is must-read on the league’s efforts regarding mental health.

I wrote about Ticha Penicheiro for NBA Alumni magazine.

Great stuff from Hayley McGoldrick on Kelsey Mitchell.

Barbara Turner has been a critical part of the Houston Rockets’ summer league plan.

Tamika Jeter is off to a strong start at Wittenberg.

A fantastic New York Liberty at 25 piece here from Kelly Whiteside.

Diana Taurasi is must-listen on her basketball future.

Five at The IX: Curt Miller talks clinching playoffs

Curt Miller speaks to the media, August 24, 2021.
Curt Miller speaks to the media, August 24, 2021.
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