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Brittney Griner's career-highs against Lynx reflect significant second-year improvements

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Brittney Griner had career-highs in scoring and rebounding in the Mercury's win against the Lynx last night, reflecting major improvements in her all-around game.

Photo by USA Today Sports.

After the Phoenix Mercury's 92-79 win over the Minnesota Lynx last night, I hopped on the Bright Side of the Sun podcast to discuss the game, the team, and the WNBA season generally.

When host Kris Habbas asked me what I thought the biggest difference between the 2014 Phoenix Mercury that has already beaten the Minnesota Lynx twice and last year's edition that couldn't do it once all season, my immediate thought was pretty simple: Brittney Griner.

Of course, after last night's win Griner was the glaringly obvious answer: Griner had a career-high 27 points on 11-for-15 shooting and career-high tying 18 rebounds. As noted in the Mercury's postgame release last night, "In TWO games against Minnesota this season, Griner is averaging 20.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.00 blocked shots (2-0 record); in THREE games played against the Lynx a season ago, BG averaging 11.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.33 blocks."

Even with the caveat that the Lynx were playing without Rebekkah Brunson in those two Lynx games thus far this season, her performance against the defending champions reflects her general improvement throughout this season. As described recently by Pat Friday here at Swish Appeal, her comfort in the post has visibly improved this season as she's not only getting deeper position but also looking more patient (as a passer and shooter) once she gets the ball in the paint.

Defensively, her fouls per minute are about where they were last season according to Basketball-Reference, but her impact on the team's numbers are more impressive. The Mercury currently hold opponents to conference-low 54.7% field goal percentage at the rim, according to numbers through June 15. Griner's plus/minus numbers suggest that her dominant defensive impact is a large part of that: through June 15, Mercury opponents were scoring 68 points per 100 possessions with Griner on the floor and 91 points per 100 possessions with her off the floor, as mentioned in last night's game thread - almost any way you look at it, those are Defensive Player of the Year caliber numbers.

But the more subtle development to watch for Griner is her improving rebounding numbers: not mentioned in that Mercury release was that Griner also had a career-high 5 offensive rebounds against the Lynx. And if there was one statistical weakness in her profile as a draft prospect coming out of Baylor, the offensive rebounding rate was it.

"She let me know I need to rebound," Griner said after the game, according to the Mercury release. "There's no reason I [shouldn't] have at least 10 a night. I wanted to make that effort to go get it. Rebounds are just effort. Before the game I was like, ‘Rebound, rebound, rebound.'"

So far, she has made a pretty significant jump in that department from her rookie season to this season.

Year

G

MP

PER

TS%

FTr

ORB%

DRB%

TRB%

AST%

2013

27

702

22.4

0.59

0.35

6.7

20.4

14.1

7.6

2014

11

333

27.7

0.64

0.35

10.8

25.3

18.7

11.1

Car

38

1035

24.1

0.61

0.35

8

22

15.6

8.7

Brittney Griner's advanced statistics (via Basketall-Reference).

Almost more so than her scoring improvement, that jump in rebounding is a big deal for an offense that already has plenty of firepower. Against the Lynx, her rebounding effort helped the Mercury dominate the offensive boards 11-4 on a night when they already shot 52.2%.

As for the matchup between these two teams, it's hard to read much into this given that both Brunson and Seimone Augustus were out last night. But as for Griner, her improvement is among the major reasons why the Mercury are currently sitting at the top of the league and, statistically at least, have been the top team in the league; at present, it's difficult to make an argument that she shouldn't be a top-5 MVP candidate because of her contributions on both ends.