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10 Best WNBA Players of the 2010s: Brittney Griner (No. 8) developed into more than a defensive force

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In the past decade, the WNBA carved a space in sports culture due to the players’ athletic excellence on the court and social influence off it. The following 10 players have led in both areas, becoming our top-10 WNBA players of the 2010s.

San Antonio Silver Stars v Phoenix Mercury
Brittney Griner goes to work in the post during her 2013 rookie season.
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The WNBA thrived in the 2010s because of the everyday, enduring efforts of talented, engaging women’s basketball players. On their own steam, with neither sufficient marketing nor adequate financial investment, the players proved that women’s professional basketball is here to stay. As the decade winds to a close, we reflect on the players who made the biggest impact both on and off the court.

Here are the 10 best WNBA players of the 2010s:

8. Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury)

Honors, achievements and numbers of note in the 2010s: 2014 WNBA champion, 2x Defensive Player of the Year, 5x All-WNBA, 6x All-Defensive, 6x All-Star, 7x top 3 in blocks

Phoenix Mercury v Chicago Sky
Due to a clear-eyed focus, Brittney Griner has developed into all-round, all-time talent.
Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

From raw to refined: That trajectory describes the past decade for Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner.

When Griner first entered the league in 2013 as a sinewy 6-foot-9 starting center, many expected her to instantly and easily dominate the game due to her length and wingspan. Indeed, she lived up to those expectations, asserting herself as a defensive difference-maker and winning Defensive Player of the Year in her second season. That same season she was the defensive fulcrum for the decade’s best team, the 2014 WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury.

Yet, success is women’s professional basketball requires being more than a supposed physical marvel and Griner is much, much more than one.

Although she can roll to the hoop with force, Griner has become one of the league’s best because of how she has rounded out her offensive repertoire. When she establishes deep post position, she confidently and quickly turns and scores. She does not overpower her opponent, but finishes with finesse. She also can operate methodically on the block, rarely appearing rushed as she assesses the floor before making her move. Her turn-around fadeaway has become almost deadly. Plus, her scoring numbers over the past three seasons testify to her diverse, dangerous offensive game.

Yet, as Griner has developed on the court, she has remained unapologetically herself off it. When she entered the league in 2013, Griner decided she would not be shy about her sexuality, becoming one of the first, and most prominent, WNBA players to openly, unhesitatingly identity as gay. Griner has representational power that — by her sheer existence and insistence on being who she wants to be — counters and quiets racist and homophobic spewings.