Former Baylor star Brittney Griner thriving in WNBA

ATLANTA (AP) — Post players are scoring at an historic pace in the WNBA.

The top three scorers in the league all operate on the low block: Phoenix’s Brittney Griner, New York’s Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles in Minnesota. Never in the history of the league has three post players led the WNBA in scoring in an entire season.

Yes, it’s a good time to be a “Big” in the WNBA.

While the NBA has shifted to a free-flowing faster tempo that has decreased the value of a traditional center, the WNBA has not followed suit.

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The 6-foot-9 Griner is showing flashes of the dominance she displayed in college at Baylor. She is average a league-best 22.4 points per game for the Phoenix Mercury. She is also posting career highs in rebounds (8.4) and assists (2.1).

Griner, 27, is the most physically imposing player in the league. She’s beginning to figure that out, and that’s scary for the rest of the league.

Griner and Charles combined for 60 points when the Liberty hosted the Mercury on Sunday.

“I think she’s just putting more effort, more focus into her game,” Charles said of Griner, who 31 points and 13 rebounds against Charles and the Liberty on Sunday. Charles finished with 29 points in a losing effort.

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“As you grow and you see that your role means a lot to your team’s success, her being a young player she’s coming into that,” Charles said.

Fowles, 6-6, is also scoring at a career-best pace. She is having an NBA-caliber year. Her 20.1 points per game are up from 13.9 last season.

Where the NBA zigs, it seems the WNBA zags. And for many teams, like New York, that’s proven to be a positive.

“I think a lot of people like to play an open game, being able to be versatile,” Charles said. “With our height, our strengths we definitely still try to use post players.”

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A post player has led the WNBA in scoring three times, Lauren Jackson in 2004 and 2007 and Charles last season. In the NBA, the last time a true post player led the league was Shaquille O’Neal in 2000.

Charles, 6-4, has been a consistent scorer throughout her pro career, averaging more than 15 points per game every year since her rookie season in 2010. She said playing with imposing centers Kiah Stokes (6-foot-3) and Kia Vaughn (6-foot-4) has enabled her to expand her range.

The majority of New York’s offense runs through the versatile Charles, who has the ability to step back and hit a jump shot, run the pick-and-roll, post up and find teammates.

“If I have to change my game to make it better for them and maximize their strengths down low, that’s what I’m going to do,” she said.

New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer doesn’t believes the plethora of talented post players in the WNBA and the lack of dominant bigs in the NBA are signs that one league values post play more than the other.

“I think they’re just great players,” said Laimbeer, the former 6-11 center of the two-time NBA champion Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys.” ”Every team has to have certain go-to players. We happen to have Tina Charles. She happens to be a big. Others like (Elena) Della Donne, Griner, they’re going to be go-to players. That’s just how it works.”

Atlanta Dream center Elizabeth Williams believes having an effective post presence makes the game easier.

“Running pick and rolls is so hard to defend,” said the 6-3 Williams. “If you have a really good point guard and really good center, it’s really hard to guard. For our league, I mean people comment how fundamental we are, it’s true. When you have a true post player making good reads, and you have a true point guard making good reads, you can be really efficient.”

Sparks forward Candace Parker believes the WNBA will eventually follow the NBA’s lead when it comes to style of play. She points to the WNBA implementing a defensive three-second rule for the 2013 season as having an impact on opening up the game.

The defending champion Sparks don’t play with a traditional center. They are led by a more athletic run-and-gun Parker, who is 6-4, and 6-2 Nneka Ogwumike — last year’s league MVP — who is fourth in the league in scoring with 19.9 points per game.

Parker said, in both leagues, it really just comes down to personnel.

“Dwight Howard still has a position,” Parker said of the 6-11 NBA forward who was recently traded to the Charlotte Hornets. Parker noted there are still “other big men in the NBA” as well.

But they’re not leading the league in scoring.