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The WNBA Shouldn't Sleep on Caitlin Clark


(Photo Credit: MGoBlog, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Caitlin Clark became the greatest scorer in women’s college basketball history on Thursday night, but if you got the sense not everybody was giddy with excitement about it, you’re not alone.  It was a foregone conclusion, with her being a mere eight points shy of Kelsey Plum’s 3,527 heading into the contest, but she kindly punctuated the moment with a signature near-midcourt three-pointer to liven things up a bit.  The Caitlin Clark experience was on full display – with an Iowa record 49 points to top the night off.


After exploding onto the scene as a 26.6 point-per-game scorer as a freshman, Clark has only continued to make mincemeat of her competition as an upperclassman – but sadly, it has ruffled some insecure feathers.  Sheryl Swoopes, the three-time former WNBA MVP, has taken a lot of well-earned flak for her recent comments where she questioned whether Clark's record was truly legitimate because Plum did it in four years while Clark benefited from a “COVID year.”  A simple Google search would have revealed that Clark – like Plum – has played only four years of college basketball.  And while yes, Clark does have another “COVID year” available, another simple search might have revealed that Clark has played only 126 games while Plum’s totalled her record over 139 games.  (Hey Sheryl, I have a hint, it’s called www.SportsReference.com, use it!).


But Swoopes isn’t alone.  Current WNBA player Kierstan Bell of the Las Vegas Aces tweeted in support of Swoopes.  So did Clark’s arch-rival at LSU, Angel Reese (she of the intensely morally-objectionable finger-pointing episode during last year’s national championship) – though Reese did tweet in support of Clark after she broke the record.  Some, including Swoopes, have suggested that Clark will not be able to continue her current playing style (namely, obliterating everyone) in the WNBA.


It would seem that there’s an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the way Clark is playing amongst her basketball-playing peers.  But why?


What’s so controversial about Caitlin Clark?


With her prolific scoring numbers and pull-up-from-the-parking-lot range, you might not be surprised to learn that Clark often gets compared to Stephen Curry.  But what’s often overlooked is how similarly doubted Curry was as he transitioned into the NBA.  At 6’3’’ and without exceptional NBA-caliber athleticism, Curry – despite distorting the entire college basketball landscape with his preternatural talent – was viewed as a project by some NBA teams.  The man averaged 31.1 points per game over his college career!


Against all sound reasoning, he fell to the 7th pick in the Draft.  The Minnesota Timberwolves, famously, drafted two different point guards (Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn) before Curry was off the board.  Minnesota got nine mediocre seasons out of Rubio and Flynn combined.  Neither are in the NBA today.  Curry, meanwhile, is a four-time NBA Champion and a two-time MVP in fifteen-years-and-counting with the Golden State Warriors.  Tragic.


But while hindsight is clear now, Curry clearly didn’t have every team salivating.  If Clark doesn’t go #1 overall it will be interpreted as a sign of the apocalypse.  But in the same way many doubted how Curry’s game would translate, there’s a minority who think Clark won’t be the scoring whirlwind she’s been over the last four years at Iowa.  And they’re dead wrong.


Caitlin Clark will not only become one of the greatest WNBA players the moment she steps foot on the court, but she could also quickly become one of the greatest in history.  The reason some are having a hard time reconciling this truth is because they haven’t seen anyone like her dominate the league – just like no one had ever seen anyone like Curry dominate the NBA.  Charles Barkley once claimed that Curry’s jump-shooting Warriors could never win a title.  Maybe Swoopes was just trying to get a head start on being the WNBA’s version of the Chuckster.


Clark’s game will translate because she plays the modern style of basketball.  She won’t have to adapt to the league – whichever team is lucky enough to draft her (please, let it be the Indianapolis Fever) – it will quickly and happily adapt to her.  Clark will warp the gravity of WNBA defenses the same way Curry has done for a decade and a half.  The league (and Swoopes) will just have to get used to it.


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