2012 In-Depth WNBA Season Preview: Minnesota Lynx

PG: Lindsay Whalen/Erin Thorn

SG: Seimone Augustus/Candice Wiggins

SF: Maya Moore/Monica Wright

PF: Rebekkah Brunson/Devereaux Peters

C: Taj McWilliams-Franklin/Jessica Adair/Amber Harris

Significant additions: Thorn (free agency from Chicago), Peters (college draft), Championship rings

Significant losses: Alexis Hornbuckle (‘trade’ with Phoenix), Charde Houston (‘trade’ with Phoenix)

—–

You know what makes sense when you win a championship and prove to be one of the better teams in league history? Bringing back everyone who mattered from that team, and going for the repeat. So the Lynx did just that. Early fears that Candice Wiggins might leave through free agency or that Taj McWilliams-Franklin might wish to move on to yet another team ultimately proved unfounded, so the top nine players from last year’s squad return in 2012. And they’ve arguably upgraded the remaining two spots. Injury, complacency, and the big bulls-eye now painted on their back are the only things that look like threats to stop this team from being just as good as they were last year.

Despite the depth that often has fans of other teams dreaming up trades for their bench players, the starting five were the rocks this team were built on last season. Seimone Augustus is the top scoring option, the player they throw the ball to when they absolutely must have a bucket. A pure and natural offensive talent who finally looked healthy again last year after multiple issues, she’s a joy to watch in full flow. She’s become a significantly better perimeter defender as well. The team was balanced out by the addition of Maya Moore on the opposite wing last year, providing a threat that stopped teams from keying on Augustus. Moore wasn’t perhaps the overwhelming instant superstar that her fans expected, and she had her moments of poor decisions and silly fouls, but on this squad she doesn’t need to dominate. Only playing half a season in Europe gave her a chance to rest, and now acclimatised to the pro game she should be even better this year. Lindsay Whalen runs the show for head coach Cheryl Reeve, and while she did that admirably last year and found everyone in the right spots, she also had a career year shooting the ball. 51% from the floor and 41% from three-point range were so far beyond her typical numbers that we can probably expect some regression to the mean this season, but she’s still the only legitimate rival to Sue Bird’s position as the best point guard in the world.

In the post, Rebekkah Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin team up again to provide the interior base for this squad. Brunson’s the athlete, leaping for rebounds and a capable finisher inside. Taj plays on smarts and instinct after being around so long, but the old girl can still get it done at both ends of the floor. This team doesn’t really have a natural interior scorer, but both the starters and bench posts can score within the rhythm of the offense and will find ways to put points on the board. At the defensive end of the floor, an extra year of playing with each other under Reeve’s system can only help the rotation and help-defense work even more smoothly.

One of the key components to the Lynx’s success last year was staying almost universally healthy throughout the season. History tells us that it’s unlikely that luck will hold up for a second year – so someone off their bench may well be called upon to step up their game. While talented, neither of the returning perimeter backups had a great season last year. Candice Wiggins has had a remarkable transformation in her style of play since entering the league, going from an aggressive driving guard to taking 70% of her shots from behind the three-point arc last season. While Reeve undoubtedly wants her to come in and stretch defenses from outside, it’d be nice to see more of the old Candice as well. Monica Wright seemed to struggle a little with the diminished minutes and bench role that the arrival of Moore pushed her into last year. She can be an effective perimeter scorer, and like Wiggins she’s a pest defensively, but she needs to bring consistent energy when Reeve calls her off the pine. Barring injury, that bench role isn’t going to change for Wright unless she changes teams. The Lynx also added a new backcourt option, with guard Erin Thorn replacing Alexis Hornbuckle. Thorn’s primary skill is outside shooting, and you can never have too much of that, but she also showed last year in Chicago that she can adequately play a backup point guard role. That could allow Wiggins to stay more as a 2-guard backup, which is her more natural spot. Reeve certainly has a lot of skilled options at her disposal.

Behind Brunson and McWilliams-Franklin in the post, there are perhaps a few more questions than on the perimeter. Jessica Adair stepped up last year, and by the end of the season had earned the primary backup role in the post. She’s big, and active on the glass, and has shown that she’s now worthy of a place in this league. Amber Harris had a pretty weak rookie season, finding opportunities hard to come by on such a loaded squad. She’s huge, and remarkably agile for her size, but the mental side of her game sometimes seems to be lagging behind. She also picked up an ankle sprain in preseason, and will be missing for the first couple of weeks at least. That gives an opportunity for this year’s rookie, 3rd overall pick Devereaux Peters to try to make an immediate impact. Athletic and mobile herself for a post, Peters has a great group to learn from and with the players in front of her shouldn’t be asked to do too much before she’s ready. Something of a surprise to many when the Lynx took her that high in the draft, she was prone to some silly fouls in college but there’s plenty of time for her to develop in Minnesota.

Summary and Outlook

If you’re setting odds – and Vegas agrees with me, by the way – this team has to be favoured to repeat as champions. Other teams have made changes and tried to improve, but this squad was so good last year and they’ve essentially lost no one who made them that good. Yes, several key members of this squad have had injury problems in the past, and it’s unlikely that they’ll stay as healthy as they were last year. But few teams in the league have the talent on the bench that the Lynx possess should the need arise to fill in for one of the starters. All kinds of things can change as the season progresses, and opposing teams will be coming after them this year, but there’s no reason why 2011 should be a one-year flash in the pan for the Lynx.

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