WNBAlien 2011 Previews: Minnesota Lynx

PG: Lindsay Whalen/Candice Wiggins/Alexis Hornbuckle

SG: Seimone Augustus/Monica Wright

SF: Maya Moore/Charde Houston (I refuse to call her a power forward)

PF: Rebekkah Brunson/Amber Harris

C: Taj McWilliams-Franklin/Jessica Adair

—–

Head coach: Cheryl Reeve

Significant additions: Moore (duh), McWilliams-Franklin, Harris, a healthy Wiggins, and a hopefully healthier Augustus.

Significant losses: Nicky Anosike. Maiga-Ba and Hollingsworth are gone as well, but no one’ll care.

—–

Can you have too much talent? After stinking it up for so many years that they’re starting to rival the T-Wolves, the Lynx have assembled so many good players that it’s getting a little ridiculous. This year, among others, UConn phenom Maya Moore is added to the mix and for once they’re entering the season with everyone on the roster essentially healthy. Lynx-fan confidence and optimism is therefore sky-high yet again, and if Cheryl Reeve can work out how to use this roster effectively then it surely, surely has to be time for the Lynx to at least make the playoffs for the first time in seven years. However, it’s unlikely to all be plain-sailing.

How smoothly Moore transitions into the pro game will be a key ingredient to Minnesota’s potential success this season. Elite college talents rarely have too much trouble, and with her experience on Team USA Moore already has a taste of what she’ll be up against. She’s a smooth scorer with strength and range who’ll likely continue to be just that as a pro, but she will need to acclimatise to being on a team with multiple alternative scoring options. There certainly weren’t many at UConn last year. Moore’s main problems are likely to be on the defensive end where she’ll have to take on pro small forwards rather than the college 4s that she’s been used to dominating. It may take a little time for her defense to make the grade, but for a superstar talent like Moore it probably won’t be long.

Always the headline attraction in Minnesota before Moore arrived, Seimone Augustus will start alongside Moore on the other wing. A pure scorer with one of the sweetest shooting strokes you could ever wish to see, it’s unfortunately starting to look like Seimone will never be quite what she once was. All the injuries and surgeries have slowed her down, leaving a player that very rarely drives the lane any more. That makes her much easier to guard, and her appearances at the free throw line have become increasingly rare. Nothing would please me more than to see the old Mone back to her best, and even now she’ll likely have explosive scoring nights when everything she throws up goes in, but in Moore’s rookie season the torch may get passed pretty quickly.

For a coach that built her reputation as an assistant on the hard-nosed defensive squads in Detroit, Cheryl Reeve is taking something of a risk with her projected starting lineup. Lindsay Whalen is an excellent point guard, strong and physical with the ability to take contact and finish while running a squad and finding her teammates in the right spots. But she’s not quick, and defense has never been her strong suit. Same for Augustus, who was becoming a better defensive player before the injuries slowed her down, and defending 2s instead of 3s this year won’t make her life any easier. Plus you’ve got Moore making the transition to being a pro 3. They’ll score a bunch of points which’ll balance things out, but it’s hard to see how that starting perimeter is going to stop anybody. The bench guards can change things up, if Reeve can find minutes for them in her rotation. Candice Wiggins is back from yet another injury and will inject some quickness and defensive ability into the lineup. She’s a scorer and penetrator more than a distributor, but expect her to get minutes at both guard spots simply in order to find time for her on the floor. In the absence of Wiggins and with Augustus limited, Monica Wright had plenty of opportunities to play and develop as a rookie last season. After an erratic opening where she took too many shots (that rarely went in), Wright settled later in the year and became a much more efficient and effective player. Like Wiggins she’s quick and tenacious, and she can put points on the board in a hurry when she’s in the mood. Reeve needs to find minutes for her as well. Acquired midseason from Tulsa last year, Alexis Hornbuckle is also still around to bolster the bench. Capable of playing any of the perimeter spots, she’s a solid enough backup but could struggle to find minutes on this roster unless someone gets hurt.

Despite all those picks and all those years in the lottery, questions still surround whether the Lynx have the size and depth to hold their own in the paint. The starters are fine. Rebekkah Brunson is a superior athlete and rebounder who’ll get most of her points on putbacks and breakdowns, without having to run much directly for her. You don’t want her taking too many shots from beyond 6 feet or so anyway. Acquired as a free agent this offseason, the seemingly ageless Taj McWilliams-Franklin brings her veteran smarts and interior defence to the Lynx as a replacement for Nicky Anosike, and despite being born when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, Taj may be the better fit. On such a young team, McWilliams-Franklin’s experience and simple knowledge of winning wherever she’s been could be invaluable.

However, Brunson tends to suffer multiple injuries of some kind every year (which she usually fights through, but they make her less effective), and Taj is umpteen years old. Plus neither of them is actually all that tall for a post player. Behind them, they have Charde Houston, a swing forward who’s never seen a shot she didn’t adore (as long as she’s the one taking it); Amber Harris, a highly-touted but very raw-looking rookie; and Jessica Adair, who’ll likely see most of her minutes in practice. Houston’s an abominable defender, which makes her a difficult fit in a Reeve system, but she can provide instant offense on nights where she’s on (one of these years she has to end up on the Mercury. It’s destiny). Harris is huge, and flashed impressive skills at times in college, but it looks like she’ll take time to settle. Adair had one game last year after Anosike was suspended and looked potentially useful but unpolished. Somehow that group is going to have to offer the necessary backup to Taj and Bekkah, because those two just can’t be expected to play 35 minutes a night all season long.

The Lynx let me down last year. I finally caved and predicted that they’d to make the playoffs, only to see them blow it yet again, despite the hideous state of their competition in the Western Conference. Adding a superstar talent like Moore obviously makes them even more dangerous, and with their core healthy it looks like they practically have to make the playoffs, history be damned. I expect plenty of growing pains, especially with someone in charge who’s yet to convince as a head coach, but when in doubt back the team with the most talent. And there’s just so much talent here that it’s scary.

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2 comments on “WNBAlien 2011 Previews: Minnesota Lynx

  1. Roger says:

    There seems to be some inconsistency here. The initial praise of the roster gets followed by a lot of qualifications. Whalen is slow and can’t defend. Augustus never came back fully from injury. McWilliams-Franklin is very old. Brunson is likely to get injured and Harris is green.

    I personally think that the Lynx roster and coach are overrated, but Maya Moore will get them out of the lottery this year.

    • That’s a fair point, but everything’s a shade of grey and I’m a cynical creature by nature so I’m always going to pick holes. It could be the 70-win Bulls and I’d be bitching about the hole at center and their weakness at point-guard.

      Player by player the Lynx have a lot of talent, especially offensively, but I’m not sure that it’s all a great fit (or that Reeve knows how to mesh it all together). Should be fun finding out though.

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