It might seem a little strange to consider the current Rookie of the Year, Minnesota’s second-leading scorer this season and one of the most well-known female basketball players in the USA a ‘wild card’ heading into this series. But it seems fair to me. Maya Moore admitted to some nerves in their opening playoff series against San Antonio, and when the Silver Stars had the temerity to defend her with players far smaller than her like Becky Hammon and Tully Bevilaqua she struggled to take advantage of the mismatch. She was also the primary defender being lit up when Jia Perkins caught fire and led San Antonio to a Game 2 win. But Moore improved as that series went on, then had fun firing away against Phoenix in the Western Conference Finals. Plus Penny Taylor didn’t have an awful series by accident, and it was Moore defending her for most of the two games.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for Moore this year. She’s had her quiet games, occasionally been benched for rookie mistakes or found herself in foul trouble, but in general it’s been an impressive start for her as a pro. Her shooting ability balances out Augustus on the opposite wing, preventing defenses from keying too much on either option, and despite having to adapt to the pro game she’s also been a part of the vastly improved Minnesota defense. However, this series will be a serious test for her. She’ll likely spend much of it trying to guard McCoughtry, and to remain useful to the Lynx she’s going to have to do it without ending up in foul trouble. On offense, she’s going to be faced with the various quick Atlanta wings, and while she’ll be able to shoot over the likes of Price and Castro Marques, the Dream showed against Indiana that they’re very good at closing out on shooters and making it hard to convert those shots. It’s also possible that she’ll be called upon to play some power forward in order to match up with the Dream’s small lineup, something she’s done very little of this season. Her versatility and ability to fill up the stat sheet could prove vital to Minnesota in this series, and they need her to produce.
The wildcards in Atlanta’s starting lineup (Part 5 is going to look at the bench separately) really are wild. Imagine a cheetah streaking across a plain in Africa – that kind of wild. Armintie Price is all about speed. She’s constantly looking to leak out on the break at the first sign of a turnover, and once she’s ahead of the defense there’s no way you’re going to catch her. In the halfcourt she only wants to drive, and she’s improved dramatically in both her ability to finish at the rim and her vision to find teammates for shots or layups. Her speedy footwork and quick hands also make her a menace defensively, and she may well be the one tasked with following Augustus around for most of the series.
Iziane Castro Marques is similarly aggressive going to the basket, and is one of the streakier scorers you’re ever likely to see. Unlike Price, Castro Marques doesn’t do a lot besides shoot and score, so with her shot failing to find the basket for most of this season she’s been ineffective. In fact, until last week, Price had taken her starting spot and she’d become an afterthought on this roster. Then her fellow Brazilian Erika de Souza left for Colombia, Atlanta needed a spark to take them past Indiana, and Izi provided it. In two games, she was 20-37 for 53 points combined, including an unlikely 7-12 from three-point range. The Dream can’t expect that every night from her, but the potential for a Castro Marques offensive explosion is at least back on the table. For most of 2011 it looked like she’d fizzled out and barely needed to be considered.
Moore is the more consistent threat out of all of them, but damn those Atlanta wings are scary. Pure speed scares any defense, because it can take games away from you so quickly and create cheap baskets without having to fight for them in half court sets. Izi is a complete loose cannon. She won’t stop shooting, however many may have fallen through or clanked off the rim beforehand, but if she gets hot she’s very difficult to stop. She’s currently an unreal 11-19 from three-point range in the playoffs, quite a step up from the 21% she shot from outside in the regular season, and it’s not like Indiana and Connecticut are a soft touch when it comes to perimeter defense. Moore is likely to have more impact across the entire series, but don’t be surprised if the speed and scoring of McCoughtry’s supporting wings are central to at least one Atlanta win.
Moore 8.5/10, Price/Castro Marques 8/10: Edge just barely to Minnesota, only because I don’t trust Izi to keep it up (and because Price has been feeling her sore back lately).