2012 WNBA Finals Mega-Preview: Lynx vs. Fever, Part 3 – The Benches

As with the Conference Finals, it’s hard to know quite what we’re going to get from the reserves on either of these teams. Firstly with Indiana, we don’t know exactly who they’ll have coming off their bench. If Douglas is out, either Shavonte Zellous or Jeanette Pohlen will likely slide into the starting lineup, and try to fill the hole. Either way, the depth of their bench would naturally be shortened. For the Lynx, the questions come from not knowing who might show up ready to produce, or who Cheryl Reeve will trust to play.

The Fever were one of the deeper teams in the WNBA in the regular season, especially early in the year. It seemed like Lin Dunn had a variety of options, each a little different, and could roll with whichever ones worked on any given night. That’s changed a little as the season’s gone on, and especially into the playoffs. Dunn’s shortened her rotation significantly, and sliding Erlana Larkins into the starting lineup has removed her energy and hustle as an extra boost from the sidelines. In the post Dunn now has Jessica Davenport, Tammy Sutton-Brown and Sasha Goodlett, but has typically only been using one of them in recent games. First it was Sutton-Brown, but it’ll likely be Davenport to begin with in the Finals after she showed a little form in the last couple of games against Connecticut. She’s a poor rebounder for someone her size, and her lack of mobility changes how Indiana play defense, but she can sometimes produce a run of positive offensive plays that give the Fever an added dimension. Sutton-Brown’s the veteran, the regular starter until Larkins took her place, and she’d be coming in as a calming influence or to provide some defense. We probably won’t see her on the floor unless Davenport’s a bust. We probably won’t see Goodlett unless someone’s winning by 20 in the fourth quarter.

On the perimeter, Zellous gives the Fever another quick scoring weapon, in a similar mould to Erin Phillips but with slightly more size and slightly less ballhandling ability. Pohlen was virtually useless in her few playoff appearances before Game 3, where her shot suddenly seemed to have returned. If Douglas is out, she’ll see some time, and Indiana will hope to see her raining in threes like she did in that big win over the Sun. That shooting display may have earned her a brief look even if Douglas is available immediately. Karima Christmas is more of a defensive option on the wing, and is yet to see a single minute in the playoffs. If we see her out there, it’s either garbage time or Indiana are having serious problems.

Minnesota have a bench stocked with youthful talent, but they’ve lacked consistency this season. Candice Wiggins and Monica Wright are the two we’ll definitely see for decent stretches. Wiggins holds down the fort at point guard while Whalen rests, but her offense has largely become the three-point shot and little else in recent years. Wright is the real threat to produce a string of quick points from the Lynx bench. She can get to the rim, break out in transition, and occasionally knock down a big shot – like the three that finished off LA in the last round. If Reeve slides Moore to power forward for significant minutes, Wright’s the most likely beneficiary of extra minutes on the perimeter. The starters would remain the major threats, but you can’t forget about Wright or she’ll hurt you. Defensively, Wiggins and Wright will help because they’re more natural, quick matchups with the Indiana guards. If the Lynx need someone to come in and pester the Fever ballhandlers with speed rather than size, these two can offer that. Erin Thorn is also down on the end of the bench, but likely won’t play unless Whalen gets hurt again or there’s a big late lead. She’s a steady veteran hand who can knock down the three if she gets to see the court.

Down low, it’s hard to know what we might see from the Lynx rotation. Jessica Adair seems to have been relegated to garbage time alongside Thorn, but that still leaves Devereaux Peters and Amber Harris hoping for minutes. Peters is mobile and active, and a good passer at times, but prone to dumb fouls and occasional unforced errors. Harris is a big body, with range on her shot and the ability to finish inside, but a bout of mono took her off the floor late in the season just when she seemed to be reestablishing herself. Either of them might get a brief chance to fill in for the Lynx, and if they produce quickly then Reeve sometimes gives them a few more minutes. But increasingly she seems to favour sliding Maya Moore down to power forward whenever Rebekkah Brunson or Taj McWilliams-Franklin need a rest, and leaving the reserve posts on the pine. With the spread-out schedule for the Finals, the bench may get shorter again and we might see even more of Moore at the 4. It probably depends on how the young reserves play in the first few seconds they see on the floor.

So both teams have some talent in reserve, but the actual production level is something of an unknown quantity. The starters are likely to be playing heavy minutes on both sides, with Indiana perhaps digging deeper into their backups if they need alternatives without Douglas on the floor. If either team wins a game in this series thanks to significant bench contributions, it’ll feel like a steal.

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