PG: Lindsay Whalen/Lindsey Moore
SG: Seimone Augustus/Monica Wright/Sugar Rodgers
SF: Maya Moore/Rachel Jarry
PF: Rebekkah Brunson/Amber Harris
C: Janel McCarville/Devereaux Peters
Significant gains: Janel McCarville, plus whoever works out from L. Moore, Jarry and Rodgers.
Significant losses: Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Candice Wiggins (and Erin Thorn’s gone too).
The 2012 WNBA Finals were a little bit of a rude awakening for the Minnesota Lynx. After a title the year before, and another dominant regular season (albeit with an occasional hiccup), the Indiana Fever crashed the party and outplayed the Lynx to take the title. But this is still a very talented team and losing the trophy they expected to retain should only leave them hungrier in 2013. They may just have to make a few minor tweaks to the juggernaut that rolled through the last two regular seasons.
The most obvious change this year is the departure of Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Mama Taj had to call it a day sometime, and she finally hung up her sneakers to join Bill Laimbeer on the sidelines in New York. Despite her advancing years, Taj was the anchor to the impressive Minnesota defense, always in the right place at the right time, and they’ll miss her. To plug the hole, Janel McCarville’s rights were acquired from the Liberty, and she returns to the WNBA for the first time since 2010. She’s a popular player in the area after forming a successful partnership with Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen back in her college days in Minnesota, and she’ll slide straight into McWilliams-Franklin’s starting spot in the post. McCarville isn’t the same calibre of defender that Taj was, but she has a more varied offensive game with good vision and passing skills. The Lynx will be hoping that those talents offset the drop-off at the other end. McCarville’s also not had the best of times overseas in the last couple of years, but she’s only 30 so there should be some solid basketball left in her yet.
The four Lynx starters carried over from last year remain one of the most talented cores in the WNBA. Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore will fill either wing, forming the most dangerous pair of perimeter scorers in the league. Augustus has one of the prettiest – and most accurate – jump shots in the game. She’s an elite scorer, and much of Minnesota’s offense revolves around putting her in position to score. However, increasingly Moore is becoming an equal threat on the other side of the floor. She plays a little closer to the rim, and fills the boxscore a little more than Augustus, but she’s also not afraid to fire away from outside. With Taj gone and the team carrying one fewer post player this year, we’re also likely to see a bit more of ‘Moore at the 4’ this season, in a smallball lineup. Much of that depends on Moore’s ability to develop as a defensive player, an element of her game that has sometimes let her down via mental breakdowns or silly fouls. But after an impressive start to her WNBA career, Moore was still improving as last season progressed. By the end of this season, she may well have overtaken Augustus in the discussion of potential MVP candidates emerging from Minnesota.
Lindsay Whalen will once again be running the show for the Lynx, the calm hand keeping everyone under control and getting the ball where it needs to be. She can also bully her way to the rim when necessary for her own points and while not the best defender, she knows her job within the Lynx system. With Sue Bird on the shelf this season, few people would vote for anyone else as the best point guard in the league. Completing Minnesota’s core four, Rebekkah Brunson might be relied upon even more in the paint this season than before. The switch from McWilliams-Franklin to McCarville will put extra responsibility on Brunson to defend big post players, while still being expected to play help defense and leap after every available rebound. It’s a job she’s likely to relish, and seeing her jump out of the gym to snare a board is still an impressive sight.
The Lynx bench has some question marks, and head coach Cheryl Reeve will probably take some time working out who she can depend on for backup minutes. Devereaux Peters and Amber Harris are both back again to cover the post. Peters showed some flashes of usefulness as an energetic rebounder and finisher in her rookie year, but sometimes she’s a little overzealous and ends up out of position of committing unnecessary fouls. Harris has been a disappointment in her two WNBA seasons. She has unusual athleticism and coordination for someone her size, but often seems disinterested. It’s about time she took a step forward as a contributor – if she’s ever going to make one. The perimeter backups feature just one holdover, and then a collection of rookies. Monica Wright will be first off the bench, a quick and attacking scorer who became a significantly more reliable backup for Augustus and Moore last season. After Candice Wiggins left for Tulsa, Whalen needed someone to spell her at the point, and that job will fall to Nebraska’s Lindsey Moore. She should be able to hold the fort while Whalen rests. Then there’s Australian Rachel Jarry, a tall wing with pro and Olympic experience who could be a contributor, and Sugar Rodgers, a guard from Georgetown. Even Reeve won’t really know what she’s getting from her reserves until we’re well into the regular season.
It’s going to be interesting to see what changes Reeve makes this year. The defensive system probably won’t be much different, and as long as McCarville’s at least passable they should be strong again at that end of the floor. The offense has relied a lot for the past two years on the pure scoring talents of players like Augustus and Moore, and it’s been very successful. But when teams cut off lanes to the hoop and still challenge the barrage of jump shots the Lynx wings like to fire up – as Indiana did in the 2012 Finals – scoring can dry up if the tough shots won’t fall. McCarville could give them a new angle of attack with her face up game and post passing, while Maya Moore’s continued development is inevitably going to make her even more of a threat. We’ll see. However they approach it, this team will inevitably win a lot of games again. It’s whether they can keep winning in the postseason that will ultimately decide whether the season’s regarded as a success or a failure.