Hoops Insider interview with SLAMOnline’s Stephen Litel

May 31, 2011 4:20pm

As we get ready for Friday’s season opener, between the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks, we brought in WNBA and SLAMOnline writer Stephen Litel who kindly agreed to share his thoughts on the Minnesota Lynx. With over six years of experience covering the league, there was no shortage of information as Stephen gave us his insightful takes about this year’s team.


HI: It is rare that rookies make a dramatic impact in their first season. What contributions can we expect from Minnesota’s two top draft picks Maya Moore and Amber Harris this season?

SL: No matter what the sport, it does take rookies time to adjust to the professional level. However, if there are any two rookies who are most suited towards adjusting quickly to the WNBA, it’s Maya Moore and Amber Harris.

Everyone knows Moore’s history as simply one of the best collegiate players in history and it was a foregone conclusion she would be the number one pick this year a few years ago. She was ready for the WNBA long ago and her history of dominating in college, as well as playing with the WNBA’s best with USA Basketball gives her an upper-hand in adjusting very quickly.

Harris looked very impressive in her preseason debut last week. She gave Lynx fans a glimpse of why Minnesota (and yours truly) have been so big on her for the past couple seasons and with the post situation in Minnesota, she will receive big minutes right off the bat. At the team’s media day a few weeks back, she spoke glowingly of learning the WNBA game from players with as much success as Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Rebekkah Brunson and she is correct. The two veterans will be able to give the athletic and already-basketball-savvy rookie pointers as the season goes along.

It would be unfair to them to expect them to play to their full potential immediately, but knowing the intelligence, athletic ability and work ethic of both Maya Moore and Amber Harris, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see solid play very quickly.


HI: Clearly Minnesota is bigger and stronger than in years past with McWilliams-Franklin, Brunson, Moore and Harris. What style of play would you anticipate from coach Reeve?

SL: I honestly don’t expect the style of play to change for the Lynx. In fact, I expect Coach Reeve to implement even more of her game plan and vision for this team now with more weapons at her disposal. Throughout the season last year, Reeve spoke of the team having the ability to play both styles as far as pushing the tempo, but slowing it down when needed.

It’s obvious the Lynx have the athletes to run at a high speed, but that will be determined by how they defend and rebound. You have to stop the opponent and get the ball before you can push for a quick (and good) shot. If it isn’t there, pull it back and set up the half-court offense.

McWilliams-Franklin spoke at media day about her personal goal of getting her rebounding average back to where it has been for her career after a slight dip last season. We all know Brunson can rebound and if rookie Amber Harris is able to crash the boards as she did in the team’s preseason game last week, the Lynx should do well in that department. That’s without discussing the fine rebounding wing players on the team in Moore, Augustus and Whalen, especially.

It’s too early to officially predict the Lynx to have major improvement on the defensive end, but one thing is clear…they have the athletes on the team to be a better defensive team. Candice Wiggins spoke to the idea of defense being a state of mind and a commitment, so we’ll see if the team completely buys into that idea. It’s very clear that Coach Reeve is pushing for that commitment to the defensive end from her team.


HI: Wiggins and Augustus have had trouble staying healthy in recent years. How healthy are they going into this season?  Do you think Augustus can regain her old form at this juncture of her career?

SL: Both Candice Wiggins and Seimone Augustus are in great health heading into the season. Wiggins spent the off-season taking her time rehabbing in order to do so the right way and all early indications are it worked. Augustus continued her road back to full health by losing a good 15 pounds in the off-season, looks the lightest she has in years and raved about feeling great at media day.

The makeup of the team now also will aid in these two players taking some weight off their shoulders, allowing them slightly more time to recover from games and practices. It looks as if Wiggins will come off the bench this season, playing both the backup point guard role behind Lindsay Whalen and the shooting guard position. Augustus has the most help she’s ever had in the WNBA as far as players who can score the ball, so that takes a lot of pressure off her shoulders. The Lynx don’t necessarily have to live and die by how Seimone shoots the ball anymore. Now, she can be just another weapon…and a great one at that.


HI: What are the biggest concerns for the Lynx heading into Friday’s opener in Los Angeles?

SL: Is it possible to be “concerned” about a team having too much talent and how it all meshes together? If so, that’s the biggest concern for the Lynx right now. The team states they have high goals for themselves this season and know that will be predicated on whether or not they play as a team or a bunch of individuals. Without question, they are saying the right things, so now let’s see if they are able to put it together on the floor. With their designated “leadership council” of Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin leading the way, it’s hard to imagine the Lynx not figuring it out, barring injury.

Having the entire team in training camp on time and healthy is a plus. Making the cuts they needed to get their roster ready to go for opening night as quickly as they did is another. They have already had a chunk of time to begin to figure out their roles on the team.


HI: There might not be a team with higher expectations, as far as an increase in wins from the previous year. What would be a considered a successful season for Minnesota?

SL: Last year, in Cheryl Reeve’s first season as head coach, the idea was to begin to change the culture in Minnesota. They were going to play defense, play hard and fight until they end, which is exactly what they did, even through injuries and lack of a training camp together. This year, they severely upgraded their already-talented team, they had an entire training camp together and (knock on wood) are healthy heading into the start of the regular season.

At the Lynx press conference after the draft, I said to Coach Reeve, “Last year was about putting your system in. What’s this year about? How do we judge this season?”

Her response?


She didn’t put a number on it then, the team still won’t at this time and I won’t either. However, at the very least, anything short of a playoff berth will be very disappointing.


HI: What is your prediction for the Western conference?

SL: As of today, I expect the four teams in the Western Conference to be Seattle, Phoenix, Minnesota and Los Angeles. I would expect San Antonio to be in contention for one of the spots and wouldn’t be surprised if they grab one rather than the Sparks, but I don’t bet against Candace Parker. To go on record with an official prediction as to which team grabs which spot is tough, so I’ll just stick with those four teams making the playoffs…

Seattle, Phoenix, Minnesota and Los Angeles.



Stephen Litel has covered the WNBA for six years, first for SPMSports.com and now for SLAMOnline. You can find his work at SLAM here.

Litel is always up for WNBA conversation, so hit him up on Twitter @stephenlitel. You can also find him on Facebook/stephenlitel.


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