Interview: The Examiner’s Mike Peden previews the returning champion Minnesota Lynx

May 12, 2012 8:46am
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Mike Peden covers the Minnesota Lynx for the St. Paul Examiner. Mike is a writer and video producer for TSB Sports and contributes written and digital stories in all levels of sports. His beats include the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, the University of Minnesota Golden Gopher women’s basketball team and Twin Cities area high school webcasts. Make sure you head over to his YouTube channel where Mike has uploaded a ton of great interviews from Lynx Media Day. You can also find him on Twitter @thesportsbrain

Mike shared his insight with us on the Minnesota Lynx, and their high expectations this season.

With essentially the same roster coming back, after a year in which they won the title, is there anything different that stands about this year’s team heading into the season?

One preseason game and training camp isn’t enough to fully evaluate differences to last year, but you’re seeing a valiant effort from Minnesota’s bench players, almost as if they’re addressing rumors about chemistry and emotion before they ever begin. Many reporters, local and national, have noted how the second-string players could make a legitimate starting five on another franchise, and much discussion floated around whether Candice Wiggins would take her talents to another team where more exposure could be offered. Instead, Candice talked about how grateful she felt that Minnesota wanted her back, a feeling that echoed throughout the league as no opposing team even made an offer for her. Wiggins is on a mission to signal unity and good spirits with the reserves, hoping the term “Bench Mob” will catch on with Lynx followers on Twitter. So far, the effort to subdue any thoughts of egos overflowing is the major difference between this year and last year as they continue to navigate unfamiliar territory.

Recently, Coach Cheryl Reeve talked about her high hopes for Maya Moore. What do you expect to see in her 2nd season?

Maya Moore’s rookie season could be considered “average” statistically, but even when she didn’t do well, her presence benefited Minnesota. Moore was fifth in the WNBA last year in the overall plus/minus rating with a +12.1. The WNBA preview mentioned Moore fighting minor injuries with her legs in 2011, but if there is a second-year leap for the UConn prodigy, look out. Barring something fishy, I don’t believe we’re going to see Maya get another goose egg on the stat sheet in a game like she did against San Antonio in the regular season. Consistency is the biggest hurdle she needs to clear.

 

Any other players we can be on the look out for?

Seimone Augustus is another player to watch. While her improved defense was touted by teammates and mainstream media, she had the tenth lowest plus/minus rating defensively in 2011, and her defensive statistics were on par compared to 2010. Her ability to make shooting adjustments in mid-air more than makes up for that, but she will be more dangerous if Reeve continues to evolve Augustus to remove the defensive liability she was infamous for early in her career. 

Monica Wright is also on my list. Her focus should return to the court completely after the ordeal she endured last year when her father suffered a heart attack, but especially before the emergency, she emitted a vibe of pressuring herself to make the most of her limited minutes in 2011, a change from the volume shooter we saw in 2010. If she settles down, the Lynx could have the most complete back court tandem in all of women’s basketball.

Jessica Adair should also improve, now that she’s used to her slimmer, speedier body. I don’t foresee this unless an emergency arises, but it’s plausible that she could make a few starts this year, especially if it becomes clear that 2012 will be the final season for Taj McWilliams-Franklin as most expect.

You mentioned the production of the bench and Candace Wiggins. What do you expect from the rest of the bench players?

Offensive production among bench players will be the facet to watch this season. An improved Jessica Adair can anchor the defense, but the bench players couldn’t consistently match the rhythm of the starting five, who could execute plays almost at will (none of the reserves were in the plus/minus leader board at the end of the season, and when Minnesota lost 85-80 to Phoenix on August 9th, no bench player scored). Statistically, the Lynx got a major upgrade by signing Erin Thorn to fill the vacated spot of Alexis Hornbuckle. Opposing teams would often make quick runs when Hornbuckle took the floor. Hornbuckle was eighth in the WNBA in turnovers per 40 minutes, and had a dismal 0.76 assist-to-turnover ratio. 

Thorn, ironically, was one spot ahead of Hornbuckle in turnovers per 40 minutes, but boasted a far more respectable 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio. Thorn’s accuracy from long-distance and the free throw line will be a welcome addition to a team who struggled a few times with converting freebies. Thorn is no Whalen, whose assist-to-turnover ratio was 2.6 in 2011, but she gives the Lynx an option for the point guard and shooting guard slots. Her presence could also boost Wiggins, who became a one-dimensional player in her first full season since her rookie campaign; the Lynx would often set up plays for her to shoot threes (70% of her field goal attempts in 2011 were shot behind the arc, the highest percentage in her career). With nearly everyone returning, innovation is crucial to stop defenses from scouting Minnesota easily.

Can you talk about any affect the Olympics might have on the Lynx, having  3 players playing with team USA?

Sustaining energy may be a concern among the three Olympians on Minnesota’s roster. Although the United States isn’t expected to falter en route to a fifth straight gold medal, if the Lynx have a playoff spot and/or top seed locked up, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cheryl Reeve ease up on the trio at the end of the season to save them for another playoff run. Seimone Augustus has an edge, playing for the 2008 team, so expect Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore to rely upon her wisdom to ensure they can play to full capacity during the Olympics but avoid over-exerting for a gold medal when their fans are expecting the foundation of a potential dynasty.

What kind of impact can 3rd overall pick Devereaux Peters make?

Peters demonstrated her defensive upside in the preseason win over Connecticut, and may allow the Lynx to avoid a drop-off when she goes in for Rebekkah Brunson, provided she can play defense without fouling (a notorious trait of hers at Notre Dame). The Irish suffered when Peters had to ride the bench, especially in this year’s title game with Baylor. Had she been able to play more, Notre Dame would have had a fighting chance (no pun intended). With the injury to Amber Harris, combined with some uncertainty about her making the final roster this season, Peters could log more minutes than most think. Harris’ work ethic has been questioned a lot, as many wonder why such a highly-praised post spent most games watching from the bench. Peters was part of a draft class that was “written off” over a lack of stars, and she’ll have motivation after coming close to winning the national championship in college twice, only to come up short.

What about having Taj McWilliams-Franklin around as a mentor for her?

Taj tutored Peters between periods of Thursday’s game and will probably transfer enough lessons to create a syllabus by the end of this season. Ultimately, Taj will instill on Devereaux a value of not playing to be “another Taj” despite the early comparisons between the two. A previous discussion I held with LaChina Robinson highlighted how Peters will have a teaching tool in almost everyone, which will prevent the Notre Dame alum from phasing out.

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