Nicky Anosike - a key to the Lynx's fortunes this year
Professional women's basketball continues to be a tough sell in Minnesota. There's been some excitement for ladies hoops at the college level, with recent, deep runs in the NCAA tournament by the Gophers, but not much buzz can be found for or about the Lynx. A familiar and popular argument against women's hoops can be found online in an Adam Platt post on the Mpls-St. Paul Magazine site back in March. You can read what he had to say here. Reading some of the comments made by conservative idiot savant Bertram Jr. in reaction to the post gives you a feel for the sentiment that's probably more prevalent than most folks realize.
Compounding the problem is the fact that the Lynx haven't had much success; in fact they have had only two playoff appearances, in 2003 and 2004. Since that time, much like their male counterparts, it's been a franchise on the decline despite acquiring the top pick in the league two of the last three years. Remember, this is a Glen Taylor run team. Underwhelming management doesn't stop with the Timberwolves. Opportunities to acquire players like Janel McCarville--the Most Improved Player of 2007--who would have brought name recognition and much needed help in the front court were rejected in favor of other moves, such as the Lindsey Harding acquisition. The hiring of long time Timberwolves and former Detroit Pistons assistant Don Zierden had that "country club" feel that Timberwolves followers have come to know all too well.
We're told now that's all going to change. Yesterday, MinnPost's Jay Weiner wrote about the new aggressive ad campaign that the Lynx have undertaken to change their fortunes. You can read all about it here.
My reaction? Just one word: Please. I could offer a cheap shot about what might REALLY attract males to buy Lynx tickets (see Jackson, Lauren), but the bottom line is in a front running market like this, it's all about winning, baby, and this franchise hasn't done that. Based on that one simple principle, are the Lynx going to win more games this year?
Will they make the playoffs?
They will win more games because it really can't get much worse than it has with two consecutive 10-24 seasons. A year late maybe, but they have added some significant talent in the front court with second round draft choice Nicky Anosike from NCAA champion Tennessee, along with veteran Kristen Rasmussen, and Vanessa Hayden-Johnson, returning from a year long layoff due to maternity leave. Candice Wiggins, their first round draft pick and third overall, and Anna DeForge, a 2007 WNBA all star, will take the double team pressure off of Seimone Augustus, and help spread the offensive opportunities around. Compared to the last two years, the talent level on this club promises to be much better.
Why they won't make the playoffs comes down to three factors: coaching, defense, and point guard play. Zierden is not head coaching material, period. In the games I saw last year, he had no strategy on how to break presses or half court traps, and his offense centered around Augustus using her athleticism to try and make something happen. The fact she was second in the league in scoring and attempted 241 more shots than any other Lynx player last year speaks volumes for the way Zierden used her. The Lynx defense was awful in 2007; while the team shot only 41% from the floor, the opposition shot at a 45% clip, and averaged 3 points a game more than Minnesota. They had a defensive rating of 102.7, which was good for dead last in the league. Having higher quality front court players will help improve the interior defense--a significant issue with the mediocre Nicole Ohlde still getting major minutes in the rotation--but to expect a big jump in defensive acumen with such a young club is problematic.
Before her season ending injury last year, point guard Lindsey Harding was in the running for WNBA Rookie of the Year. That tells you more about last year's rookie talent pool for the WNBA than it says anything about Harding, because she was shaky at best at that position. She shot 35% from the floor, hit close to 68% of her free throws, and averaged 3.9 assists per game. By contrast, former Gopher Lindsay Whalen--playing for the Connecticut Sun--led the league with 5 assists per game, shot 47% from the floor, and hit nearly 79% of her free throws. Currently on the shelf with a knee injury, it looks like a point guard by committee, with Noelle Quinn and Crystal Smith among others helping to fill the void. When Harding returns, Zierden will more than likely hand her the keys. With Augustus, Wiggins and even DeForge competing for shots, it will take a skilled playmaker to distribute the ball and make sure the stars get their touches. I'm not sure Harding will be up to the task.
The bottom line? A better team with significantly more talent, but with enough flaws to keep them from competing in the second season. I would love to be wrong, because the handwriting is on the wall for this franchise; another horrible season like the last two might spell the end of the road for this club. Unlike Mr. Platt, I love women's basketball, and even with Taylor.org's incompetent management, I would hate to see the Lynx leave this market. You'll see me down at Target Center tomorrow, cheering the ladies on.