Candice Wiggins, dancing after Minnesota's win over Phoenix
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A Taylor-made team going 4-0? Remarkable. Driving through hail and rain to see them at Target Center last night, the ladies have something going; there's a bit of a buzz being created here. A season beginning win streak and reconfiguring the arena bowl to make 6,000 people seem substantial have the Lynx on a roll. What in Sonja Tate's name is going on here?
Newcomers--both veterans and rookies--have brought energy and depth to this team. Watching Charde Houston and Nicky Anosike score in the low post has been a godsend for a previously soft squad. Having five front court players able to come in and give quality minutes has been vital; they have been able to buffer the fouling tendencies of rookies Houston and Anosike as well as returning veteran Hayden-Johnson to provide continuity as players get shuffled in and out of the rotation. In the back court, Anna DeForge and Candice Wiggins have helped stabilize a sometimes shaky guard situation. Point guard Noelle Quinn's ability to "handle" on ball pressure from Phoenix's Kelly Miller last night exposes one of her primary weaknesses. Even though Wiggins shot 3 of 10 from the field last night, her 12 assists and quickness in getting her club into half court sets was impressive. Until Harding gets back (not a given at this time), Wiggins should be starting at PG.
DeForge's role is still emerging, but if there were a nickname for her, it would be the Stabilizer Bunny. She shoots well from the three point line, and her defense on Diane Taurasi was important; it forced Cappie Pondexter to try and take over the game at times, jacking up 27 shots. DeForge is a welcome veteran compliment to Seimone Augustus; she helps space the floor and provide another experienced go-to player in times of trouble.
Overall, the Lynx are leading the league in scoring (87.75 ppg) and point differential (9.25). The point differential stat is incredible when you consider how badly the Lynx were on defense last year. Their "D" has a long way to go, but they are now opportunistic and aggressive; they forced numerous back court turnovers last night that directly led to easy points. They gave up a number of key offensive rebounds and were dominated in fast break points, but the difference between last year and this year is nearly night and day.
With all this positivity, there are issues remaining. Nicole Ohlde is reverting back to form with an awful game Saturday. Putting her on the high post has helped some, but her basketball IQ seems to be the lowest among this group--especially for a veteran. Forgoing open looks when she received the ball in the post, she often drove right into the teeth of the opposition's interior defense, getting her shot blocked and creating fast break opportunities for Phoenix. When she did get a call and went to the charity stripe, she converted well enough, but that's the issue: she doesn't get enough of those calls. Her shooting percentage of .364 is incredibly low for a starting front court player.
Then there's Coach Zierden. I have been incredibly hard on the gent, and we'll have to see how this entire year pans out, but it seems like the additions of assistants Jennifer Gillom and Julie Plank, along with the major infusion of talent this year has bandaged his deficiencies. They still show from time to time, however, and some of them were on display Saturday. To open the game, Anna DeForge hit two consecutive three pointers, at around 8:30 of the first quarter. Three minutes later, at 5:11, only then does she get another look, with a missed jump shot. There's two issues here, getting your star player off (Augustus), and letting the hot hand roll until extinguished (DeForge). For a young team, Zierden should be all over try to establish a framework and a pecking order.
Second, there's the recognition of matchups. Wiggins came in against the Phoenix second team, often guarded by backup PG Yuko Oga, a smaller, defensively challenged player. Only once did Zierden exploit the clear advantage Wiggins had on Oga. Third, at the end of the game, getting the ball to Augustus for either shots or free throws was paramount. It wasn't until 3:38 left in the fourth that someone on the club got a clue and gave SA touches. To me, that's on Zierden to reinforce at crunch time what the pecking order is.
These are nitpicks to be sure, but the while the youth of this team has clearly been an advantage these first four games, there's plenty left to be exploited as the season continues. Building chemistry and understanding roles--especially when the game isn't rolling in your favor--is crucial with young teams. Zierden's success as a head coach depends on his ability to develop that teamwork.
It's all good right now though...so let the ladies dance.