2011 WNBA Rookie of the Year Maya Moore, who the Lynx selected 1st overall in last year's draft.
While the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves and Wild are all struggling just to be mediocre, the Minnesota Lynx will begin their WNBA title defense in only 25 days (May 10th preseason game at Connecticut). The Lynx finished 27-7 last season, good for 1st in the Western Conference, and are returning most of their core, including Finals MVP Seimone Augustus, Rookie of the Year Maya Moore and First Team All-WNBA Lindsay Whalen.
Before the season begins, however, the 2012 WNBA Draft will take place tomorrow afternoon at 1 PM CST. The Minnesota Lynx have a league-high six picks, including 2 in the top-12, and have an excellent opportunity to keep their dynasty going by adding some quality young talent.
Below is a preview of tomorrow's draft, who the Lynx are likely to select and what holes the team needs to fill:
Unlike the Timberwolves, who are trying to make franchise-changing draft picks, the Lynx only need to round out their championship roster.
Jessica Adair, C
Taj McWilliams-Franklin, C
Rebekkah Brunson, PF
Amber Harris, F
Maya Moore, F
Seimone Augustus, G-F
Monica Wright, G-F
Candice Wiggins, G
Lindsay Whalen, G
Brunson, Whalen, Moore and Augustus each started all 34 games for the Lynx and Taj McWilliams-Franklin started all but one game last season. All five of those players averaged 27+ minutes per game. Given that McWilliams-Franklin will turn 42 years old this October, once has to think that she can't keep playing major minutes for long and that front court depth is a significant area of need.
The team's top reserve, Candice Wiggins, turned down an opportunity to hit the free agent market and re-signed with the Lynx. She had a rough 2011 campaign, with shooting averages of .386/.395/.625 from the field/3PT/FT, respectively. When Wiggins is able to hit her spot-up three, she provides a tremendous scoring option off of the bench.
Beyond Wiggins, the Lynx' bench was their biggest weakness last season. The team is hoping that Jessica Adair and Amber Harris can develop into dependable members of the rotation. Monica Wright played very poorly last year and will likely have a hard time getting off of the bench at all this season after the infusion of young talent from the draft.
Charde Houston, F (traded with the 24th overall pick to Phoenix for the 18th overall pick)
Houston was an All-Star in 2009, averaging 13.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Last season, however, her role was dramatically reduced, playing only 7.8 minutes per game.
Alexis Hornbuckle, G (traded to Phoenix for a 2013 2nd round draft pick)
Hornbuckle is a 5th year veteran who averaged only 7.2 minutes per game last season.
Erin Thorn, G (signed as free agent)
Thorn is a 10-year vet who played last season with the Chicago Sky. She shot nearly 40% from three-point range last season and had averages of 5.4 points, 2.4 assists and 1.7 rebounds in 16.8 minutes.
While Kevin Love was considered for NBA MVP for about a week this season, Linsday Whalen received serious consideration in last year's MVP discussion. She had to settle for 1st Team All-WNBA and a WNBA Championship.
Lynx Draft Summary
The Lynx' 2012 picks include:
#3 (from Washington)
2011 WNBA Coach of the Year Cheryl Reeve said that whoever the team chooses with the #3 overall pick needs to be able and ready to contribute. She also said that the player will need to be able to adjust from being the best player on her college team to someone who may not get major minutes right away and will have to adjust to a role off of the bench in the immediate future.
"It will require some patience on their end. When their number is called, she'll be taught that's what pros do."
With six picks, and only five roster spots, it is possible that the Lynx could be active in the trade market tomorrow. They could also look to take a couple of international players, since it will not hurt them if those players do not come over to the WNBA right away.
Lynx Mock Draft
When Brittney Griner decided to stay in college for another year, Nneka Ogwumike became the obvious choice for the #1 overall pick.
#3 (1st round):
This is the only pick in the draft with some certainty for the Lynx. Personally, I think they're going to target a front court player who can defend the basket and rebound well. Last year, it was noticeable when McWilliams-Franklin was out of the game and teams were able to get to the rim much easier. I think the pick will be one of these three players:
Glory Johnson, F, Tennessee
Glory Johnson posted 37 double-doubles in her career in Tennessee, third in team history, and would be a terrific addition to the Lynx frontcourt. She could give McWilliams-Franklin a nice breather during the regular season and provide a good safety net in case Adair and Harris are not able to produce at a high level this year. Johnson was also the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and could bolster the Lynx' defense at the rim.
Devereaux Peters, F, Notre Dame
Another dominating college big, Peters is a 6'2" big who averaged 11.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game last season for the Fighting Irish. Her one red flag is her history of knee problems, but she has played two full seasons without any problems, so perhaps that is no longer a concern.
Shekinna Stricklen, F, Tennessee
Stricklen is a versatile player who played all five positions for the Tennessee Volunteers during her junior season. She was named SEC Player of the Year, and while she is an above-average rebounder and defender, Stricklen can also stretch the defense with her perimeter shooting. The Tulsa Shock like Stricklen quite a bit and it is likely she will be taken at #4 if the Lynx pass on her with their pick.
#12 (1st round):
The Lynx' second first-round pick is much more of a wild card and they could go many different directions here, assuming they keep the pick in the first place. I think, if they do make a selection here, they might be well served to target some backcourt help. More outside scoring would be helpful, especially if Wiggins gets into a slump. However, they could also take the BPA and figure out the rest later.
Whoever this pick is, she will have to fight for minutes this season.
Samantha Prahalis, G, Ohio State
While it may not be realistic to think Prahalis drops this far, there are still many question marks surrounding her, and she has been projected to go anywhere from 4th to 10th in mock drafts. If somehow she falls all the way to the Lynx at 12, she would be a tremendous value pick. A pure-point guard, Prahalis would play behind Lindsay Whalen.
Lynetta Kizer, C, Maryland
The Lynx can afford to gamble with this pick and Kizer could be such a gamble. At 6'4" and with a WNBA-ready body, she has the physical tools to compete in the post. She does have some questions about her attitude, however, and was suspended for the first three games this season for violating team rules. She was forced to come off the bench for the Terrapins, where she won ACC Sixth Player of the Year.
Khadijah Rushdan, G, Rutgers
Rushdan ranked among the top-12 in the Big East in field goal percentage and assists and made All-Big East First Team this past season with Rutgers. She rebounds well for her size and could potentially provide another scoring spark off of the bench.
#s 18-20 (2nd round):
Having three picks in the 2nd round, all in a row, gives the Lynx a multitude of options.
"Once you get past the first round it becomes positional," Reeve said. "You go best players available in first round and then after that you look for positioning needs to balance out your rosters for training camp."
They could try to deal one or more of these picks for future selections or for another veteran bench player. They could stash a foreign player. They could also hope they get lucky with a pick that turns into a rotation player in training camp.
Names to watch for at this spot include LaSondra Bennett, a forward from Louisiana State; Ashley Corral, a guard out of Southern Cal; and Tacarra Hayes, a guard out of Tennessee Tech.
#31 (Third Round):
Let's face it. The player picked here, if the selection is not traded or stashed overseas, will have to struggle just to make the team. Players who could be selected here for the Lynx include C'eira Ricketts, a guard out of Arkansas, or Avery Warley, a guard out of LIberty University.
Some of the international prospects to keep an eye on?
Damiris Dantas, Brazil
Dantas is a 19-year old, 6'4" center, who was named MVP at the U-19 World Championships. She earned bronze medals for Brazil in the U-19 Worlds and the PanAmerican Games, averaging 20.9 points and 12.6 rebounds.She has said that she does not want to play in the WNBA until 2016, so this would be a long-term investment for any team that takes her.
Nika Baric, Slovenia
Baric is a 5'7" point guard who has competed for Russia's Spartak in the Russian and Euroleague seasons. She has already played with Seimone Augustus (and Becky Hammon) on Spartak and has a familiarity with that level of competition in Europe. In the U-19 Worlds, she averaged 13.7 points on 54.2% shooting.
Queralt Casas, Spain
A 19-year old, 5'11" small forward, Casas played for Mann Filter during the '11/'12 Spanish season. She shot 47% from the floor, including 30.4% from beyond the arc, but struggled at the free throw line (48%).
Farhiya Abdi, Sweden
Abdi is a 6'2" forward who helped Sweden to a Division B gold medal in the 2011 U20 European Championships. In the Finals, she scored 21 points over Portugal. During the '11/'12 Euroleague season, Abdi played for Frisco Sika and played over 30 minutes per night. She only shot 29.5% and 18.3% from 3, however, making her a risky pick in the first two rounds.
Kamile Nacickaite, Lithuania
Nacickaite actually played for the Drexel Dragons this season, averaging 17 points and 5.9 rebounds. She also hit on 38.2% of her 3-point attempts. In the CAA semifinals with Drexel, Nacickaite had 16 points and 15 rebounds, and was named to the all-tournament team.
Astan Dabo, Mali
At 6'8", Dabo is one of the more physically-imposing foreign prospects available in this year's draft. While her numbers are not anything to get excited about - only 3.6 points and 2.6 boards in the 2011 FIBA Africa Championships - you can't teach height. She could be worth a flier for a team like the Lynx, who can afford to let the 20-year old Dabo develop a few years before bringing her over to the WNBA.
The WNBA Draft will be televised at 1 PM CST on ESPN 2.