The Minnesota Lynx get their regular season underway tonight at Target Center vs. the Tulsa Shock. The Lynx will be embarking on a quest for a third championship in five seasons, and have much of the same crew that has carried them to great success over the last several years.
The "core four" is back for another run at it: Lindsay Whalen at point guard, Seimone Augustus at shooting guard, Maya Moore the reigning MVP at small forward, and Rebekkah Brunson at power forward all return for another go, as does coach Cheryl Reeve. There is a change at center, however, as Janel McCarville is not playing this season due to physical problems, and she will likely be replaced in the starting lineup by second year player Damiris Dantas.
No matter how you slice it, this is probably the most talented starting lineup in the WNBA, and should carry the Lynx to another good record. However, cracks began to appear last season, as the Lynx got off to a tremendous start, then stumbled a bit later in the season before falling to the Phoenix Mercury in the Conference Finals. This is not a young team. Essential players Whalen, Augustus, and Brunson are all over 30, and Brunson spent significant parts of last season injured.
This raises questions that need to be answered this season.
A common pattern for the Lynx last season was to build a big lead early, only to see it dissipate, especially when the reserves were in the game. The Lynx averaged the fewest points off the bench in the league in 2014. They need better production from the bench, and with Dantas probably moving to the starting lineup, it puts even more pressure on the reserves.
The Lynx made a couple of trades this off-season in an attempt to bolster the second unit, acquiring former all-star big Asjha Jones from Connecticut and guard Anna Cruz from the New York Liberty. Jones, however, did not appear in either pre-season game after two seasons missed with injury, and Cruz is playing with Spain in the Eurobasket tournament and will not report to the Lynx for several weeks.
That means Dev Peters, first round draft pick in 2012 who is entering her fourth season in the league, really needs to take a step forward and be a positive contributor to the front court, something she has struggled to do so far in her career.
Monica Wright, who has been a fixture as the third guard for several seasons returns, but has been hampered by injury this pre-season. She appeared in both exhibition games and will be available, but probably limited, early in the season. Tricia Liston, who is a three point specialist, has the opportunity to earn more playing time this year if she can provide an offensive spark off the bench.
A big key for the Lynx this season will be working in some of the younger players and getting positive play from people like Dantas, Peters, Liston, and perhaps even rookie forward Reshanda Gray, who they drafted out of California.
One question will be up front, with McCarville out and Brunson a year older. Last season, the Lynx were the best defensive rebounding team in the league, (though not a strong offensive rebounding squad); that's something that will be a question mark now. Depending on Jones' availability and Peters' progress, we may see a lot more small lineups with Moore occupying the power forward slot. That puts a lot of pressure on to rebound the ball, which will be a key for the Lynx season.
Another big issue facing the Lynx is getting quality back up point guard play in relief of Lindsay Whalen, who is now 33 years old. Monica Wright is more of a combo-scoring guard, and as noted, she's been hurt. Anna Cruz isn't here yet, and will need to mesh with the team when she does arrive. As a result, rookie Jennifer O'Neill has made the squad after a great career at the University of Kentucky.
This is a terrific team that is very well coached and has an immense amount of talent, with Moore being the center piece. She reached a new level last season, setting career highs in scoring and rebounding, and dominating games with regularity. She's back to defend her MVP award with a new long term contract that will keep her in a Lynx uniform for the foreseeable future, which is tremendous for Minnesota basketball fans.
Yeah, that's pretty good. Her ability to both drive the ball and make shots from the perimeter make her almost unstoppable. Among other things, she led the WNBA in net plus/minus last season.
The Lynx have caught a couple of breaks when it comes to the Western Conference competition. Defending champs the Phoenix Mercury will be without superstar Diana Taurasi, who is taking a seasons off to rest her body, which has taken a beating over a long stretch of domestic and foreign play. Tonight's opponent, the Tulsa Shock, will be without All-Star Glory Johnson-Griner for the season, it was just announced, because she is pregnant (congratulations Glory and Brittney!).
This is shaping up to be another great season. I'm not by nature a cheerleader, and I don't see that as my role here. Nonetheless, I urge you to pay attention to the Lynx this season. They are a fantastic watch, the Target Center crowds are great, and the squad is filled with All-Stars and Olympians.
You can purchase WNBA LiveAccess to see all the games for $15 for the entire season, and get the games streaming on any number of devices.
Meanwhile, Canis Hoopus will be covering the Lynx all season long, including a presence at home games (John and Lindsey are on it), as well as recaps of road tilts, and of course news throughout the summer.
Shock at Lynx
7:00 pm CDT
Enjoy the season and go Lynx.