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Saturday, July 20, 2019

The “Lucky Lynx?” - Part II: Maya Mania Infuses Minnesota

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Photo Caption: The season is still young, but already rookie Maya Moore (No. 23 white, shooting) has helped propel the Minnesota Lynx from a sub-.500 franchise that finished out of the playoffs for the past two seasons, to the top of the Western Conference standings with a 5-1 record that is the best in the league at this juncture.

Photo Credit: ©2011 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Bob Corwin

Editor’s Note: Last week, Full Court’s Sharon Crowson took a look at how the Minnesota Lynx have turned bad fortune on the court (and in the training room) into good luck on the draft lottery board, putting together a young and talented roster that, at the very least, rivals any in the league. (See The “Lucky Lynx?” Part I.) Here, Full Court correspondent Bob Corwin examines how this talent-packed team is performing on the court in the early going.

In stock symbols, MMM stands for Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (today the 3M Company known for Scotch tape and many other products).  In WNBA lingo, it may soon come to mean Minnesota’s Maya Moore.  If you talk to long starving Lynx fans, who have seen but two playoff appearances—and just one post-season win—in 12 years and six straight trips to the WNBA Draft lottery, there is a sense of hope this franchise has never known before.

When the Minnesota Lynx drew the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft—guaranteeing them the rights to college superstar, three-time National Player of the Year Maya Moore—everyone knew that this already talent-rich team would likely see an uptick in what has in recent years been a disappointing on-court performance. The questions remained: Just how much difference would this rookie make and how soon would the improvement take hold?

With six games under their belts since the season tipped off a little more than two weeks ago, the early returns are in, and the picture is a rosy one. The Lynx, who finished out of the money last season with a dismal 13-21 record, are currently riding high, standing alone (albeit by just half a game) at the top of the West; they own the best record in the league at 5-1.

There are plenty of reasons for this early success, but a lot of them have to do with the fact Moore appears to be living up to the hype and then some. After relatively lackluster performances in the Lynx’ two preseason outings, in which Moore posted just four and nine points, respectively, the UConn product put scorched the Los Angeles Sparks for 21 points, to which she added four assists and four boards, in her official professional debut. has posted games of 21 and 16 points. The Lynx led that game by as many as 10 as late as the third quarter, until to succumb to a deluge of late-game L.A. three-balls that saw Minnesota’s season opener end in 74-82 loss.

Moore is not accustomed to losing, and though she led all scorers, it was the bottom line, and not her individual stat line, that occupied her attention after the game. She expressed dissatisfaction with her performance and vowed to improve. And, indeed, the Lynx drew their revenge just two days later, when they treated their home crowd to an 86-69 beat-down of the Sparks, the team that knocked them out of playoff contention last year thanks to a tie-breaker. Moore finished that one with 16 points, right on the heels of the team’s All-Star veteran Seimone Augustus (17). Beyond the box score, it was Moore’s steal and feed to teammate Lindsay Whalen for a fast-break lay-up, followed by back-to-back triples of her own, that put the momentum back in the hands of the Lynx when Los Angeles threatened to erase what had once been a 12-point deficit.

The Lynx haven’t lost one since, and Moore, who is averaging 13.8 points, five boards and three assists per game, has only once failed to finish in double digits. Local media outlets are now calling to attend practices, not just games.

Ms. Maya

Moore is far from your perfect small forward.  She possesses an athleticism and court-sense that can often be spell-binding, but she is not the fastest. Her feet would probably prefer to guard power forwards, as she typically did in her college years, rather than the quicker small forwards of the professional league. However, her height (6-0) and body mass (175 pounds) are likely to make that more the exception than the rule in her pro career. She needs to improve her ball handling and take the ball to the basket more often.  Her passing skills are adequate but not great. 

So what makes her special?  To start with, she has one of the smoothest jumpers (including three-point range) that you are going to find.  However, even that is not what most markedly sets her apart from the rest of the pack.  As was the case during her college career, whether in games or in practice, Moore takes no possessions off.  Where others may shy away from a challenge, she embraces it.  She is demanding of her teammates but no more than she is of herself.  Constant focus and an unquenchable will to win are her trademarks.
Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve says Moore learns quickly. Case in point, Reeve noted: In the two days between the Lynx’ games against the Sparks, Moore had adjusted, putting the ball on the floor to improve her look at the basket in the second game, rather than just settling for a “catch and shoot” look as she had often done in the first game in Los Angeles. Reeve went on to praise Moore for her energy on the defensive end away from the ball.  This was evident in the recent Lynx win over Tulsa, in which Moore scored only 7 points but found other ways to contribute, including three steals, three assists and seven rebounds.  It is one thing to be active when defending the ball but takes much more focus (that word again) to do it when the ball is on the other side of the court.
Look for Moore to get minutes at power forward against teams with less size in the paint.  This will give the Lynx additional opportunities to utilize their superior perimeter depth.

Quite apart from her on-court contributions, the Lynx are capitalizing on the broad notoriety its rookie gained during Connecticut’s record-breaking winning streak and back-to-back national championships, as well as her poise and quiet charm. From the look of things at their first home game, Minnesota is featuring Moore as its star in the team’s in-house promos. How will this go down on a team already loaded with All Stars and Olympians? Only time will tell! So long as the team stays its current positive course (i.e., winning more than losing) and Moore continues to walk the walk, the veterans will probably go along with it.  If not, there’s the potential for some grumpiness in the locker room.

Will Moore be the 2011 WNBA Rookie of the Year? She’s been the darling of much of the media even before she donned a WNBA uniform, but Full Court Press correspondents had her in a preseason dead heat with Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot (a talented point guard) and Tulsa’s Elizabeth Cambage (perhaps a better long term value as a future dominant center), both of whom are already making positive impacts on their respective teams.  Given how she is being featured by the Lynx and the mainstream media machine, and the greater likelihood of success this season for the Lynx as compared to either the Sky or the Shock, Moore looks like a safer bet today than she did prior to the start of the season. Still, the 6-8 Cambage, who is averaging 14.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game thus far, despite coming off the bench due to a concussion, should not be counted out of this race. Nor should the unheralded Danielle Adams, who is leading all rookies in scoring (17.2 points per game) and is second only to Cambage in rebounding with 5.4 boards per game, despite playing fewer minutes (21.9 per game) than the other contenders. Adams’s stats per 40 minutes played are by far the best of the rookie class of 2011, but the question remains: Will anyone take notice?

With fan voting as casual as it is, don’t be surprised to see Moore land a place July’s All-Star game as the Lynx’ leading voter getter— even if she is not necessarily the team’s best player. (That honor would have to go to Rebekkah Brunson, who is averaging a double-double of 14.5 points and and 13.3 rebounds per game with an efficiency rating of +23.8 through Minnesota’s first six games).

And speaking of Brunson, it pays to remember that the Lynx are a lot more than Maya Moore, as good as she may be. Let’s take a look at how the rest of the line-up is working out thus far.


Taj McWilliams-Franklin is the team’s starting center, though she often faces up to shoot from mid range rather confining herself to the paint. McWilliams-Franklin will be 41 in August.  That she can still play starter minutes is amazing in itself.  But as Father Time decrees, some days, she is going to be more productive and have more in the tank than others. In Minnesota’s third game of the season, versus Tulsa, a grumpy back limited her to 19 minutes, but she is averaging 28. Can she—or for that matter, should she—continue to maintain that average over the course of the season? Over the Lynx’ first six games she is averaging just 6.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, well below her career averages of 11.9 points and seven boards.

Rookie Amber Harris, as expected, is the primary back-up in the low post. The 6-5, 215-pound Xavier product has added about 20 pounds since you saw her last in college, giving her more beef with which to bang away in the post, and she is trying to play closer to the basket as a pro than she did in the NCAA.

Post players are notoriously slow to develop in making the transition from the college to the professional game, and as to this rookie, Coach Reeve says, “You see progress and then it goes backward.”  She went on to indicate that Harris will determine her own playing time.  “When you play hard [Harris had the reputation in college of not always doing so], good things will come your way!” Reeve added.

At the moment, that Harris’s efforts have earned her a little more than 12 minutes per game, during which her major contribution has been on the boards; she is averaging just 4.3 points but 3.3 rebounds per game. So far, like so many rookies, up and down results appear to be the current menu here: Harris distinguished herself with 11 points and eight rebounds in Minnesota’s home win against the Sparks, but came up empty, with just one board and one foul to show for her two minutes on the court, against Atlanta.

Photo Caption: The Lynx have high hopes that Xavier star Amber Harris, their second pick in this year’s draft, will offer a shot-in-the-arm in the post. Thus far, however, her contributions have been limited, averaging just 4.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in a little over 12 minutes per game off the bench.
Photo Credit: ©2011 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

As a result, Harris appears to have fallen behind Jessica Adair in the rotation. Adair has dropped significant weight from last year and is running the floor much better; she played well enough in training camp to beat out Quanitra Hollingsworth. The latter was essentially handed to the Liberty (who gave the Lynx the right to swap third round picks in the 2012 draft) and appears to be thriving under New York Coach John Whisenant’s system in a way she failed to do with the Lynx.

Power Forward

Rebekkah Brunson has been one of the better power players in the league for a number of years.  Her shot can be flat at times but she is a powerful leaper willing to be very physical at grabbing rebounds though she is not as great an initial defensive presence in the lane.  The Georgetown product had her best WNBA rebounding year (10.3 rebounds per game) in 2010.  So far she is off to another strong start averaging double digit boards in 2011.

Photo Caption: Rebekkah Brunson is averaging a double-double of 14.5 points and and 13.3 rebounds per game, leading her team on the glass and second only to Seimone Augustus (15.3 points per game) in scoring. She is also her team’s most efficient shooter, averaging 61.4 percent from the field, with much of her scoring coming off put-backs of offensive boards.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Minnesota Lynx/Getty Images

When the Lynx go small, Moore will probably get time at this position where she was so very successful as a college player.  The greatest loser of playing time with the coming of Moore and Harris appears to be the undersized Charde Houston (generously listed at 6-0 on the roster).  Having averaged over 20 minutes a game for her first three pro seasons, her minutes are likely to be at least cut in half unless injuries strike. (Houston is currently getting just 7.6 minutes per game of floor time.)

Small Forward

Given her primary defensive assignments to date, call Moore (discussed above) the starting small forward slot.

Back-up for the position is Monica Wright although Augustus (discussed below) can play here as well.  The Virginia product appears to be playing with greater confidence than she exhibited in her 2010 rookie season.  Her game is more baseline-oriented than that of Moore, and Wright shows a greater willingness to drive to the basket. 

Shooting Guard

Let’s pencil in Seimone Augustus here.  Augustus, an LSU alum, plays with a style that is similar to Moore’s—i.e., more jump shot and less penetration to the rim.  The biggest difference between the two would be in their personalities: The Baton Rouge native seems more laid back, while Moore, despite being poised and relatively soft-spoken, is more intensely competitive.

According to Coach Reeve, Augustus entered training camp this season 100 per cent healthy (unlike last year) and at a “great weight.”  Reeve believes Augustus will attack the basket more this year although this was not evident in the first few games this season.

Obviously in some combinations, Moore will be designated as the shooting guard.  Any way you slice it, Coach Reeve has a lot of perimeter options.

Point Guard

Lindsay Whalen, a Minnesota graduate, returns for her second WNBA campaign back home. In Whalen, you know exactly what you are getting: Good decision making and passing, strong penetration primarily going right, erratic perimeter shooting and suspect defense versus penetration.  Given that she is under a long-term contract, expect Whalen to finish her WNBA career in a Lynx uniform.

Primary back-up is Candice Wiggins who is sporting a bulky knee brace on her right leg.  According to Coach Reeve, the Stanford product has no meniscus in that knee and at times can’t go all out in practice.  While her ability to successfully play the point for more than back-up minutes in a tight game remains a question, Wiggins has demonstrated her willing to pass the ball as needed in her unaccustomed back-up role. Word in the arena is that she is a happier camper with this set of teammates than she has been in her prior years in Minneapolis.

Rounding out the squad is Alexis Hornbuckle, whose career has descended from number four pick (by the Detroit Shock) in the 2008 WNBA Draft to becoming one of the last two off the Lynx bench. What went wrong?  The former Tennessee star just doesn’t shoot the ball well enough to earn quality wing time, nor does she really have a point guard mentality.  What she is best at is being a physical perimeter defender and thus on this deep squad, her time could well drop to a career low of less than 10 minutes per game. (To date, she has seen just 6.6 minutes per game this season.)


The Lynx must be careful not to fall too much in love with the jump shot; they must be sure get adequate post touches.  Brunson must continue to get points off the offensive glass.  With so many quality perimeter players, if either Augustus or Moore is having an off night, there are plenty of bench options who have a history of success in the league and can readily be put on the floor.  In a best case scenario, the Lynx will have more balanced scoring rather than counting on a single player for a big night.


Minnesota showed little if any zone against either the Sparks or the Shock in their initial games of the season.  Coach Reeve insists that her team’s defense improved toward the end of last season and feels the team will be adequate in that department this year.  However, if the past is any indicator, a team with this many offensive-minded players may find that on some nights getting close to 90 points may be their best defense.


Maya Moore may not be the best player on the court every night but she will probably the most intense. Despite her youth, she is a player who can set the tone for her team. In Moore, Minnesota now has a player with a winner’s mentality willing to embrace a star’s role and to whom another trip to the WNBA lottery is simply not an option.

If, by some chance, Amber Harris has a really good season (possible, but not likely based on her performance to date), a deep playoff run would be the likely outcome. 

On the other hand, it is hard to see the Lynx, who now enjoy the depth to survive a catastrophic injury to a key player or two, failing again to make the playoffs at all.  The preseason consensus from Full Court Press writers was a second-place finish in the Western Conference. Few would have predicted that this team would already own the league’s best record, while there is a lot of mileage left in the regular season, that second-place finish in the West—or even better—remains within the realm of possibility. 


Originally published Tue, June 21, 2011

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Week: February 7, 2012
1 Baylor (31) 24-0 1 1 1 775
2 Notre Dame 23-1 2 2 2 743
3 Connecticut 21-2 3 4 3 710
4 Stanford 20-1 4 5 4 685
5 Duke 19-3 6 8 5 650
6 Miami (FL) 20-3 7 7 6 604
7 Kentucky 21-3 5 15 7 584
8 Maryland 20-3 10 10 8 534
9 Wisconsin-Green Bay 20-0 9 24 9 530
10 Ohio State 21-2 11 NR-RV
10 483
11 Tennessee 17-6 8 3 11 476
12 Delaware 20-1 13 NR 12 434
13 Georgetown 18-5 15 11 14 379
14 Texas A&M 16-5 16 6 15 378
15 Nebraska 19-3 18 NR 13 309
16 Rutgers 17-4 14 12 17 372
17 Louisville 17-6 12 9 20 276
18 Gonzaga 21-3 19 NR-RV
19 234
19 Purdue 19-5 17 21 16 222
20 Georgia 18-6 20 12 21 202
21 Penn State 18-5 21 14 18 176
22 DePaul 17-7 23 18 NR-RV
23 Georgia Tech 16-6 22 NR-RV
22 104
24 South Carolina 18-5 NR-RV
NR 24 46
25 Vanderbilt 18-5 NR-RV
NR 45
Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
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Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.