Friday, April 30, 2010

Lynx Cubs Drop Pre-Season Opener

It was pretty obvious from the get-go that the Lynx were not going to open their pre-season schedule with a win today. But, of course, that wasn't the objective. The objective was to look at some young talent. And, so, the Lynx should be given credit for having a good, sharp focus. If the objective is to look at young talent, in other words, then why put any other kind--such as, experienced talent--out there to muddy things up?

So the Lynx roster today consisted of 8 players, 2 of whom had a total of 3 years of WNBA experience, and who scored a total of 4 points per game in the WNBA a year ago. Their opponent, the Chicago Sky, brought 13 players with a total of 47 years of WNBA action and who scored a cumulative total of 64 points a year ago.

The surprise is not that the Lynx lost, it's that they didn't get demolished. The final was 87-78, and it was a 2 possession game (81-76) as late as 1:30 of the 4th quarter. The Sky's Tamera Young quickly scored the next 4 points to put the game out of reach.

As to that young talent: Who among them, exactly, is going to be a contributor once Nicky Anosike, Rebekkah Brunson, Quanitra Hollingsworth, Charde Houston, Hamchetou Maiga-Ba and Lindsay Whalen show up? And, how about when Semone Augustus and Candice Wiggins return from their current injuries?

Well, it's always tempting to say, None of the above, but that had best not be the case. The Lynx, after all, got Monica Wright of Virginia, who was listed as a guard/forward in today's program (a forward?), early enough in the 1st round that if she can't play, the entire organization looks like a bunch of idiots. Still, one would have to say, honestly, that her debut was something short of overwhelming.

Yes, she's strong and athletic, reasonably quick with pretty good overall skills. But if the primarily responsibility of the average 3/4 is to score, her 5-for-17 shooting (including 1-for-4 from long range) is cautionary. She was especially in accurate in a catch and shoot mode. Better was a little dribble penetration into the lane, and a stop and pop from 10 to 15 feet. And it's probably true that she was trying to do too much, given that most of her teammates were highly unlikely to contribute a bunch of points. So her assist to turnover ratio (1.0, or 4 and 4) can be overlooked, but her 3 boards and 1 steal are not particularly impressive.

Then there's returning veteran Rashanda McCants. Her biggest problem is she plays the same position as Wright--well, okay, Wright's guard/forward, McCants a forward/guard. Still, their signature moves are the same. The quick burst into the lane, and the stop and pop. Like Wright, McCants is no catch and shoot scorer. And, like Wright, her defense, rebounding, passing, etc., are all pretty mediocre. In fact, in McCants' case, all have the appearance of being performed by someone who finds them to be a deadly boring way to spend your time on the basketball court.

Obviously, she's not ever going to be ahead of Wright in the pecking order around these parts, but I thought that Gabriela Marginean of Romania and Drexel University was almost more impressive than Wright. She hit 3-of-7 FG and 6-of-6 FT for 12 points, led all players with 9 boards and added 2 steals. He assists to turnovers was 1.0 (1 to 1). The only problem is she's a bit of a 'tweener, a 4 in a 3's body, a small 4 or a slow 3. Still, her skills are highly developed and she's got a very high basketball IQ.

Looking at their roster, the Lynx must be hoping against hope that veteran Nuria Martinez can back up Whalen at the 1. I mean, Wiggins is a combo, but she won't be playing for awhile. Martinez is a true 1 and she shows the ability to take the ball and the bull (by the horns) and lead a team. The fact that she's not much of a scoring threat probably doesn't matter much at this level, but the fact that she's gonna get burned on defense is another story. Still, her line gets one's hopes us. 4-for-8 shooting, including 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, 7 boards and 3 assists. The 6 turnovers, well, not so much.

Beyond that, it's very hard to see any of these women contributing to a winning effort in the WNBA. Jessica Adair is a very wide-bodied 6-4 post from George Washington who showed the ability to score down low (14 points) and get to the FT line (4-for-5). And 5 offensive rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks are a pretty good line. She's aggressive, but her fundamentals, especially her footwork, are pretty rudimentary.

As for the rest, well, it was fun to see Gophers Ashley Ellis-Milan and Brittany McCoy not get completely out-classed, though AEM's 5 turnovers and McCoy's blown wide-open, breakaway layup had an air of familiarity about them. And Vanessa Gidden, a big from Hofstra, is a step behind Adair on every dimensions--she got stuffed at least 3 times. They'll be the 1st 3 of these Lynx to return to civilian life.

The Lynx broke to their biggest lead of the night at 5-0 on a Wright 3 and an AEM jumper. The sky quickly took the lead at 7-5. A 3 by Martinez, on an assist by Wright, gave the Lynx their last lead for a long while at 8-7, but the Sky soon led 14-10, then 18-12. The Sky's bigs repeatedly were beating the Lynx down the floor, so that the Lynx' guards had to help early in the Sky possessions, which is a tough way to set up a defense. As a result, the Sky's 6-2 forward Tamera Young scored 6 of the last 10 points of the 1st quarter for a 27-20 Sky lead.

Chicago stretched it out to 32-22 and 34-24 in the 2nd, but the Lynx went on a 15-4 run to take their last lead of the night at 39-38. McCants had 2 buckets and 2 assists during the run, while Wright scored 6 including a clean pick and breakaway lay-up to give the Lynx the lead. Thus awakened from their slumber, however, the Sky responded with a 9-4 run for a 47-43 half-time lead. The Lynx hit 15-of-29 2 pointers in the half, but just 1-of-6 3s.

The game was exceptionally closely called for a total of 61 fouls, including 6 on Adair, who was allowed to stay in the game because the Lynx were short of bodies by this time. McCants did not play in the 2nd half due to an undisclosed problem. Ellis-Milan, Marginean and Gidden all finished with 5 fouls.

The Lynx got within 48-47 on a pretty baseline drive by Adair but awakened yet again, the Sky responded with a 13-0 run. By the end of the 3rd, it was 75-59 as the Lynx made just 2-of-15 2s in the quarter. Chicago's biggest lead was 78-59 at the 9:00 mark, but once the Sky went to the very end of the bench, then the Lynx were better. The Sky stayed stuck on 81 for about 7 minutes, during which time the Lynx cut the deficit from 81-63 to 81-76, as Adair contributed 6 points and 2 boards. But, once again, the Sky woke up from their slumber and put the game out of reach again.

Three Stars

1. Shameka Christon, Chicago 17 points
2. Tamera Young, Chicago 18 points, 6 boards, 2 steals
3. Monica Wright, Minnesota 18 points, 4 assists

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