Friday, September 23, 2011

The Week That Was (Hint: Whalen, Rubio, Jackie Johnson, Augustus, Humphries and More)

This isn't even basketball season and yet it's been a hell of a week. The big stories are summarized at the top, then a longer commentary on some of them follows below.

1. The Lynx absolutely demolished the Phoenix Mercury in game 1 of the Western Division Finals. Did anybody expect this, I mean, seriously? By "this," I mean 95-67. The Lynx took a 15-3 lead and the Mercury never got closer than 6.

2. The NBA announced the cancellation of pre-season camps and much of the pre-season. Here are the Wolves, all spiffed up with Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio and, most importantly, new coach Rick Adelman and right now there's no place to go.

3. Jackie Johnson verballed the Minnesota Gopher women. Which is good news, as Johnson is the #1 rated Minnesotan in the class of 2011.

4. Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus didn't win the WNBA MVP award. Well, no surprise there, though I myself would have voted for Lindsay if I had a vote (and I should).

5. Kansas wanted Kris Humphries until they found out he was "a big jerk." It's in a new book, so it must be true.

Lynx 95 Phoenix 67

Pre-game hype focused on the match-up of Diana Taurasi of Phoenix, the WNBA's leading scorer at 21 ppg, and the Lynx' Seimone Augustus, the Lynx' top scorer and the league's #9, who would be guarding Taurasi. Well, Taurasi ended up with 22 points to Seimone's 21, but she was 1-for-6 in the 1st quarter and most of her points came after the game had been decided.

Of course, it's true that Seimone's 21 came mostly after the game was decided. From 15-3, the Lynx extended their 1st period lead to 28-11 with Maya Moore scoring 13 points. She finished with 15, Taj Franklin-McWilliams and Candice Wiggins (of the bench) with 14 and Rebekah Brunson with 13 and 13 boards. The Lynx out-rebounded Phoenix 42-26 and shot 50 percent to the Mercury's 35.7.

I said that the series will return to the Target Center on Tuesday after a Sunday game in Phoenix. This, of course, will not happen if the 2nd game is anything like the 1st. But don't count the Mercury out. They can and will score more than 67 points on Sunday. The Lynx will likely need another 95 to complete a sweep.

Wolves: Nowhere to Go

The cancellations to date--plus any further cancellations such as the regular season--will serve as cover for the uncomfortable fact that erstwhile franchise-saver Ricky Rubio is not ready for prime time. He was a total non-factor in Spain's recent run to the world championship. Spain hammered France 98-85 in the final as starting guards Juan Carlos Navarro and Jose Calderon combined for 44 points, 7 assists, 5 boards and 4 steals (all by Calderon). Rubio played 7 minutes with no points or shots, 2 boards, an assist, a steal, a turnover and 4 fouls. France guard Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs scored 26 with 5 each of boards, assists and turnovers.

Still, Wolves fans should be anxious to see a Rick Adelman-led team show some significant improvement, as Adelman's teams always do in their 1st year. But how? With Kevin Love not a question mark but Rubio unready, improvement will have to come from Luke Ridnour at the point. No? Michael Beasley? Doubtful. Darko Milicic or Brad Miller in the post? Well, Miller, maybe? Wes Johnson as a reliable perimeter scorer? Possibly. Derrick Williams? In his rookie season? No, the improvement will come from the coach himself, running a sensible offense (that is, one that makes sense to the players themselves) and enabling them to play something more akin to what they understand to be the game of basketball. But doing that, they will go exactly as far as their natural talents can take them, and that is a question mark. It's Kevin Love and the Four Question Marks and it still might be 96 tears before it gets any better.

Gopher Women: A Good Get

Adding Jackie Johnson to the fold takes some of the sting away for the girls (Taylor Hill, Cassie Rochel, et al) who didn't want to have anything to do with the Minnesota Gophers. Rochel, especially, the top post of the past couple of years who played at Lakeville North and now plays at Wisconsin, as Johnson is also a post, at least in high school. She's just 6-2 to Rochel's 6-4 but time will tell which is the better college player.

But comparisons aside, Johnson adds some credibility to what had been considered a weak 2012 class heretofore consisting of guards Shayne Mullaney (like Johnson, from Eden Prairie) and Mikayla Bailey of Osseo. The latter 2 are rated only the #9 and #19 prospects in their class by one rating ( Personally, I think Mullaney will be just fine as a running mate to Rachel Banham, both of them being combo guards (passers and scorers in about equal measure) at heart. Add Kayla Hirt of Bemidji (like Banham, a freshman this fall) and Pam Borton has added 5 very tough kids to her roster. I think they'll enjoy some success before they're done. The onus for that is mostly on Banham, but Johnson adds a little bit of size along with the credibility.

Tamika Catchings WNBA MVP

Catchings is a good choice ahead of Tina Charles, who seems to have been favored if only because of a WNBA record for double-doubles this year. But the fact is that Sylvia Fowles is a better basketball player and a better athlete and a better post than Charles. How could Charles be the MVP if she's not the best at her position? Case closed. For the record, Lindsay finished 5th and Seimone 8th. It would be a misnomer to say they split the Lynx vote, however. Give Lindsay all of Seimone's votes and she still only moves up to 4th.

Can't complain too much about it, considering the Lynx stole a Rookie of the Year award (Maya Moore over San Antonio's Danielle Adams; Adams was better in the recent playoff series between the 2 though Moore, of course, came up big against Phoenix last night). Cheryl Reeve for Coach of the Year was an absolute no-brainer, and the way she rallied her troops for the 3rd San Antonio game and the 1st Phoenix game fairly screams Coach of the Year.

Still, Lindsay has moved into front-runner status for 2011-2012 Minnesota Player of the Year. There's a long way to go and plenty of contenders, but Lindsay has thrown down the gauntlet with her performance this year. I'm okay with Catchings, Fowles and Charles, but how the hell did Lindsay finish behind Sue Bird, point guard for the Seattle Storm?

Lindsay 14 ppg, 51 percent shooting, 6 assists, 2 turnovers, 4 boards, 3 steals (team 27-7)
Bird 15 ppg, 45 percent, 5 assists, 2 turnovers, 3 boards, 1 steal (21-13)

Humphries "A Big Jerk"

So says former Jayhawk Keith Langford in Beyond the Phog: Untold Stories from Kansas Basketball's Most Dominant Decade. Coach Roy Williams wanted Humphries but after Kris visited the Lawrence, Kansas, school, his team said, "Coach, you can't bring this guy in." "No one on the team liked (him)." Langford wrote. "He was arrogant."

I wonder if his Gopher teammates would argue the point?

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