Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Lynx at Half Way

You probably don't remember that I picked the Lynx to finish 2nd to the L.A. Sparks in the West and to lose to the Sparks in the division semis.

It's too early to say I'm wrong, but the Lynx have just had 1 hell of a 1st half to their season, winning 14 of 17 games, 1 more than at this time in both 2011, when they won the WNBA title, and in 2012, when they didn't.

And the Lynx are not just 1, not just 2 games better than L.A. at this point, they're 2-and-a-half better, 3 in the loss column. They're 2 ahead of the 2nd best team in the league, which right now is the Chicago Sky at 12-5.

So the Lynx and L.A. aren't the only or even the major surprises in the WNBA so far. Almost everybody is a surprise, beginning with Rookie of the Year candidates Brittney Griner and Ellena Della Donna. Griner, the favorite initially, is now running a distant 2nd to Della Donna in the Rookie race. And not only that, Della Donna, who is scoring a league 3rd best 18 ppg, has led the Sky to that gaudy 12-5 record, compared to last year's 14-20, good for 5th in the East and a seat on the outside looking in at the post-season.

Griner, meanhile, is scoring 14 ppg and Phoenix is off to a shocking 9-9 start, despite the fact that Diana Taurasi is leading the league in scoring at 22 ppg in her return from an injury that kept her out of play a year ago. (I had them 23-11, just 1 game behind the Lynx.)

Also surprising, in the East, are Connecticut and Indiana, whom I had had 1st and 2nd. They're 4th and 6th. Indiana is after all the WNBA champion but are 8-9 at the halfway point. Connecticut is a shocking 6-12 despite Tina Charles having yet another MVP caliber season at 18 points and 9 boards.

But the biggest surprise is L.A. Of course, they're 12-6, just a half-game short of the 2nd best record in the league, so I guess they're doin' OK. I mean, they gave the Lynx 2 of their 3 losses, and they were routs, 87-59 and 96-66. But they lost almost as big at Minnesota, 88-64. They're just 8-5 vs. the West. In 2 of their last 3 games before the All-Star break, they lost to Phoenix and Seattle at home.

And that brings us to the Lynx. They're playin' great.

Maya Moore leads the team in scoring, as I said she would, with 16 ppg. I said on the other hand that Lindsey Whalen's game might begin to slip at age 31. Quite the opposite. Her scoring average is way up to 16 ppg, she's averaging 5 assists and she's shooting 49 percent. Seimone Augustus' scoring average has dropped to 15 ppg, but she's shooting 52 percent. Rebekah Brunson hasn't slipped a white, averaging 10 points and 9 boards. And Monica Wright has become the super-sub that Candace Wiggins used to be.

And so the primary goal of the 2nd half of the season would seem to be quite achievable. Hold the home court for the playoffs. Of course that didn't guarantee success a year ago and it doesn't guarantee success in 2013. Still, would you rather have the home ice against L.A. (average score 88-64) or play 'em on the road (average score 62-92)?

I would have said the same thing a year ago, but I'll say it again anyway. The Sparks are the only team that stands in the way of the Lynx and another WNBA title. What if the 2 played on a neutral court?

As a team, the Lynx are out-scoring their opponents 83-74. The Sparks are out-scoring theirs 83-75. One for the Lynx.

The Lynx are out-shooting their opponents 46 percent to 40, the Sparks 47-41. One for L.A.

The Lynx are out-rebounded their opponents by a whopping 39-33.5. L.A. is even at 34-all. Another one for the Lynx.

And the Lynx are turning the ball over 12 times per game, their opponents 14. L.A. is averaging 14 turnovers, their opponents 16. So that's a draw.

In the post, L.A. has a big advantage with Candace Parker. At the small forward, the Lynx have the advantage with Maya Moore. At the point, I'll take Lindsey over former Lynx Lindsey Harding. Each has 5 assists per game, but Whalen is out-scoring Harding 16-12 and out-shooting her 49 percent to 46. At the off guard it's Seimone over Kristi Tolliver though her scoring edge is just 15-14 and both are all-stars. But Seimone is shooting 52 percent and Tolliver 47.

At the big forward again there's a pair of all-stars in Brunson (10 points 9 boards 47 percent) and Nneka Ogumwike (14 points 7 boards 58 percent). Gotta be Nneka.

But a slight edge at the 2 guards and a big edge in Maya Moore means the Lynx win on a neutral court. But, of course, they won't be playing on a neutral court, the Lynx will have the home court advantage.

But that brings us to Maya Moore. She leads the Lynx in scoring. She led the 4 Lynx in the all-star game with 14 (Seimone had 12 Brunson 11 and Lindsey 8). But in the last 3 games before the all-star game she didn't score more than 14 points. In 3 games against L.A. she's scored 21 points on 8-of-27 shooting.

I said in my pre-season post that Maya Moore was the key to the Lynx contending, much less winning, the 2014 WNBA title. I still think that's so. They'll need a more consistent performance from Maya. In the meantime, of course, it doesn't hurt that Lindsey, Rebekah and Seimone are also playing like all-stars.

Revised Playoff Forecast

Eastern Division

#1 Atlanta 2 Washington 0
#2 Chicago 2 Indiana 1
Atlanta 2 Chicago 1. Chicago's chances rest entirely on Elena Della Donna's successful recovery from a concussion suffering in the final game before the all-star break.

Western Division

Minnesota 2 San Antonio 0
L.A. 2 Phoenix 0
Minnesota 2 L.A. 1. Minnesota's win depends on maintaining the home court advantage over the Sparks.


Minnesota 3 Atlanta 1. Minnesota's win depends on Maya Moore playing like the Maya Moore of the Olympics and the all-star game, and not the Maya Moore who seems to defer to Seimone as a Lynx.

Friday, July 26, 2013

UPDATE Greatest Athletes of Minneapolis

Yahoo and facebook have now picked the top 10 greatest athletes of Minneapolis. They are:

Rod Carew--whom I said they should and would pick

Cris Carter--whom I left off both of my lists. I thought they would pick Jared Allen over Carter, and they did not.

Kevin Garnett--whom I said they would pick

Harmon Killebrew--whom I said they should and would pick

Joe Mauer--whom I said they should and would pick

Randy Moss--ugh!

Alan Page--whom I left off both of my lists, but he's a good pick nevertheless

Adrian Peterson--whom I said they should and would pick

Kirby Puckett--whom I said they should and would pick

Fran Tarkenton--whom I said they would pick

So I said they would pick Jared Allen, Tom Lehman and George Mikan and they did not. They picked Cris Carter, Randy Moss and Alan Page in their place.

I said they should pick Vern Gagne, Moose Goheen, Kevin McHale, Mikan, Bronko Nagurski and Lindsay Whalen and they did not. They picked Carter, Garnett, Mauer, Moss, Page and Tarkenton in their place.

Bottom line is their list is even worse than it had to be, I mean, Randy Moss? If they wanted somebody I didn't pick, they could at least have gone for Neal Broten.

Now the question is, Who are users of Yahoo and facebook going to elect as the single greatest athlete ever from Minneapolis? I would think Kirby would be a shoo-in, but we'll see. Maybe Randy Moss!? Or, seriously, I guess Adrian Peterson would be a threat, if only because the youngest generation, who didn't see Puckett, has seen AP.

Personally I think George Mikan is the right choice.


Yahoo Sports and facebook are running a joint promotion called Greatest Athletes by City. They pick what they call the 10 greatest athletes of various cities, and then regular folks get to vote for 1 as the single greatest or "most beloved" or whatever athlete from that city. They've now posted their picks for 11 cities including, most notably, Boston and Chicago.

Boston's top 10 includes 4 former Celtics, 3 former Red Sox, 2 former Bruins and Tom Brady. So, yes, only professional athletes need apply. My personal choice for Boston's greatest athlete, among those 10, would be Bobby Orr ahead of Ted Williams and Yaz and Tom Brady and Bill Russell and Larry Bird. Boston has a pretty good list.

Chicago, too. My choice would reluctantly be Michael Jordan. I say reluctantly not because I have anything against Michael, but it's hard not to vote for Dick Butkus or Sweetness, Walter Payton, or Ernie Banks. The top 10 included 3 Bears, 3 Cubs, 2 Black Hawks, 1 White Sox and 1 Bull.

Not only are the lists limited to pros but they're pretty much limited to athletes that people living today have seen. So there's no old-timers like Tris Speaker or Joe Cronin in Boston, or Frank Chance in Chicago, nor are there any college players like George Mikan of DePaul (in Chicago) or Doug Flutie of Boston College.

So that brings us to Minneapolis. That's what's been promised, the best athletes of Minneapolis. What they mean, obviously, is the best of the Twins, Vikings, North Stars and Wild, and Timberwolves...and maybe the Lakers if that's not too long ago.

That's unfortunate, I mean that there's no room on these lists for old timers combined with the fact that it's pros only. Minneapolis, unlike many major cities, has a major university within its boundaries. In Illinois it's Champaign, not Chicago (though there is Northwestern), in Michigan it's Ann Arbor and East Lansing, not Detroit, in Ohio it's Columbus, not Cincinnati or Cleveland.

So here's who I think they'll pick, and then here's who I think they should pick.

Will Pick

Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings
Rod Carew, Minnesota Twins
Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
Harmon Killebrew, Minnesota Twins
Tom Lehman, golfer
Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
George Mikan, Minneapolis Lakers
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Kirby Puckett, Minnesota Twins
Fran Tarkenton, Minnesota Vikings

Should Pick


plus Vern Gagne, U of M and professional wrestler
Moose Goheen, ice hockey player
Kevin McHale, U of M
Bronko Nagurski, U of M
Lindsay Whalen, U of M and Minnesota Lynx

First I like old-timers, and especially guys like Moose Goheen, the best ice hockey player the state has ever produced (with apologies to #2, Neal Broten) and Bronko Nagurski, the best football player (apologies to Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith).

Second, since the U of M is located squarely in Minneapolis, I would make U athletes eligible for this list--especially Vern Gagne, the best wrestler ever (apologies to Jesse Ventura) and Kevin McHale, the best male basketball player at least based on his pro career.

And third, would it kill 'em to have a woman on the list? Lindsay Whalen has to be on the list, and here I'm not even appealing to her U career but as the leader of the Lynx WNBA champs of 2011.

It was very tough leaving Broten, Mauer and Tarkenton off the list, and also golfer Patty Berg, one of the top 10 women golfers of all-time with a much-better career than Tom Lehman.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

T-Wolves Sign Chase Budinger, Kevin Martin

The Timberwolves and new president Flip Saunders are half-way there. The perennial gap at the 2 spot would seem to have been filled as the signings of Chase Budinger and Kevin Martin.

Now, re-signing Nikola Pekovic or otherwise filling the center spot would seem to be job #2. Anything else after that would seem to be gravy.

Budinger was of course a Timberwolf last year, but missed 3/4 of the season with an injury. He scored 9.4 points (his career average) in 23 games. The question with Budinger is whether 9 ppg represents his upper limit. In 4 years in the NBA he has scored 9, 10, 10 and 9 points per game in 20, 22, 22 and 22 minutes while shooting 44, 42, 44 and 41 percent from the field. At 6-7, he can play the small forward as well as the off guard spot so more than 20 minutes are probably available if he can up that shooting percentage a little bit.

But of course Kevin Martin will have something to say about that. Martin seems likely to take the starting 2 spot though he was 6th man for the Oklahoma City Thunder last year. In 11 years in the NBA he has scored 17 ppg on 44 percent shooting in 31 minutes. He's taken 12 shots per game (1 every 2.6 minutes) (Budinger by contrast takes 8 shots per game or 1 every 2.5 minutes. Budinger has also averaged 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 turnover, while Martin has had 3 boards, 2 assists and 2 turnovers. So the fact is they are very nearly the same player; Martin has simply had more minutes and more opportunity to establish himself.)

The NBA is nothing if not deferent to its stars and its older players, so Martin will start and play the 2, while Budinger will come off the bench and play the 2 and the 3. Of course, Shabazz Muhammad will have something to say about that. And if Shabazz and Budinger are the only 3s, then Budinger could end up starting. But Derrick Williams will be in the mix at the 3, too, unless Flip moves him for a real 3,  which could happen.

But if nothing happens except Pek is re-signed, the re-signing of Budinger and the signing of Martin makes this a most promised T-Wolves roster even with the current mix of forwards.