How proud are Minnesotans of homegrown point guard Lindsay Whalen? How about Lindsay Whalen Day?
Game time: 7 pm PST
- Local television (Seattle): Universal Sports (digital channel 5.2 and cable channel 115)
- Live access!: http://www.wnba.com/storm/live.jsp?gamecode=20100519/MINSEA
- I will be at Key Arena posting my observations live in the comments on this post. Feel free to not just follow along but join in.
- If you're at the game and have one of those fancy web-enabled phones, you can also follow and add your own observations via mobile.swishappeal.com.
In her blog about Marion Jones the other day, Mechelle Voepel of ESPN described the cynicism of sports journalists when it comes to Olympic sports in which performance enhancing drugs are used and wrote that, "No reporter wants to look like Pollyanna."
Obviously she was talking about something very specific, but it made me think about this general feeling that reporters in general a) don't want to "look like Pollyanna" and b) would like to establish authority by pretending that nothing surprises or moves them in order to maintain an illusory sense of "journalistic objectivity". Well, as my first reporting professor told me back in college: nobody can be objective and "anybody that tells you they are is lying". It is made all the more humorous by the way in which some of these same journalists are quick to jump all over opportunities conflict and controversy independent of those pesky facts (we call this "conflict" or "bad" journalism).
Anyway, without engaging a deep philosophical discussion about it, I agree - even if people use statistics as evidence to justify claims, the very statistics they choose reflect their subjectivities in not so subtle ways. So here's my approach: it's ok to be excited, surprised or even *gasp* optimistic as long as there is some clear reasoning behind it. It's a sport - part of the reason people watch sports is the emotional investment. People should be able to appreciate that alongside sports insight without dismissing someone as a total fanboy/girl.
So I will reiterate my excitement for one team in particular this WNBA season: the Minnesota Lynx.
It's hard to imagine a basketball team with more balance, talent, and versatility than this team - offensively and defensively. What makes this team particularly special is it's not quite like the anticipation felt for teams like the 1999-2000 Portland Trail Blazers, 2003-04 Los Angeles Lakers or 2008 Seattle Storm - those teams were loaded with talent, whether All-Stars at the edge of their prime or future Hall of Famers. Independent of any championship expectations for this Lynx team, it seems as though they have constructed a deep roster of players that perfectly complement each other to the point where it's really difficult to identify any immediate weaknesses. That's fun to think about on its own. Yet there's no denying that they have built a contender in Minnesota.
"I think Minnesota is a very, very competitive team," said Storm coach Brian Agler after practice yesterday. "I know their aspirations are to win the conference -- that's what they're talking about. They're saying we're gonna win the Western Conference. So I take it as they have a lot of confidence and they're going to come in and try to win."
So I will openly confess disappointment that the Lynx are not at full strength as they come to Key Arena tonight to play the Storm for the first time at 7 pm - I was genuinely excited to see how this team that looks so amazing on paper would play out in real life. However, with guards Seimone Augustus and Candice Wiggins still out and forward Rebekkah Brunson yet to report to the team, this isn't quite the team that created my off-season excitement. That may bode well for Storm fans looking for an advantage in the win column that might come in handy later in the season, but as a basketball fan you have to wish that the entire team would be present.
Of course, there are still individual matchups worthy of excitement in this game, most notably the point guard matchup of the Storm's Sue Bird and the Lynx's off-season trade acquisition Lindsay Whalen. For those interested in debating which is the better point guard, tonight's game could be an interesting one: if the Storm win, that doesn't necessarily mean Bird strengthens her argument because she has her full complement of players. Conversely, if the Lynx were to win at Key Arena while missing three starter caliber players, that could indeed speak to Whalen's quality as a point guard who can direct the offense.
But the real x-factor for the Lynx in this game might be rookie guard Monica Wright. Forgive her for her 4.5 turnovers per game: 7 of those came against the Tulsa Shock and as Agler said at Storm practice yesterday, it's hard to determine anything about a team from a Shock game.
"Tulsa's a hard team to play against -- it's a hard team to try to judge an opponent as they play them," said Agler.
What Wright represents right now is the Lynx player who can most easily create scoring opportunities for herself. She hasn't been scoring particularly well thus far, but it's clearly not for lack of ability - the shots will fall if she just continues to focus on what she does well.
"I think she's really gotten off to a good start," said Agler when asked about Wright. "I think they really are using her as sort of a main weapon -- she's one of their go-to people. They like to get the ball into her hands. And she's a very confident player: strong physically, she can score from the three point line, she can score off the dribble and she can get it to the rim. So when I've watched her play, I've liked how physical she is for being that young."
For the Storm, it's pretty much the same theme: focusing on continued improvement. One of those areas of improvement is the process of better integrating their bench into the rotation, which is more a matter of practice time given that the bench is almost entirely different this year with many of them arriving to training camp late.
"Most of 'em came in yesterday and worked out, we scrimmaged the guys just with our bench people today, and sort of used certain ones -- we'd keep putting them in with the starting group or with three starters," said Agler. "So we're trying to get people acclimated to playing with some of our main people."
The bench only scored 4 points in the Storm's first game and just like last year the starters carried the Storm. But one of those bench players getting acclimated who everyone can expect more from is former Phoenix Mercury forward Le'coe Willingham, who was limited by foul trouble in her first game but expects to establish herself more effectively in the Storm's offense going forward.
"I'm definitely looking forward to being on the court a little bit more and not picking up those chippy fouls tomorrow or in any future game and just trying to assert myself and do what I do best," said Willingham after practice yesterday when asked about her first game with the Storm on Sunday against the Sparks in which she shot 0-3 and had 3 fouls in just under 9 minutes. "I got a foul on an offensive rebound. So that's what I do -- I try to crash the boards and I got a foul for that. So I can't stop being aggressive because I picked up a few fouls. I think at the beginning of the year the refs usually call it a little tight anyways so as the season goes on they'll probably loosen up and you'll probably see a little more physical play."
The prospect of a rejuvenated Lauren Jackson and a revamped bench adding increased production over last season certainly makes the Storm a legitimate challenger for the WNBA championship despite the fanfare over the Lynx and the fact that the Mercury are driven to repeat as champions. But for now, Willingham - who knows what it takes to win a championship - is focused on the present.
"It's May and I think we can't look ahead of ourselves," said Willingham. "For me -- and I think for everyone else -- it's one practice at a time, one game at a time. You can't look in September -- you have to look at, 'Ok, tomorrow we have Minnesota.' And then after we take care of business there, then we look at the next game."
Pre-game update (6:53 pm):
Spoke with Cheryl Reeve before the game and, unsurprisingly, they're still working on coming together as a team and building their chemistry. Monica Wright has been impressive but still has her "rookie moments". As for how they're thinking about playing without a few stars: they'll probably kick us and at some point we'll get to kick them too.
- Obviously, I'm excited about seeing Lynx center Nicky Anosike as well.
- I will also confess irrational excitement about some players/teams as well but again it's a game - nothing wrong with acknowledging the players who excite us by the way the play it.