While local reporters and others openly lobby for Lindsay Whalen as this year’s WNBA most valuable player, the MSR last week asked Chicago Sky Coach-General Manager Pokey Chatman her opinion on the subject.
“Seimone,” she said simply as she referred to Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus, Whalen’s teammate. While she recognized point guard Whalen’s accomplishments this season, it is her former college star’s effort that stands out most prominently in her mind.
Perhaps Chatman is a bit biased — she coached Augustus at LSU in the early 2000s. But the first-year Sky coach insisted, “It’s not because I coached her. She [Augustus] is a difficult [player] to defend. She keeps herself on the floor because she’s svelte now, a good defender and a rebounding guard.”
More importantly, Augustus is and has been a go-to player. Chatman watched her last Thursday score seven of Minnesota’s first 15 points and make her last three shots in the final quarter in a 22-point performance against the Sky in downtown Minneapolis.
The 6-0, sixth-year veteran has a team-leading 30 double-figure scoring games, and nine times this season she has scored 20 or more points.
“When you have a player you can run a play [for] and can break you down,” continued Chatman, “that is very encouraging. I’ve known her since middle school. I think ’Mone has had a meteoric rise among shooters [in the league].”
When asked how much she has seen Augustus grow over the year, Chatman said, “I’ll start with her really [being] committed to keeping her body in really good shape. Number two, I don’t think she ever settled for bad shots, because she is such a dynamic offensive player. But she really mixes up her mid-range from long-range [shots] and gets to the cup.
“She’s playing well with the ball in her hands again — she extends the defense… She’s a triple threat. I think that’s where the problem comes in with the opposition. And at the end of it, she can dish it off when she needs to as well,” said Chatman.
Meanwhile, as reporters continue debating the MVP question, neither Lynx player has concerned herself about it. They both have more important things to fret about.
In the playoffs, Minnesota hosts San Antonio in game one of the Western Conference Semifinals Friday. Game two is scheduled at San Antonio on Sunday, and then they are back in Minneapolis on Tuesday, Sept. 20 (if necessary) in the best-of-three series.
“We want to be focused and ready to go,” said Whalen.
“We still have some work to do,” added Augustus.
As for her perhaps-MVP season, Augustus told me, “This is probably my best year since I’ve been here. In years past, I have had the pressure of leading the team, but this year I can just be me and play basketball, enjoy it and have fun.”
Admittedly a bit uncomfortable talking to media folk, Augustus prefers that her game do the talking. “I wasn’t having as much fun [in the past] because of the losses, and constantly having changes made [by] the team,” admitted the Lynx’s franchise player. “This is probably the best year of my career.”
Augustus’ best year happens to coincide with Minnesota’s best season — a franchise record 27 wins, along with team-best-ever marks in home wins (14) and road wins (13).
“Everything just seemed like it is lining up for us to have an awesome and amazing team this season,” said Augustus. “When you look around and see a player like Whalen, [and] then the [2009 dispersal] draft comes up and we get Rebekkah Brunson…
“Coach [Cheryl Reeve] took a risky move last year, giving up [Connecticut’s] Tina Charles to try to get the number-one pick [this year], and it worked out in our favor and we got Maya [Moore]. I’m happy with that.”
Let’s see the numbers:
Augustus: eighth in league scoring (16.2 ppg), ninth in three-point shooting (.417), 10th in free throw percentage (.865), and 12th in field goal percentage (.504). Also, she is the only Western Conference player thrice-honored this season as player of the week.
Both players deserve MVP considerations, and the final balloting should be close among Augustus, Whalen, Charles, and another player Chatman coached in college, Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles.
Nevertheless, my nod goes to Augustus.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.