The downtown Minneapolis arena security guard asked the MSR about the Minnesota Lynx’s 2015 chances. The following are some possible scenarios:
Can Asjha Jones, who Minnesota signed last month, be the 6-2 forward that once helped Connecticut twice reached the WNBA Finals in consecutive seasons? She missed all last season due to an injury. Can she fill the post vacated by Janel McCarville’s decision to sit out this season? If so, Jones could be this season’s Taj McWilliams-Franklin. However, she sat on the bench Monday night in street clothes and is expected to miss the season’s first two weeks because of a blood deficiency.
Can second year post Damiris Dantas, the team’s probable starter Friday, pick up where she left off? She started the team’s first 23 contests in 2014 in which Minnesota went 17-6. Can she return to her seven-point, five-rebound average that included her WNBA debut in which she became only the second player in league history to grab 10+ rebounds and 5+ assists? If so, she will be most welcomed in the downtown arena’s winningest pro basketball team.
Can Monica Wright regain her 2013 form when she was the league’s best sixth woman? She’s had two knee surgeries in less than two years. If she can do it, the sixth year guard will again be the instant spark off the bench Minnesota missed last season.
Can Devereaux Peters provide valuable frontcourt reserve support, spelling or playing alongside starter Rebekkah Brunson (more on her later)? If so, the 6-2 Peters will again finish in the league’s top ten in blocked shots.
Can Brunson stay healthy all season? She is the team’s best rebounder and inside player, but she missed the first 23 games last summer after arthroscopic right knee surgery. If she recoups, her decision to stay home rather than play overseas during the offseason will have been a wise one — Minnesota out-boards their opponents by at least six rebounds a game when Brunson starts.
Can point guard Lindsay Whalen once again be a workhorse? Her 30 minutes a game last season is equivalent to three full quarters. If so, the question remains: who will spell the 12-year veteran when Whalen reluctantly goes to the bench? Rookie Jennifer O’Neill looked lost Monday night. Will it be Anna Cruz, who is with her Spanish national team and won’t be in a Lynx uniform until EuroBasket 2015, after the Olympic qualifying tournament is finished? Or will it be Wright once again — a natural shooting guard — employed as backup point, her unnatural position?
The 2015 WNBA regular season begins Friday — Minnesota hosts Tulsa.
“I don’t think anybody knows” about the Eastern Conference, admitted New York Coach Bill Laimbeer, when the MSR asked for a quickie forecast after Monday’s Lynx-Liberty exhibition game. “Atlanta probably will be on a mission because they have been in the finals for three years but didn’t get back last year. They have the same team. Chicago [last season’s league runners-up] had a taste of being in the finals, and they will be a little bit more of a cohesive unit and won’t be as inconsistent as last year.”
“Washington is better,” continued Laimbeer. “I’m not sure about Connecticut and Indiana [because] I have not seen them. We’re growing and learning each other. We have some pieces.”
Lynx Assistant Coach Shelley Patterson gave the MSR a quick West forecast: she expects a “different” Los Angeles and Seattle due to coaching changes, and 2014 champs Phoenix also is expected to be there as well. “Tulsa [is] going to get better,” said Patterson of Minnesota’s home opener opponent.
Minnesota arguably has the league’s best four starters: Whalen and Seimone Augustus at guard; forwards Brunson and 2014 MVP Maya Moore. “They have a little bit of everything: experience, they understand the game…they have been there. We’ve won championships…” said Patterson of the quartet.
Many see a repeat from last summer. The 2014 Minnesota-Phoenix Western Conference finals was seen by longtime W followers — such as this reporter — as the de facto league championship. “What we have to do is always maintain our composure, understand that they are coming at us and understand what we have to do, and keep our chemistry tight. I think that’s what makes us good,” said Patterson.
“I think there is a lot of things in place that says this could be a great year for the Lynx,” added Fox Sports North Basketball Analyst Lea B. Olsen. “A healthy Lynx team, I believe, can get to the finals this year. That doesn’t mean they are going to march through every game.”
“This year is going to be fun,” said Patterson.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.