Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Anosike and Miller will be playing side-by-side in 2009.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
Season Outlook
The bottom of the Western Conference is familiar territory for the Minnesota Lynx; it’s where they’ve finished the past three seasons. But, thanks to a core of returning players and a strong draft, the Lynx look ready to move out of the basement and into contention.

With the way Minnesota came out of the gate in 2008, you would have thought they’d be the ones facing off against Detroit in the WNBA Finals. Five consecutive wins, including a strong performance over the Shock on opening night, left many fans in the North Star State energized that this could be their year. Then, things shifted south, and Minnesota was unable to muster anything more than a two-game win streak, ending the year at 16-18.

Twenty-plus wins is possible this season, due in part to the return of two-time All-Star Seimone Augustus and center Nicky Anosike. Augustus, the team’s leading scorer (19.1 ppg), has MVP potential should the Lynx improve their record. Anosike (9.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg), meanwhile, led the team in several offensive and defensive categories during her freshman campaign.

They could be joined in the starting lineup by guard Candice Wiggins, who took home Sixth Woman of the Year honors last season. Wiggins, Kelly Miller, Anna DeForge and first-round draft pick Renee Montgomery (4th overall) provide the Lynx one of the deepest guard rotations in the league.

Minnesota ranked among the top teams in scoring and accuracy in ‘08. It was their defense that took them out of games and left head coach Don Zierden scratching his head. So, the third-year coach swung a pair of deals to bring in some new forwards. First, sending center Vanessa Hayden-Johnson in a sign-and-trade swap to the Los Angeles Sparks for Christi Thomas. Then, Zierden shipped center Nicole Ohlde to the Phoenix Mercury for LaToya Pringle and Miller, a Minnesota native who brings championship experience to the club. Thomas and Pringle will be matched with Charde Houston, who last season served as Zierden’s top forward choice off the bench.

The Lynx were also busy in this year’s draft after dealing last season’s assist leader, Lindsey Harding, to the Washington Mystics for first and second round selections. That left them with four picks, including three in the top 15, which Minnesota used on Montgomery (University of Connecticut), center Quanitra Hollingsworth (Virginia Commonwealth), forward Rashanda McCants (North Carolina) and guard Emily Fox (Minnesota).

It’s this youth that gives Minnesota promise for the future, and these women are poised to make waves in the West. The talent is there, at least on paper. Now, it’s up to Zierden to translate that talent into wins.

Player on the Spot

The Staten Island, N.Y. native has all the tools to become one of the top centers in the WNBA. Now, in her sophomore season, Anosike has a feel for the league and her competition, which could render into some much improved numbers in 2009.

Anosike led the Lynx per game in steals (2.21), blocks (1.26), rebounds (6.80) and finished third in points (9.2). The former Tennessee Volunteer was also just one of three players – Ohlde and DeForge being the others – to start every game last season.

The 23-year-old’s defense is also key to keeping Minnesota in each game. A strong inside presence will mean more opponents shooting from outside the paint and even beyond the arc, a spot on the floor the Lynx were among the best teams in defending.

Finishing in last place is unfamiliar territory for Anosike, who won back-to-back titles with the University of Tennessee the two years before the start of her WNBA career. During that tenure, her star was in the shadow of Candace Parker. Now, it’s Anosike’s time to become one of the faces of a franchise.

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