The W’s ‘Bench Mob’
Lynx reserves are taking their game to the next level.
by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
Coming into the 2012 WNBA season, Minnesota Lynx reserve players Candice Wiggins and Jessica Adair took the lead on using a new term for the defending champion’s second team: The Bench Mob. Last year, head coach Cheryl Reeve stated one of her criticisms of her own coaching was in not finding more minutes for the reserves, as her starters are so dominant. Yet this season, the talented second unit believes it can have even more impact on games.
“After every first quarter, we always feel good about how we kind of set a tone,” Wiggins said. “Monica [Wright], Jessica [Adair] and I, we come in and it’s really deflating to the other team. You get to kind of see how the game is going—the momentum—and then you come in there and make an impact.”
They are getting quite comfortable in their roles and that should be frightening for the rest of the league. The Lynx are currently 5-0 and are motivated to break the all-time record for wins in a 34-game season, which stands at 28-6. On their way to their title last year, the Minnesota Lynx finished the regular season one game behind that record at 27-7.
“I think we’re coming into our own,” Adair said. “We like to come in and bring a lot of energy and so far I think we’re doing that. In practice, we work on being that extra spark and so far it’s translating well to the games.”
Translating well to the games is an understatement. In the first five games of the season, the Lynx reserves are averaging a combined 28.1 points, 13 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 4 steals, with the average playing time being only 11.5 minutes per player. That is high productivity in limited minutes, as Coach Reeve continues to find ways to utilize her talented bench even more.
The newest member of the Bench Mob is rookie Devereaux Peters, the third selection in the 2012 WNBA Draft. With this likely being the final season in the remarkable career of Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Peters and teammate Jessica Adair continue to learn all they can from “Mama Taj” before she is gone. If playing for a championship-contending team can be considered easy, Peters knows she is very fortunate to be in this situation to come along slowly while learning from a number of talented veterans who know how to win in the WNBA.
“I think it’s been great,” Peters said. “It’s everything I was told it was going to be and pretty much what I expected. It’s been a pretty smooth transition for me and especially coming in with a team with a lot of great veterans who know what it takes to be world champions and get to that point, it’s been pretty easy for me.”
Coming into the league as a high draft pick brings a lot of pressure, yet Peters knows her importance to the team comes with limited minutes for now as she adjusts to the league. Only five games into her professional career, one simple piece of advice given from her veteran teammates stands out above the rest.
“Really just to come in and play hard, as hard as you can,” Peters said. “Come off the bench and have a lot of energy because the starters come out and do what they’re supposed to every game, get the lead and set the tone. The bench really has to come in and continue that. One thing they’ve told me is to come out, have energy, play hard and do everything they ask and I’ll be fine.”
Adair went through her own transition last season and looks to continue on her journey. Her story is well-known to Lynx fans on how she re-made her body, but now the next step is to take her mental preparation to the next level and, as her teammates and fans know, when she sets her mind to something, she is more than capable of accomplishing it.
“I think I’m more confident than I was last year,” Adair said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say comfortable. I always think there is something that I could be doing better, so I always want to look to improve. I’m not where I want to be yet, I still have a lot to work on and I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable.”
Part of the confidence comes from clear communication from the coaching staff on what areas still need improvement and when that coincides with your own assessment of your game, it is clear you are on the right path. The wonderful thing for Adair is her areas are mental, as a whole, and she is up to the challenge.
“Paying attention to detail, asserting myself, asking for the ball more and being dependable,” said Adair, on the areas of her game she still looks to improve. “We have awesome scorers and there’s always a first option, second option. Of course, you want those people to take those shots, but I want to be looked at as someone who can take those shots.”
Her teammates—and Bench Mob cohorts—saw the work she put in last year, and how she continues to develop this year and even played against her overseas. They have confidence in Adair because of the work ethic they see on a consistent basis.
“I actually played against her overseas,” Wiggins said. “She was just beasty. She’s in shape and is just playing the best basketball of her life. That’s awesome and I’m so proud of her and how much she’s improved mentally. She’s just so strong and even more than on the court, but off the court too. I’m proud of her.”
As the Minnesota Lynx starters take the court, watch the bench. Wiggins huddles the six reserve players together, reminding them to keep their head in the game from the very start because Coach Reeve could call on them at any time. They are focused and ready and believe they are only going to contribute more and more.
“I think we have a great dynamic with the second group,” Peters said. “We play well together, we get a lot of practice together, so we have a nice flow together and we really are understanding each other’s games. We’re starting to really play well together and learn the starter’s games, so I think we come in with a lot of energy and really keep going what the starters started.”
Now, the Bench Mob looks to take it to the next level, allowing the Minnesota Lynx starters more time to rest during games to stay fresh. They know it is a long journey on their self-titled “Road to Repeat” and a huge part of that are the expectations from the coaching staff and players themselves to contribute greatly to the cause, no matter the number of minutes they are on the court. One ever-important thing got the Bench Mob to where they are today and they know they are fortunate to have an amazing opportunity each and every day to improve.
“It’s practice,” Wiggins said. “Practice against our starters. That’s really where it starts because we have the opportunity to play against the best starting lineup in the league, so we figure if we can give them a run for their money in practice, then we’re good. The hardest competition is in practice. Games are fun. Practice is where we’re going head-to-head, that’s where we bond and get our mentality. We have a mentally tough role, probably tougher than people probably think.”
It may be tough, but the Minnesota Lynx “Bench Mob” has made it look pretty easy so far in the 2012 season.
Photos by Matthew Fleegel