by Clay Kallam
So the Minnesota Lynx win the draft lottery — which should the occasion for shouts of joy and an outbreak of celebration. But for this perennially unlucky, and self-destructive, franchise, it is of course a mixed blessing.
The reason? The unquestioned prize of the Draft is one Maya Moore, a wing player whose pro position is uncertain. She’s too small to be a 4, maybe not quick enough to defend at the 3, but a wonderful player with a tremendous toolbox of skills. She’s also a hard-working winner who went from not having a jumpshot as a junior in high school to being a 41.7 percent shooter from beyond the arc as a junior in college. She’s the perfect fit for a lot of teams, two of which happened to be in the lottery with the Lynx.
But Tulsa and Chicago didn’t get the first pick, Minnesota did, and the Lynx already have a 3-4 combo player in Seimone Augustus, who is at the same level as Maya Moore. They also have Candice Wiggins, a 2-3 college All-American, and Monica Wright, the No. 3 overall pick from last year, who came on strong at the end of the season, also as wing player.
Sadly, Wiggins and Wright are both miscast as point guards, and even if they could play there, Minnesota just traded for hometown girl Lindsay Whalen, who can only play the 1.
So if Minnesota picks Moore, where do they play her? They already have a logjam on the wing, though a rotation of Augustus, Wiggins and Wright is acceptable, especially if Wiggins picks up a few minutes at the point. (If Wiggins plays 10 minutes for Whalen, that’s 90 minutes of time for the trio, which works out rather nicely.) But add Moore to the mix, and there’s a problem. Moore isn’t a WNBA power forward, and neither is Augustus, but even if each played 10 minutes a game there, that still wouldn’t give all four young, talented players enough court time.
In addition, the Lynx’ incumbent power forward is Rebekkah Brunson who, when healthy, is a rebounding demon and the perfect complement to the skilled perimeter players. So Brunson at the 5? Not really. She’s undersized at the 4, and besides Nicky Anosike isn’t that bad.
(Perceptive readers may wonder why, if Minnesota has all this talent, that the Lynx even had a lottery pick. In a word, injuries. Only Whalen and Wright were healthy the entire season, and Wiggins played only eight games. Augustus came back very quickly from major surgery in April and was never really 100 percent, and Brunson battled a balky knee early in the summer.)
But even with Brunson and Anosike, as both have knee issues, what Minnesota really needs is a big, strong post player — and there just happens to be one out there. Australian teenager Liz Cambage is 6-8, and was a revelation in the World Championships, showing strength, aggressiveness and just enough skill to look like one of the world’s best centers. So what’s the problem? Moore is a great American player; Cambage is a pretty good Australian. Moore could become Michael Jordan; Cambage could become Greg Oden, which would leave the Lynx looking like fools, a role they have too often played. (How about trading Katie Smith for Chandi Jones? Still the worst trade in WNBA history …)
OK, trade down to the No. 2 spot, let Tulsa take Moore and get Cambage. It still wouldn’t look great if Moore turns out to be an MVP, but Cambage and something else of value would be a deal that could be justified. The problem? Tulsa’s got nothing to offer that’s worth anything except a first-round draft choice in 2012, and even Nolan Richardson might be smart enough not to give up a lottery pick to move up one spot in the Draft. After all, Cambage or Amber Harris or whoever will help the Shock, who aren’t going to the Playoffs any time soon.
No, the Lynx need a big-time post player, and Chicago doesn’t have one to offer either. The Sky certainly isn’t giving up Sylvia Fowles, unless Minnesota threw Augustus into the mix, and hopefully, the Lynx front office is smart enough to see the stupidity of that move.
What Minnesota needs, simply, is Liz Cambage, who probably isn’t worth a first overall pick. Maya Moore clearly is, but the Lynx don’t need her.
Luckily, no decision needs to be made — or should be made — until next spring, so Minnesota’s brain trust can see how Moore does as a senior who must carry pretty much the entire load for UConn, and how Cambage develops, and if Amber Harris or someone else emerges as a viable alternative in the top spot.
Still, it would have been a lot easier for Minnesota if the ping-pong balls had bounced Tulsa’s way, or even Chicago’s. Then the Lynx’ choice would have been made for them.