Minnesota Lynx might sport WNBA’s best bench
Renee Montgomery was offered the starting point guard position this offseason on a New York Liberty team that finished with the Eastern Conference’s best record in 2015.
Jia Perkins was the second-leading scorer for the San Antonio Stars last season.
Janel McCarville was the starting center for a Lynx team that won the WNBA championship just three years ago.
On Minnesota’s 2016 roster, they are reserves.
Surround those three with two of the Lynx’s other reserves — say, forwards Natasha Howard and Bashaara Graves — and that unit probably competes for a playoff spot on its own.
“Man, I didn’t think about it but, yeah, we do have a strong second team coming off the bench,” Montgomery said.
Place those five directly behind a starting five that features four U.S. Olympians and a three-time WNBA all-star and you have maybe the deepest team in the WNBA. Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said it’s the deepest team she’s had during her time in Minnesota, which already has produced three league titles.
The depth was on display in the Lynx’s season-opening throttling of Phoenix. Montgomery had five steals and Perkins had four, McCarville had a plus-minus rating of plus-16 and Howard finished with four points, six rebounds and one block in just eight minutes.
And all that was with each of Minnesota’s five starters playing at least 23 minutes. It’s hard for Reeve to pull the first five when the unit is clicking like it was that night.
But the plan is to limit almost everyone’s minutes as the Lynx try to navigate a path to a second straight title through an elongated season that features a one-month detour known as the Summer Olympics.
The time-management plan is stricter for some than others. Seimone Augustus has dealt with knee issues in recent years but finally looks like her old self. To keep it that way, Reeve plans to even limit Augustus’ practice activity.
“This is the year that we’ve got to get the miles down, because it is such a long summer,” Reeve said. “I think I can do that with the players we have for sure, but not sacrificing a ‘W’ for it.”
That figures to be doable. The drop-off in talent from the first to second unit is significant, but only because the starting lineup features four of the best players in the world. The quality of the Lynx’s bench means the difference can be minimized.
“We’re really going to work on that a lot this year,” McCarville said. “Coach talked about that, really trying to elevate the second team’s play … so there’s not a drop-off when anybody comes out from the first. We had a great first game in Phoenix. It wasn’t much of a drop-off at first at all.”
McCarville said the disparity between the two units is more visible in practice, where it’s often the first five against the second five. But rarely will the Lynx have zero starters on the court at one time, and their wealth of talent leaves plenty of room for lineup creativity.
“We have a lot of different combos that we can use,” Montgomery said. “I think that’s the thing about Coach; she can move Maya (Moore) to the four, we can play small ball, we can go big if we wanted to. I think there’s a lot of options that our coach can use. So, for her, I know it’s a dream.”
So, while this is a summer with a major international competition that only increases the number of minutes for some of the game’s best, Reeve said no one on her team should feel too taxed along the way.
Top-notch reinforcements are at Reeve’s disposal.
“We’ve got a group that there’s a lot of confidence in putting them in and sharing the game throughout the nine or 10 players,” Reeve said. “When it’s all said and done, I think this group is going to be a really quality group.”