WNBA Finals preview: Will Atlanta live the Dream? Or will Minnesota erase last year's nightmare?

October 1, 2013 - 5:34pm
The Minnesota Lynx are seeking their second championship in three years. (Photo by Lee Michaelson)

The Minnesota Lynx are seeking their second championship in three years. (Photo by Lee Michaelson)

The WNBA would have much preferred one of the Three to See, or Candace Parker and company, in the Finals. The league can certainly deal with Minnesota, with Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus, but 17-17 Atlanta, two-time losers in the Finals, isn’t exactly the dream opponent (sorry).

The positives are that the Dream love to run, so there should be lots of points, and Angel McCoughtry could melt down in SportsCenter-worthy fashion at any moment.

In the end, though, the Lynx are clearly better, and an Atlanta win in this series would count as the biggest Finals’ upset in league history. If that happens, then everyone will go home happy (except Minnesota fans, of course); but if the Lynx coast to three easy wins and Angel is on her good behavior, it could be a very dull conclusion to the 2013 season.

Point guard

Jasmine Thomas is a terrible shooter but is otherwise a solid point guard. Her A/TO is 1.5, she’s a decent defender and fits the helter-skelter style of the Dream with her speed and athleticism. All in all, she’s a slightly below average WNBA point guard -- which of course is a little surprising to read in an analysis of the two teams playing for the WNBA title. Then again, Atlanta did finish 17-17, and the fact that Thomas had to start is one of the reasons. The Lynx, obviously, were a little better than 17-17, and one of the reasons for their success is that Lindsay Whalen is one of the best guards in the world and conceivably could start at the point for the United States in the 2016 Olympics, if not the 2014 World Championships. OK, Whalen isn’t much of a three-point shooter and her left hand isn’t much around the basket. This is nitpicking, of course. Huge advantage for Minnesota.

Shooting guard

As always, we’ll slot Seimone Augustus here even though she and Maya Moore are basically playing the same position. And we’ll further say that Armintie Herrington will guard Augustus, though how Fred Williams matches up will be one of the more interesting aspects of the series. Herrington is a superb defender, but she’s smaller than Augustus, and because she shoots even worse than Thomas, she can’t take advantage of Augustus’ indifferent defense. Again, we have an Olympian vs. a flawed starter. Huge advantage for Minnesota.

Small forward

Where to hide Angel McCoughtry? Yes, McCoughtry is considered a very good defender, but she’s one of those defenders who is best used off the ball so she can jump passing lanes, double-team unwary guards, and generally use her basketball IQ and elite athleticism to punish the slightest mistake by the ballhandler. Head-to-head against a great scorer like Moore, McCoughtry could get in foul trouble, and also can’t sag off her to help because of Moore’s tremendous three-point shooting. Then again, Moore isn’t exactly a demon defender, so McCoughtry will have an advantage at that end. Two great players with radically different styles basically cancel each other out. Even.

Power forward

There are some who say that the injury to Le’Coe Willingham actually helped the Dream because a) it allowed/forced Fred Williams to play Tiffany Hayes more; and b) it allowed/forced Fred Williams to play Aneika Henry more. It is hard to understand Williams’ devotion to Willingham, who doesn’t do anything particularly well and in addition, is undersized, but she is a veteran and the other two are not. Rebekkah Brunson, meanwhile, is one of the top power forwards in the league, and only an inconsistent jumper keeps her from being mentioned as one of the top players in the league. When she’s hitting the 15-foot jumper, which is around half the games, she’s an incredibly tough cover; when she’s not, she could still get a double-double off of offensive rebounds and a couple drives. Another big advantage Minnesota.


Erika de Souza does a lot of things well -- she gets one rebound every three minutes or so (a tremendous rate), she shoots 55.3 percent from the field, she’s an excellent shotblocker, quick enough to get nearly two steals a game and one of the league’s most efficient ballhandling centers. And she’s a fiery, emotional leader who counterbalances McCoughtry’s sulks and pouts. Janel McCarville is probably the only pure post in the league who’s better with the ball than de Souza, but after that, everything but free-throw percentage goes de Souza’s way. Unfortunately, de Souza took only four more shots than Jasmine Thomas, in 81 more minutes, so unless things change, this big advantage Atlanta might not be in play as much as it should.


Tiffany Hayes has developed into a starting-level WNBA guard, but on this team, there’s not really a spot for her -- though there might have been if she hadn’t missed 11 games with injuries. Alex Bentley’s an adequate perimeter reserve, and if Willingham’s balky knee comes around, she too is suited for an off-the-bench role. The wild card for Atlanta is Sancho Lyttle, an All-Star-caliber player who was supposed to be back two weeks ago. It’s possible she’ll be ready for Sunday’s opener, or maybe later in the series, and if so, even 12 minutes of Lyttle could be a game-changer. The Lynx counter with Monica Wright, who’s a strong defender on the outside, and Devereaux Peters, a slender undersized post player who is a good rebounder and shotblocker but an offensive zero. If Cheryl Reeve has to dig much deeper than that on her bench, Minnesota’s in trouble. Advantage Atlanta.


Fred Williams was a genius when Atlanta was 10-1, and not so much as the Dream stumbled through August -- but he’ll be a lot smarter if Sancho Lyttle gets on the court. Williams has some critics, but he’s certainly competent; Cheryl Reeve, though, has emerged as one of the best coaches in the league, but then again, a lot of coaches could probably win a bunch of games with the Lynx roster. Still, edge to Minnesota.


Atlanta has an offense? Oh, ye of little faith … Yes, the Dream have an offense, though not a very good one in the half court. But on the fly? In the open court? After a turnover? That’s offense too, and if Atlanta can push the game tempo to semi-chaotic, the Dream can score in bunches. But if the game slows down, then too often things devolve into a forced McCoughtry jumper as the shot clock winds down, followed by fans wondering why de Souza never touches the ball. Minnesota, though, has Lindsay Whalen, and she gets the ball to the scorers, or, if the defense lets her, scores herself. Received wisdom says that in postseason, half court offense becomes even more important because good teams don’t turn the ball over as much as average ones. The Lynx, in fact, turn the ball over less than any other team, which is even worse news for the Dream. Advantage Minnesota.


The Dream have a reputation as a very good defensive team, and in fact, they are pretty good. They are not, however, great, and in one of the most important defensive metrics -- opponents’ field-goal percentage -- they are well behind the Lynx. Still, the overall athleticism of the Dream, their ability to get steals, and their versatility does qualify them as potentially outstanding. Minnesota, despite the presence of four players not considered to be top-shelf defenders (Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Janel McCarville), works very well together and is greater than the sum of its parts. Nonetheless, Atlanta does appear to have a slight edge defensively, though it will require a consistent, series-long commitment to all-out effort.


The Lynx are still smarting from last year’s upset at the hands of Indiana, which they rightly consider to be as much a result of their lack of focus as the Fever’s play. Atlanta, on the other hand, is making its third trip to the Finals, and has yet to do more than lose. In short, both teams should be motivated, so call this even.

In conclusion

If you just break down the numbers, Minnesota has a 5-3-2 edge in categories -- but that doesn’t take into the fact that Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus are way better than Jasmine Thomas and Armintie Herrington, which tips the scales even further. Some people think the Lynx will sweep and complete a perfect postseason, and others feel it might even go four games. We’ll take option B, and call it the Lynx in four, but don’t be surprised if some Minnesota fans use their brooms Thursday night in Atlanta.

The schedule for the Finals series is as follows:

WNBA Finals Schedule
Game Date Location Local Time Eastern Time Nat'l Broadcast
Game 1 Sun., October 6 Atlanta @ Minnesota 7:30PM 8:30PM ESPN
Game 2 Tue., October 8 Atlanta @ Minnesota 7:00PM 8:00PM ESPN2
Game 3 Thu., October 10 Minnesota @ Atlanta 8:30PM 8:30PM ESPN2
Game 4 * Sun., October 13 Minnesota @ Atlanta 8:00PM 8:00PM ESPN2
Game 5 * Wed., October 16 Atlanta @ Minnesota 7:00PM 8:00PM ESPN
*If necessary