The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, June 19,2019

The Sparks' conundrum — Interview with Lexie Brown — Must-click women's basketball links

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This is the complimentary issue this week, but there is so much more to come from Annie Peterson live in France over the next few weeks, along with continued tennis from Lindsay Gibbs, basketball from Howard Megdal, golf from Carly Grenfell and hockey from Erica Ayala. Only way to make sure you don’t miss all the latest news, interviews and deep dives across women’s sports every week is to subscribe! Five different women’s sports in your inbox, five days a week, just five dollars a month!

Fitting in

I thought Derek Fisher, head coach of the Los Angeles Sparks, had a fascinating answer when asked going into halftime about his team’s struggles Tuesday night against the Washington Mystics.

“Exactly what I thought would happen,” he said, before elaborating on the difficulty of fitting Candace Parker into a lineup filled with bigs.

It’s a good problem to have, for sure — adding a Hall of Famer who can do a little (or a lot) of everything is a first-world coaching issue. But it’s worth considering what the injury has done to the Sparks, mathematically.

A team with championship aspirations hasn’t been able to navigate the Ogwumikes plus Parker plus Maria Vadeeva plus Kalani Brown into a frontcourt capable of getting all of them opportunities and spacing to maximize those possessions at both ends yet. Now, the process begins with Parker, with the Sparks already at 4-4. At some level, that’s early, right? But it’s also almost a quarter of the season gone.

Soon, but not for a few weeks, Vadeeva will return from EuroBasket, and the process will begin again. All of it presented a challenge for a first-year WNBA coach in Fisher even before the Parker injury.

But now, in a league where other frontrunners are ready to assert themselves — the Sun, off to just the start Curt Miller envisioned, the Mystics, who did so against the work-in-progress Sparks last night, the Aces, now enjoying the benefit of full Liz Cambage minutes and playing like it — well, it could push them down the pecking order of what is an unforgiving WNBA playoff structure.

Remember, please, that the top two seeds get double byes. The third and fourth seeds? They get a single bye, but into a winner-take-all game. Ask the Sun about how that works out when Diana Taurasi gets involved. Ask the Liberty about it, too.

And yes, both Parker and the Ogwumikes are signed through 2020, so this is a two-year project. But year one is off to a slow enough start, in a league with plenty of teams that entered the year already defined, that they could find themselves buried before too much longer.

This Week in Women’s Basketball

Evan Dammarell explains why Lindsay Gottlieb is such a good fit for the Cavs.

Gregg Doyel shares the story of Michigan’s Maddie Nolan.

Matt Ellentuck focuses this week on Chelsea Gray, who may be the best player on that Sparks team I mentioned above.

Speaking of elite point guards, here’s Mechelle Voepel on Jasmine Thomas.

Her Hoops Stats had Megan Gustafson on their podcast.

I just don’t think people appreciate how amazing it is that the best coach of our time details her process like this in real time every week.

Too often, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is a forgotten UConn alum, but not by Keith Geswein here.

This was an extremely well-done Han Xu profile by Everett Cook.

I’ll link to this Huw Hopkins column on the WNBA standings below Connecticut even though he uses the discredited Ewing Theory in it.

Great work from Ben Dull on Amanda Zahui B. and the week that was.

Fascinating Britni de la Cretaz piece on the evolution of WNBA fashion.

Spent some time talking to Renee Montgomery on The UConn Pod.

Geno Auriemma is awfully excited for Sue Bird and Swin Cash getting NBA gigs. (Side note, Kelli Stacy is leaving the UConn beat and will be missed!)

Excellent Jenn Hatfield on the Mystics and their media blackout.

Tweet of the Week

Five at The IX: Lexie Brown, Minnesota Lynx

(I caught up with Lexie after Minnesota’s recent game against the New York Liberty.)

HOWARD MEGDAL: I just want to talk to you a little bit about just your role so far this year, and I know Cheryl’s been playing you more of a combo role. And I’m just wondering how you feel like it combines with your overall game?

LEXIE BROWN: I think it’s just been giving me a lot of confidence. She has confidence in me to shoot the ball. That’s what she puts me on the court to do. I grew up being a point guard, so coming here and not really running point as much has been a little different, but there are times in the game when she wants me to run the one, as well as get everybody involved. So everything you need me to do, I can do that and it’s actually really helped me learn offense and stuff, because at the one you’ve got to know where everybody is and then at the two you’ve got to know your spots.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Cheryl was talking pregame about the fact that she threw a lot of offense your way. Not you specifically, but the team. What’s that process been like for you? And do you feel, let’s say, more comfortable at the point guard position now even than you did preseason?

LEXIE BROWN: Yeah for sure. I mean, yeah, we have a lot of offense and I think in the last couple of days we’ve kind of trimmed our playbook down a little bit. It hasn’t really been giving us issues, but our offense hasn’t really been our strength and I think it’s because everyone has a lot running through their minds. So I think we need to simplify it a little bit more. I think we’re getting there, because our defense is what’s keeping us in the ballgames and I think our offense is going to catch up.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Last year in Connecticut there was just never an opportunity to show what you can do. On this team you’re a shotmaker on a team that needs shot-makers. Do you feel like this is a real opportunity, almost like the start of your WNBA dreams?

LEXIE BROWN: Yeah, for sure. I think in Connecticut, I could’ve been a shot-maker on their team, but they already had one or two. First quarter last year, it’s when we really had a lot of time to practice and I didn’t really have a lot of time to improve myself, which is fine. I mean, it was a great team and a great season. But yeah, they needed a three-point shooter and I made the very huge effort this off season to get my three ball a little bit stronger than it has been in the past. I was hoping maybe that I would be able to make a move in the off season to another team and I think it just worked out perfectly because that’s exactly what this team needed was a three-point-shooter.

HOWARD MEGDAL: You were north of five percent in steal percentage each of your final two years at Duke, just one of the best in the country. So to come to a place where I know they chart deflections — do you think you might be even a greater fit defensively here?

LEXIE BROWN: Yeah, they want me to be a successful stopper. I think I struggled a little bit with my on-ball defense, because Duke, we played a lot of zone, so a lot of those steals and deflections were off-ball. So they put me off the ball. I’m a little more comfortable, so they’re just trying to help me get a little more comfortable court, pressuring full court, guarding a smaller class of players sometimes. I think that I just need to buy into that and I think that’s going to help the team a lot.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Just being in the city of Minneapolis, I’m just curious what that city’s been like and how you’ve been enjoying it so far.

LEXIE BROWN: Yeah, Minneapolis is cool. I was a little cold when I got there, so I was a little worried, but it’s beautiful. We’re having a lot of fun. I’ve met some really cool people and my God-dad lives there, so I’ve been able to hang out with him a little bit. Uncasville was a little boring, so Minneapolis feels like New York compared to that, so I’m having a great time.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.