Lynx assistant coach Jim Petersen believes Lindsay Whalen deserves more respect.
That’s saying something. Whalen was named, along with teammate Rebekkah Brunson, as a reserve to the Western Conference All-Star team Tuesday. Saturday’s game in Connecticut will be a Lynx convention, with starters Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus, Whalen and Brunson, coach Cheryl Reeve and her staff all taking part.
Whalen, the Minnesota native, former Gophers great and current Lynx point guard, will be playing in her third All-Star Game. She was on last summer’s gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team. So it’s not as if Whalen isn’t thought of as one of the game’s best.
“She’s not acknowledged as being an MVP-caliber player,” Petersen said. “So much of that is based on hype, not reality. Lindsay Whalen is playing as good or better than anybody in this league.’’
Over the past five games, all victories — four of them on the road, three of them with Augustus out injured — Whalen has had her best stretch of play in 3 ½ seasons with the Lynx. In those five games, the former Gophers standout has averaged 20.8 points, 5.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds as the Lynx have secured the best record (13-3) in the league.
Always tough, Whalen has pushed the needle with her aggressive offensive play and strong defense. On a team filled with All-Stars, it’s difficult to anoint one as the most important; Reeve wouldn’t go there after practice Tuesday.
But Petersen is ready to call Whalen the team MVP. Moore called Whalen the captain of a ship headed up the standings.
“She carries the load,” Augustus said. “She gets us where we need to go.”
When Augustus hurt her left ankle early in a game against red-hot Atlanta on July 9, Whalen responded with 20 points and five assists. It was the first of four consecutive games for her with 20 or more points, and that included her game at Indiana, when she scored 12 of her 23 points in the fourth quarter. Afterward, Indiana coach Lin Dunn talked about how much quicker Whalen looked than last year.
“I’d say I feel good,” said Whalen, averaging a career-high 16.1 points per game. “As long as I’m still strong and able to finish, that’s what I need. To be able to be quick and effective is a big thing.”
At age 31, Whalen might be playing the best basketball of her career.
Reeve said it’s clear Whalen is taking better care of herself, though that doesn’t always seem the case when she goes flying around the court. Whalen plays games with protective sleeves and padding all over her body.
Both Reeve and Whalen said her not playing an entire season in Europe over the winter — a salary dispute with her team in Turkey brought her home early — proved beneficial.
“I think having the down time helped, mentally more than anything,” Whalen said. “Just having a couple months where I wasn’t playing or traveling every day was good. I was able to work on some things, some skill work, that I haven’t always been able to do.”
Much of that work was done at the Lynx practice facility. After watching some of those workouts Reeve was convinced Whalen could have a career year. Whalen started relatively slowly before picking up steam.
“Now she’s hitting that stride I thought she would,” Reeve said. “She has this great bounce in her step right now. Her mindset on offense has been one of aggression. And I think she’s playing the best defense of her career. Put those two together and I think this is the best she has played in her career.”
And that’s saying something.
“She’s the perfect blend of sharing the ball and scoring the ball,” Petersen said. “I just don’t think she gets enough credit for how great she is. To me, she is the greatest point guard in Minnesota basketball history.”