Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, like any coach, will look at stats — and behind the numbers. Scoring, efficiency, the whole bit.
But when asked what center Janel McCarville means to her team, she opted for the easiest approach: “I say this: Look at what happened when she wasn’t there for two games,” Reeve said. “What happened to us?”
For two games in August, the Lynx were without McCarville — the former Gophers star who returned to the WNBA this season after two years out of the league — because of a concussion. And what happened? The Lynx lost at home to Washington, one of just two losses at Target Center this season, a game that still grinds on Reeve. Then they went to Chicago and lost again.
McCarville isn’t going to score a lot of points. She does not fill a boxscore line like, say, Maya Moore does. But with the Lynx hoping to close out the Western Conference finals in Phoenix on Sunday, there is no question how valuable McCarville is.
On a team filled with scorers, McCarville’s ability to distribute the ball — particularly from the high post — has been valuable. Her ability to defend on high pick-and-rolls is unique.
And, as she and Rebekkah Brunson showed in a 23-point Lynx victory over Phoenix on Thursday, McCarville can be effective defensively against bigger players.
Not that it’s easy to gather from a quick look at the boxscore. McCarville only took three shots, making one. She had a modest four rebounds. But she was mainly responsible for holding Phoenix 6-8 center Brittney Griner in check. Griner scored 13 points and had six rebounds. But McCarville worked hard to keep her from her preferred position in the post, blocked one of her shots, helped force her into a couple of turnovers.
On offense, McCarville did what she always did.
“In my eyes I’m a facilitator,” she said. “I’m more of a distributor through the post. I thrive on passing.’’
After determining that McCarville was serious about wanting to return to the league, the Lynx made the move to get her in a three-team trade that sent Candice Wiggins to Tulsa.
A leader in own style
The 6-2 McCarville was supposed to replace retired Taj McWilliams-Franklin, a veteran player whose powerful personality had made her a team leader.
McCarville has done just that, in her own way.
She was second in the league with a plus-minus rating of plus-326. That’s a stat of the scoring differential when she is on the court. But a deeper stat is net plus-minus, which takes into account both team and opponent performance when a player is on and off the court, a stat designed to measure a player’s impact.
In that stat, McCarville’s plus-19.1 was best in the Western Conference. Much of that can be attributed to the great players McCarville gets to play with. But it’s also a measure of her efficiency.
Reeve said McCarville excels at swinging the ball from her position in the high post. Her screens are rock solid. So often she will make a pass that won’t necessarily result in an assist, but will eventually result in a basket. McCarville’s 2.9 assists per game were second among the league’s centers.
And now she has to do more. The coaches felt McCarville played behind Griner too often. In watching the tape, Reeve is convinced the Mercury will try to get Griner the ball more than it did in Game 1.
That means McCarville will have to do more.
She’s ready. McCarville joined a Lynx team that had been to two consecutive WNBA Finals, winning in 2011. And while she was part of a New York team that reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2008, this has been a new, thrilling experience.
“The work ethic, the determination, the mind-set here is completely different,” she said. “It’s not that we’re cocky or anything, but we’re confident in what we do.’’