At the end of practice Monday, Lynx guard Maya Moore spoke to a group of girls. None looked older than 12. They were campers, assembled in two rows of plastic chairs.
Moore dispensed practical advice from an accomplished athlete to aspiring ones: Eat a healthy breakfast and come early for practice.
Then there was a disruption.
Renee Montgomery ran up from behind and wrapped her arms around Moore. The backup point guard hijacked the speech. She pointed at a camper with an observation.
“You guys are energetic,” the girl said.
“Facts only,” Montgomery replied.
None more so than Montgomery, a nine-year veteran who made a free throw to end practice and ripped off a towel wrapped around Sylvia Fowles’ ribs after the Lynx broke out of a team huddle.
Having a backup guard with ample energy and chemistry with the Lynx’s stars, Fowles and Moore, is more important now than ever, coach Cheryl Reeve said. Point guard Lindsay Whalen, 35 years old and in her 14th WNBA season, is averaging the fewest minutes of her career. So Montgomery is playing a more dynamic role.
Reeve said the two point guards are “sharing the game.” Montgomery has played 20-plus minutes in four of the Lynx’s past five games, and three times during that span she played more than Whalen.
Five years ago, Reeve said, Montgomery might have played only eight minutes per game. Whalen averaged about 30 minutes then. But the Lynx are older now. Minutes require more management. Who plays more depends on the matchup and the flow of the game.
“Having Renee allows Lindsay to run around and play at a really high pace and not be concerned if she gets tired,” Reeve said. “She knows Renee is coming in. Renee can come run around, and Lindsay can come back in. It gives them that comfort zone with each other, that they can take some chances physically.”
Another advantage of Montgomery’s presence is her shooting range. She’s attempting almost three shots from outside the arc per game, almost twice as many as Whalen. That allows the Lynx to stretch the floor offensively.
What kept Montgomery on the floor in the the Lynx’s win over the Los Angeles Sparks at home earlier this month was converting four of her five three-point shots. And even when she’s not shooting well, teams must respect her volume, which means she spaces the floor.
“It helps me,” Fowles said, spreading her arms as wide as she could.
Reeve said defenders can’t go under picks while guarding Montgomery the same way they can against Whalen. And the backup guard, 5-7 and shifty, is a bit better at drawing fouls. In terms of free throw rate — the ratio of foul shots to free throw attempts — Montgomery is about 50 percent better than Whalen.
Montgomery knows she won’t supplant Whalen. Speaking about her role, she sprinkled in a degree of deference. She said she tries to tire the defense out for Whalen by pushing the pace and pressuring the ball.
“It’s kind of more like a tag team,” Montgomery said.
Whalen, Reeve said, is “disciplined and precise — and Renee is not.” The coach’s illustration of what it’s like to watch Montgomery play is suggestive of a triumph in an action thriller: “No, no, no — yay!”
Which is why Reeve’s gut reaction, after seven years with Whalen, is to rely on the longtime Lynx guard in a game’s closing moments.
But she said she’s growing more comfortable with leaving the backup in the game.
“I like when they both play well,” Reeve said. “It makes it hard for me to get either one of them off the floor.”