First, get one thing straight. When describing Maya Moore on a basketball court, when comparing one All-Star season to the next, there is no good and bad, only different levels of great.
The 28-year-old Moore helped the Lynx to four WNBA titles in her first seven seasons. She won the MVP during the 2014 regular season and in the 2013 league finals. She's been an All-Star every season there was a game. The two years there wasn't, she went and won Olympic gold.
So everything is relative here.
But Moore admits that last season — which ended in a fourth title for the Lynx — wasn't as good as some of her others. She doesn't know why exactly. But she said she believes that will change this summer.
"I have the mind-set coming in of being more ready to go,'' she said.
Moore was talking near the Lynx bench at Target Center after the team's shootaround Saturday morning. At that point she had been in town less than a full day. She landed in the Twin Cities on Friday, took her physical. Saturday's shoot was filled with Moore trying to reacquaint herself with the Lynx playbook. With that, she suited up and started in the preseason finale against Chicago and scored 15 points with five assists and four rebounds in an 87-58 win.
Moore was late to camp because she needed some rest after playing the second half of the season for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, a season that ended with a EuroLeague title. Lynx assistant James Wade — who is also an assistant with Ekaterinburg — said Moore came in and immediately lifted that team. No surprise.
Last season Moore took the winter off, coming to Lynx training camp rested but perhaps not razor-sharp. And for some reason, as Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said, Moore seemed to struggle — at least by Moore's standards — at the start of the season.
"It wasn't so much from a basketball perspective, it was just Maya was sort of hitting a wall,'' Reeve said. "Having a hard time, maybe, getting up for things. Maybe the tank was a little more empty. Maybe that speaks to how hard it is to be Maya Moore."
'It was just harder for me'
Moore? She agrees, even if he doesn't exactly know why.
"Sometimes it's hard to say what exactly gets you in what position at what point in your life,'' she said. "Some seasons are harder. And, remembering how hard it was to do what we did last year? For whatever reason, it was just harder for me."
It was still an All-Star season, though Moore's 17.3-point-per-game average was her lowest since her second year. But, with center Sylvia Fowles hitting the ground at warp speed, Moore's relatively slow start wasn't as noticeable.
But her up-and-down season trended way up at the end. Reeve said Moore might have hit a wall. At the end of the season Moore climbed over it.
Over the first 27 games of last season, Moore averaged 16.6 points and shot 42.6 percent overall and 38.3 percent on three-pointers.
But over the final 15 games — which includes the final seven of the regular season and eight in the playoffs — she shot 51.5 percent overall, 51.6 percent on three-pointers and averaged 19.1 points per game.
In the grueling five-game finals against Los Angeles, it was her clutch basket — a runner from the free-throw line with 26 seconds left — that clinched Game 5.
"I got over the wall," she said. "I was able to finish the season feeling like myself. It was an awesome final series, and I was just so grateful to be so fully myself in that moment. This year I have a fresh excitement coming into this season, a lightness coming in."
Stars need each other to shine
Four of five Lynx starters have been a part of all four titles. Fowles — who won MVP in the regular season and the finals last year — was a part of the past two. So no one player has to do it all.
But: "Look at our team, look where the strength of our team is, it's in our two younger superstars," said Reeve, referring to Moore and Fowles. "Not to take anything from Seimone [Augustus] or Lindsay [Whalen], but the strength of our team is where Maya is and where Syl is."
A title team has to get better to stay on top. Reeve likes her depth, her experience. But a big part of that improvement will come if both Fowles and Moore push themselves into the MVP conversation.
"Syl needs Maya and Maya needs Syl," Reeve said. "The way [Moore] was playing towards the end, that's important. She has to come out of the gate, [because] Syl is going to have a lot of pressure on her.''
With depth at guard, Reeve plans on using many three-guard sets, pushing Moore from small forward to power forward, where she often has a dramatic edge on offense. No matter where she plays, Moore has the ability to draw defenders and create space for Fowles, which is key.
Moore said she's ready. The half-season spent in Russia was ideal. She didn't have the grind of a full season, and she enters this WNBA season with her game sharp.
"My goal is to continue to play with that lightness, while still being supercompetitive like I always am," Moore said. "I think it will be a fun season."