Rookies Changing the Culture in Minnesota

A check over at WNBA.comís latest Rookie Rankings reveals that three players from the Minnesota Lynx are in the top five. Yup, you read correctly. Three. Sure, finding Candice Wiggins at No. 3 is no surprise at this point in the season, given that she was the No. 3 overall pick in Aprilís draft. But this was supposed to be one of the deepest rookie classes in years, and, again, three Lynx newbies are regarded as the top five in the league so far.

Joining Wiggins in the rankings are Nicky Anosike and Charde Houston. Wiggins was Minnesotaís only first round pick, Anosike was the teamís lone second round pick and Houston the sole third round selection.

Thatís three draft picks and three rookies that are performing for the now 5-0 Lynx. Thatís a pretty good draft for Don Zierden and his staff.

Leading up to the 2008 WNBA Draft, it was a general assumption that the Lynx would trade their top pick for a veteran, likely a big, or possibly trade down to snag a post player like Tasha Humphrey, Crystal Langhorne or Laura Harper later in the first round. It was, after all, a deep draft when it came to bigs.

Even when that didnít play out in Tampa, there were some, including the ESPN hoops analysts talked to afterwards, that speculated Minnesotaís dealing was just being postponed. The Lynx had already solidified the backcourt by drafting Lindsey Harding and Noelle Quinn the previous year and adding Anna DeForge via free agency in the offseason. They needed help in the post. They needed to get bigger in order to compete for a playoff spot in the rough and tumble West.

So went the conventional wisdom.

Wiggins may have changed Minnesotaís mind though with her performance in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. After she reached 40 points twice and led the Stanford Cardinal to the final, her stock rose considerably in the days leading up to the draft and like Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles, was being discussed as a possible franchise cornerstone.

Through five games this year, Wiggins hasnít exactly had the same impact on the league as Parker, but sheís right up there with Fowles and second among rookies in scoring, despite not yet starting a game.

In the teamís most recent victory over the Dream, Wiggins raised her scoring average to 14.8 points per game by pouring in a season-high 22 off the bench. In the previous game, she scored 17 points and dished out 12 assists in helping the Lynx topple the defending-champion Mercury.

Itís now hard to argue with Minnesotaís decision to stand pat with Wiggins, as she is proving to be a lethal scorer alongside another in Seimone Augustus. And it turns out that the Lynx didnít need to find their big(s) in the first round of the draft anyway.

As mentioned above, the pool of prospects entering the WNBA was marked by depth at the post position and Minnesota simply chose to use that to their advantage and employ a little patience.

Letís face it, a little luck doesnít hurt either, especially when you consider most players drafted after the first round have trouble just making WNBA rosters, let alone cracking a rotation. But you can also make your luck by doing your homework, and that seems to be the case with Minnesota, which drafted skilled players from renowned basketball programs that were overshadowed by great teammates.

Anosike, the center for the Lady Vols teams that won the last two NCAA titles, has scored in double figures three times in five games for Minnesota, including a pair of 20-point games. In 137 games at Tennessee, Anosike scored 20 points just once. Minnesota's new starting center also posted her first career double-double (20 points, 12 rebounds) in the team's triumph Tuesday over Atlanta.

Houston was even more unheralded than Anosike coming out of UConn, and that was reflected in her third-round selection at No. 30 overall -- 18 spots behind former Huskies teammate Ketia Swanier. Swanier, a first-round pick of the Sun, has played only 14 minutes in three games for Connecticutís pro squad and has yet to score a point.

Meanhwile, Houston exploded for 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting in her WNBA debut Ė a win over the Detroit Shock Ė and is averaging 11.2 points through five games. Houston, who like Wiggins has yet to start a game, is also shooting a blistering 54 percent and averaging 4.6 boards per game.

A part of the equation that canít be overlooked is that Zierden is giving these first-year players an opportunity to play and show what they can do. Having gone a dismal 10-24 in 2007 helps make the decision easier, as does a playoff drought that stretches back to 2005.

But after Minnesotaís sensational draft and the teamís unblemished start to the 2008 campaign, itís hard to second guess anything the Lynx are doing right now.

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