A New Season, A New Opportunity For Wright
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There’s no shortage of talent in the Lynx’s starting lineup. That’s a fact. So it seems odd to think that the player Minnesota might be asking the most out of this year will be coming off the bench.
But that seems to be the case with the Lynx and Monica Wright.
Wright has been in the league for just three years, but in those seasons she has played more roles than most players play in their career. Naturally a wing player who has bounced between the 2 and the 3 as a professional, Wright could become a major factor in the Lynx’s back court while adding some point guard duties in 2013.
Coming out of the University of Virginia, the Lynx selected Wright with the second overall pick in the 2009 draft. Wright played 25 minutes a game, scoring 11 points per game while being named to the WNBA's All-Rookie Team during her rookie campaign. The team, though, finished just 13-21.
In 2011 things were a little different. Wright saw her minutes cut nearly in half and she saw her points plummet to 5.1 per game. Did she hit a sophomore wall?
The numbers don't indicate that Wright improved as a player, but coach Cheryl Reeve noted that Wright improved in doing the little things that young players don't think about as rookies. In her second year, Wright shot 37.9 percent from the field, up nearly eight percentage points from her first season.
And in case you haven't heard, the Lynx won the 2011 WNBA Championship.
"You talk about the evolution of a player," Reeve said. "Each year getting better, better and better."
Last season, everything clicked for Wright.
She shot 45.8 percent from the field and averaged 8.6 points per game as she established herself as one of the top bench players in the league.
Considering the Lynx have four All-Stars and three Olympic Gold Medalists in their starting lineup, adding nearly nine points per game off the bench as the squad’s sixth woman is a striking total. What makes that more impressive is Wright is on the cusp of being even better—and Reeve is more than prepared to give Wright the chance to do so. In Reeve's opinion, Wright was good last season, but hit a few potholes in the middle of the year like many young players do.
"She was on her way to being the Sixth Woman of the Year, but she hit a patch," Reeve said. "I'm looking forward to her having a great season. And if she does, it's going to be huge for us."
Well, Reeve certainly put the money where her mouth is. In the offseason, the Lynx traded guard Candice Wiggins, who is No. 5 on the team's career points list, to Tulsa in part of a three-team trade to acquire Janel McCarville to replace Taj McWilliams-Franklin. In doing so, Wright acquired the keys to the bench. If those keys were for a vehicle, it would be something of a hybrid. Wright is expected to play the point guard position this season, while also seeing time at shooting guard and small forward.
"We anticipated in making moves in the guard spot and we knew she needed to play more and get her in the 25-28 minute range," Reeve said. "We talked about her being out backup point guard and she's done very well."
The biggest adjustment thus far has been at the point, but Wright has handled the challenge pretty well, finishing with a team-high 25 points in two preseason games to go along with eight assists.
"Obviously it's not a position I'm used to playing, but the coaches have confidence in me,” Wright said. “In the offseason they told me to start to prepare to play the one. Lindsay Whalen has done a great job of preparing me for that role and getting me out of my comfort zone."
There aren't many, if any, better players to learn the point guard position from than Whalen. Whalen is to the point guard position what sugar is to Kool-Aid; it just doesn't feel right to have one without the other. Whalen leads the Lynx in career assists, even though she's only been a Lynx for three seasons. Ironically, Whalen was traded to the Lynx the same year the team drafted Wright.
"A lot of it is during practice and during games," Wright said on the advice she's gotten from Whalen. "She'll see something I'm doing, pull me aside and give me a few pointers... She's awesome and has done a great job of leading me in that area."
"She's a great player and very instinctual and has a great first step," Whalen said. "It's about getting used to reading the game and understanding the game. I just try to help anyway I can. She's been great so far."
Through her evolution as a player, going from a rookie starting every game, to seeing her minutes decrease, to becoming one of the best bench players in the league, one thing has remained the same: Wright has the confidence and respect of her teammates.
Her dedication to the game shows. After Wednesday's practice, one day after playing 24 minutes in her team's last preseason game, Wright lifted weights before getting off close to 50 jump shots.
"When you play on such a talented team that we have, any of these players on our team could be starting anywhere," Wright said. "There's nothing selfish about it. We are all here to win."
After all of her hard work during three grueling weeks of Training Camp and two preseason games in four days, you'd think Wright would be ready for a rest before the season opener on June 1, right?
Some shy away from challenges. Some embrace them. It appears Wright is ready to take on the newest opportunity in her eventful career.
"I'm just so excited for the first game. I want to watch the opening games of the WNBA and get my mind right."
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