Basketball / Sports

Minnesota Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen (13) drives against Washington Mystics center Stefanie Dolson (31) in the first quarter at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., Friday, May 16, 2014. (Chuck Myers/MCT)

Lynx' Maya Moore ready to take that next step

MINNEAPOLIS -- Maya Moore crouched, tensed, then exploded from the low block to behind the three-point arc. She took a pass, turned, planted, jumped and shot.

Short, left.

Moore, the Lynx's star forward, scowled. This was long after the team's final practice before Friday's season opener. Most everyone else was gone. But Moore had struggled a bit with her shot for a couple of practices, and that was long enough. So, over and over, she set up low, burst to the perimeter, took a pass and shot.

Finally: swish.

Moore, who had (gasp) even launched an air ball late in practice, was starting to find the range. She hit from the right elbow, from the top of the key, over and over. Finally, after hitting yet again from the left elbow, she pumped her fist, smiled and walked off, leaving the Target Center main floor empty.

If you think Moore, entering her fourth season, has bumped up against the ceiling of her considerable talent, think again. Or just watch her work long after most practices have ended.

"I have to do more," Moore said. "I have to do it at a higher level. I'm going to continue with the same work habits, but just increase them. It's the little things at this point."

More, really?

Here's what Moore did in 2013: She was third in the WNBA in scoring (18.5), sixth in steals (1.74), eighth in minutes (31.4), 12th in blocks (0.97) and 15th in rebounds (6.2). She also shot 50.9 percent from the field and 88.2 percent on free throws and became the first player in league history to finish first both in three-pointers made (72) and three-point shooting percentage (45.3).

She carried off the WNBA finals MVP trophy and was second to Los Angeles' Candace Parker in league MVP voting.

So the question is, what more can she do?

Moore smiled. Lots, and it started with 34 points in the Lynx's opening game Friday, an 89-77 victory at Washington.

"I want to average 2 percent higher in every category," she said immediately.

And that's just the beginning. With power forward Rebekkah Brunson out following knee surgery, and with top reserves Monica Wright and Devereaux Peters also on the mend, Moore wants to shoot better, defend harder, rebound more and evolve as a leader.

Doubt it?

"Look at the results, look at what she's done," Seimone Augustus said. "She puts pressure on herself, too. Now she's figured out how to deal with it."

So watch out.

A winner at all levels

A precocious phenom coming out of Connecticut in 2011, Moore has grown and blossomed on a team filled with veteran stars. You could see it right from the start of camp, when she was the only returning starter at early practices. She talked more, worked harder, offered advice.

"Maya, last year, took the steps we wanted her to take," coach Cheryl Reeve said. "Both on offense and defense. She needs to continue to get better defensively. Closing out, containing her player. But I thought she had a pretty complete game last year."

So now perhaps some of the growth will come as a leader.

"You can see it," Lindsay Whalen said. "She's always had a great attitude, a great work ethic. But she came in this year more focused, that much more ready to be a leader. For me, for Seimone, it's a great feeling to know you have a player who is still young, but with a great sense of urgency."

There is no choice. The Lynx still have their Olympic gold medal trio in Moore, Augustus and Whalen, but injuries have robbed the team of depth, at least for a while. But that's not going to temper expectations. Especially from Moore.

"Maya is not used to losing," University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said.

To say the least. Moore has won two WNBA titles with the Lynx. She led Connecticut to NCAA championships in 2009 and 2010, both undefeated teams. She helped her Spanish team to a EuroLeague championship in the 2011-12 season and led the Shanxi Xing Rui Flame to consecutive Chinese Women's League championships. She won gold at the 2012 Olympics and even won three Georgia high school titles at Collins Hill.

So she's ready, able and very willing to do what it takes for the Lynx to defend their 2013 title.

That means playing more power forward, rebounding, defending.

"We like offense, but we really make our mark on the defensive end," assistant coach Jim Petersen said. "She can improve there."

Another step to take?

Even before the news on Brunson came out, Reeve made Moore one of the team's captains for the first time. It was a reward, but also a challenge. And she knows it.

"More than anything it shows the trust is growing in the eyes of the coaches and the other captains," Moore said. "I take that as a great compliment. But also as a great responsibility."

One she takes seriously.

Which is why she stays long after most practices. Sometimes she works on her game, sometimes she helps another player.

So expect more. "Maya has improved every year she's been in the WNBA," said ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo. "She improved every year she was in college. "

So watch Moore take the next step.

"It's a tall order, but I like the challenge," she said. "It gives me something to focus on."

(c)2014 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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MAYA MOORE


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