Lindsay Whalen embraces Lynx leadership role

Point guard Lindsay Whalen led the Lynx with 17 points and five assists in a 78-69 win against the Fever. Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS -- If there's one thing Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve never takes for granted, it's having Lindsay Whalen as a point guard.

"She's really, really special," Reeve said Saturday after Whalen's 17 points and five assists led the Lynx over Indiana 78-69. "I'm fortunate to have someone like her who's been at the helm of this thing for my entire ride here in Minnesota."

Whalen and Reeve are both starting their sixth season with the Lynx; Whalen played her first six years in the WNBA at Connecticut. She turned 33 in May, but shows no signs of letting up. To the contrary, Whalen looks like she's having as much fun as ever on the court.

With two WNBA titles with the Lynx, Whalen already has established herself as one of the best point guards to have played in the WNBA. But games like Saturday's really do remind you of how valuable Whalen is. Keep your eyes on her, and you'll see all the way she impacts her team. Because that's constant.

She's always had that unflappable presence no matter what's happening. But especially in her time with the Lynx, her on-court persona has become even more that of a leader who makes everyone else feel reassured.

Put it this way: If Whalen were in "The Poseidon Adventure," she'd be the character calmly saying, "It's OK. All we have to do is climb and swim our way through this capsized ocean liner, and then escape through the bottom of the ship, which is now actually above us. Don't worry, follow me."

And, if they were smart, everyone would do just that.

"Any coach will tell you how important a player like Lindsay is," Reeve said. "The reason we have such a great rapport is because of her - she embraces being that ultimate extension of the coaching staff.

"She understands valuing possessions, what's needed in the moment. She just knows when to do things."

Saturday was just the second game of the season for the Lynx, who opened Friday at home with an 83-75 victory against Tulsa in which Whalen had 26 points and six assists. This early, you would expect that some things still appear a little rough, even for the team that most consider a strong favorite for the WNBA title this season.

Minnesota had some defensive lapses that allowed the Fever to rally a few times when it seemed as if the Lynx should have put them away. On the offensive end, Reeve was irritated with herself, saying, "I did a miserable job with our play-calling balance."

But ... the Lynx still looked a lot like the team we've gotten used to seeing as one of the WNBA's best for the last four years. Obviously, having Whalen, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson in that familiar starting lineup means that it should seem like the Lynx are just back to business as usual.

"Any coach will tell you how important a player like Lindsay is. The reason we have such a great rapport is because of her - she embraces being that ultimate extension of the coaching staff." Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve on Lindsay Whalen

However, they don't have center Janel McCarville, who is sitting out this season to rest. Instead, Damiris Dantas, a 22-year-old from Brazil, is starting at center in her second season in the WNBA. The Lynx are waiting on guard Monica Wright and post player Asjha Jones to progress through some health and conditioning issues before they take the court. They are working in two rookies, post player Reshanda Gray and guard Jennifer O'Neill. And guard Anna Cruz is playing for Spain in the EuroBasket competition and isn't with the Lynx right now.

So there is going to be some degree of experimental mixing and matching people on court as the Lynx settle in during the start of this season.

"I love the feel of this team," said Moore, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds Saturday. "I think we have a really good chemistry and we work hard. Everyone is genuinely locked in and eager to execute what we're trying to do, which is great.

"We have a slightly different mindset on some of our offensive default modes, trying to get better spacing and be more aggressive with the ball. We're still getting a feel of what that looks like."

And at the heart of that is Whalen. She and Reeve always seem to be communicating, even when they're not saying anything. Sometimes, even when they're not looking at each other.

"Over the years, that's really developed where we know each other so well, we know what the other is thinking," Whalen said. "I love playing for her, and when we're having some empty possessions, I can usually know what she wants to do next. We just have a great relationship."