Jessica Adair, Candice Wiggins bring punch
MINNEAPOLIS -- One dances after Minnesota Lynx home victories, the other walks to the locker room. One is a former Wade Trophy winner and first-round pick, the other a third-rounder from a small school in Washington, D.C., who was cut at her first two WNBA training camps.
Guard Candice Wiggins brings flash and a Stanford pedigree to the Minnesota Lynx, while center/forward Jessica Adair showed up at training camp as an unknown just hoping to earn a uniform. Both have turned into productive bench players for the Lynx and are possible X factors in the WNBA Finals (versus the Atlanta Dream) that begin Sunday at the Target Center.
How they forged and adapted to their roles is as interesting as how well they played in Minnesota's sweep of Phoenix in the Western Conference finals.
Wiggins scored 14 points in Game 1 and earned a game ball from coach Cheryl Reeve as much for her defense on WNBA scoring leader Diana Taurasi, giving Seimone Augustus a break from that assignment in the second half. Adair's physical play helped limit Candice Dupree to two points in Game 1. In Game 2, Adair -- the primary sub for All-Star Rebekkah Brunson -- finished with 10 points, four rebounds and two steals in 13 minutes.
Could the Lynx bench be the difference against the Dream?
"It's like rounds of boxing," Wiggins said. "Maybe the bench throws the knockout punch. Maybe the starters come back and throw the knockout punch. Maybe the starters threw the knockout punch already, and you've just got to come and keep it going."
Either way, Wiggins relishes her part.
An effervescent presence and 3-point shooter, the flashy Wiggins averaged 15.7 points as a rookie reserve for the Lynx in 2008 while winning the Sixth Woman Award. In 2009, she started every game and averaged 13.1 points.
But a right knee meniscus tear and a ruptured left Achilles tendon limited her to eight games last year. She returned this season as a bench player behind Lindsay Whalen and Augustus, averaging only 4.3 points but also contributing as a defender.
When Reeve calls her "annoying," it's a compliment.
"She can be a really good irritant, and I like that," Reeve said. "She can change the tempo. Maybe Lindsay was doing things a certain way. Now Candice comes in, and it's different. Candice is a nice change when we come off the bench."
Wiggins, as only she can, lobbied for a stronger description.
"Look at all the synonyms of annoying. It's further than that," Wiggins said. "It's really about willpower, being tenacious and obviously being able to move fast, get through things and just have that will. You're not going to score on me, and if you do score on me, it's going to be miserable."
After home victories, Wiggins celebrates by dancing near midcourt at the Target Center, along with Charde Houston and Maya Moore. It's a natural expression of her upbeat personality.
Unlike the well-known Wiggins, the 6-foot-4 Adair seemingly appeared out of the mist.
Phoenix drafted Adair, a George Washington University graduate, in 2009, but she couldn't make a team that went on to win the WNBA championship. Last year Reeve signed Adair as a free agent as a favor to former GW coach Joe McKeown, who had given Reeve her first full-time job out of college in 1990. Adair couldn't make the Lynx either. But Reeve brought her back at the end of the season, then kept her on this year despite a shaky preseason in which she couldn't handle a pass in the post without committing a turnover.
"She came here and was nervous as all get-out for three weeks," Reeve said. "But we knew, and the teammates knew, there was more to Jess Adair than what she did in TC.
"I think she's gone from a player who was just happy to make the team to somehow she's my first post player off the bench. I asked her how she did that."
Lifestyle changes, first. Adair said she dropped 70 pounds from her high of 270 as a GW senior, mainly by cooking for herself more and eliminating fast food, pork and beef from her diet. (Chicken tenders and fries from Wingo's, a popular late-night haunt in D.C.'s Georgetown neighborhood, had been her downfall.)
Adair played pickup ball in D.C. until Reeve called her back. She impressed Reeve with a five-point, eight-rebound WNBA debut in the season finale last year, an overtime victory at Indiana.
"That's when we decided, OK, we think this kid can play, she's got really good instincts," Reeve said. A strong winter in Turkey, where Adair averaged 14.4 points and 10.3 rebounds for Samsun, better prepared her for her first full WNBA season.
"Going overseas helped build my confidence, let me know what I needed to do when I got here to play against these caliber of post players," Adair said.
"Coming in, my confidence level wasn't as high as it could have been. When I got in the game, I was nervous, and you could see it. Now I think I'm a little bit more comfortable and confident in moves and stuff like that."
Reeve said Taj McWilliams-Franklin, the Lynx's 40-year-old center, helped Adair learn angles and moves in the post. Improving as the season progressed, Adair averaged 4.3 points and 2.9 rebounds and posted her first double-double (10 points and 13 rebounds) in the final game of the season at Phoenix.
"When I take Brunson out, it's really nice to know that I'm not going to lose too much from a rebounding standpoint," Reeve said. "Offensively, Jess goes too fast. That's something that you'll see her really talk to herself about. Go hard to go get your cut and sit in the post, but when you receive the basketball, have poise.
"She'll tell you she's still catching up to her body. That's part of it. The other part is the experience of receiving the ball [in the post], knowing the slower you go, the better something will be for you. That's Taj's influence."