Pressure's off Augustus
With much more talent around her, Augustus and Lynx could be poised for turnaround
You probably could say that Seimone Augustus is still waiting for her close-up as a truly elite player. Some would argue that but think about it.
This will be her sixth WNBA season -- although a knee injury cut 2009 way short (six games) -- and Augustus has yet to make the WNBA's postseason. That she has been with the snake-bitten Minnesota Lynx -- 63-107 in her time with the franchise -- is obviously a big factor in that.
She played in the 2008 Olympics, averaging 7.9 points, and the gold medal there was a notable triumph. But Team USA won in Beijing with such little drama, it's not as if any one player's individual performance from those Summer Games necessarily stood out.
Augustus was outstanding in college, playing in three Final Fours with LSU and being the consensus national player of the year her junior and senior seasons. But she didn't win an NCAA title. Or even play in the national championship game, as LSU lost in the semifinals in 2004, '05 and '06.
In her last college game, which LSU lost 64-45 to Duke, the Blue Devils shut down Augustus in the first half, as she went 0-for-2 from the field. She finished the game with 14 points -- her 97th consecutive collegiate game, and 132nd overall, in double figures -- but most of her scoring came when it was too late to matter.
After that game, Augustus said, "I said this before: If I never score a point in the game and we win, or we're in position to win, I'm fine with that."
The thing is I thought in that particular game that attitude was problematic. Sure, it's great to have a team-first mentality. But how could Augustus think LSU was going to be in position to win if she didn't score a lot?
Augustus was taken first in the 2006 draft the day after the Final Four ended in Boston. Cappie Pondexter of Rutgers went second. Five years later, Pondexter has two WNBA titles -- both won with Phoenix -- and has been an MVP-caliber player. Now with New York, Pondexter knows she has the biggest load to carry every game for the Liberty. That's just how it is, and how she seems to prefer it.
But Augustus is a different personality. She has certainly been one of the very best scorers in the WNBA. However, she doesn't seem to be looking to be a superstar, even if she has superstar talent.
It might sound I'm being too harsh on Augustus, and that's not the intention. After all, how much can you fault anybody who has averaged 20.4 points in her WNBA career?
Rather, I'm putting Augustus under the microscope to examine what this season might be like for her and the Lynx. Perhaps the thing she most needed was the arrival of someone such as 2011 top draft pick Maya Moore, a player who is so comfortable being in the spotlight and having to meet high expectations game in and game out.
UConn grad Moore signed her Jordan Brand shoe deal with Nike last week. That is the type of thing that might cause a little friction with some veteran players, since a rookie is getting that kind of endorsement. But Moore is not your average rookie. Furthermore, Augustus really doesn't appear to care how much attention or acclaim Moore gets. She seems very glad to have Moore around.
Augustus might be most effective when she doesn't feel as if the weight of the franchise is on her back. Recently, she spoke with a mixture of palpable happiness and relief about that very subject.
"Thank God I've got some people around me that I can count on," Augustus said. "I don't have to have the ball in my hands at all times. I'm not the one that has to come off the screen to get the shot all the time.
"I am very comfortable with doing my part, but letting Maya do her thing, or Lindsay [Whalen] do her thing. Or whoever's out there with me. It's a lot of pressure on you when you feel you have to create everything; it takes a toll on you mentally and physically. Now that I do have these kinds of players around me, it's going to be a joy to watch. And when my number's called, I'm ready to go."
There are some very dynamic perimeter/slasher/get-to-the-rim scorers for Minnesota who are 6 feet tall or shorter, with Augustus, Moore, Charde Houston, Candice Wiggins, Monica Wright and the point guard Whalen.
Augustus, who was limited to 25 games last season because of injuries, had her lowest scoring average for a full WNBA season: 16.9 points. If it's that or less in 2011 but Minnesota makes the postseason, Augustus will not mind at all.
Because then, in the greater limelight of the postseason, she will have a chance to perform at a time in which it means the most. A time in which perhaps she will have a memorable game (or more than one) that will further define her as a premiere player. It's not that Augustus needs to have that for her own ego boost just that, with her ability, she deserves it.
"I think having the balance around her helps," said coach Cheryl Reeve, who went 13-21 last year in her first season with the Lynx. "There isn't the pressure on her that if she doesn't play well, we don't win. Which is what we had last year often times with the injuries that we had. It was basically on Seimone, and she was not anywhere near 100 percent. Yet she was still eighth in the league in scoring.
"More than anything, after five years of playing in the WNBA, Seimone wants to be a winner."
Augustus said she was happy with how she played this past winter in Turkey and how she kept in shape. And it felt good for her to be in the Team USA training camp in Las Vegas earlier this month.
"I feel great, and I'm excited about being healthy and able to play at the level I'm used to playing," she said. "Last year, coming off the injuries, I didn't make the world championship team. So I had motivation, and I wanted to impress coach [Geno] Auriemma and let him know I was back.
"I didn't really want to rest after the end of [last WNBA] season. I went home for two weeks. Then when I went to Istanbul, it was mainly about eating right. I came back from overseas last year way overweight, and that in itself created more problems for my knee. I feel like myself again and have the confidence back in my game."
She said she feels she has teammates who really will have her back as well. What isn't on Augustus' shoulders this season might be what lets her help carry the Lynx further than ever before.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.