Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A few notes on ... Amber Holt

Despite some technical difficulties (this post is getting up extremely late) the evaluations forge on with ...

Amber Holt
6-foot forward
Averages: 6.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 20.7 minutes

The Good: A lot of people will look at what Holt did her senior year in college (she led the nation in scoring at 27.4 points per game), what's she doing now (she's shot under 40 percent and boasts seven of 26 games in double figures scoring) and think the rookie's game hasn't translated well to the pros. In a way, they might be right. A post player in Middle Tennessee State, Holt is under-sized at the power forward position in the WNBA and has rarely gotten the chance to utilize her experience down low, save for a few match-ups with undersized shooting guards.

But frankly, scoring may not define Holt early in her career. As she adjusts to taking more jump shots and 3s -- and finding not just the confidence but the rhythm in doing so -- she'll make a name for herself as a solid defender, a quality rebounder at the two and three positions, and a hard-nosed but quiet gamer.

That's what the Sun were hoping for. Largely, that's what they've gotten.

I don't have the exact numbers, but if there were a race for the most charges drawn on the Sun, Holt would be leading the team, probably with a slight edge over Tamika Whitmore. Their flops would make Vlade Divac blush. Holt's acting skills aside -- and you'd know she's not a bad singer, either, if you were on hand for when they played her '60 seconds with the Sun' piece on the arena scoreboard a few weeks ago -- she's taken on some of the league's toughest assignments on the wings (Diana Taurasi, Deanna Nolan, Alana Beard, etc.) and in most cases, done an admirable job. She's far from a lock-down defender, but for a rookie now learning the league's personnel, there have been few times where she's looked totally overmatched.

That said, it's not as if Holt hasn't score or shown potential to carry this team for stretches. Three of those seven double-digit scoring games came in July and her seven points in three minutes to close Connecticut's win over Chicago on July 20 -- in turn, carrying the Sun to their first win in six games at the time -- was the best example of how dangerous she can be when she gets on a roll. Sun coach Mike Thibault has said several times that Holt almost enjoys not having the burden of the offense on her, as she did in college. And Holt has stuck to one line over any other the entire year: Defense comes first, and her offense will come from that. She's been the most consistent rookie the Sun have had, even if she's not the most talked about. She's started every game and hasn't played under 11 minutes in any single contest. Yeah, maybe she's not scoring like her numbers in college would have indicated, but there are reasons Thibault likes to keep her on the court.

Also, as far as her personality goes, Holt is by the far the quietest player on the team. But she's quick to laugh, doesn't make things too complicated and isn't afraid to be a little funny herself. I tend to talk too fast at times, and one time while interviewing her, I finally getting to my point after a long-winded question that maybe took 25 seconds of rambling to ask ... only to have Holt stare back at me with a puzzled look.

"Uh ..." I started again.

"Look," she said smiling, "you ... gotta ... slow ... down." Then she chuckled like she does seemingly after everything she says.

I slowed down, asked it again and she gave me a little nod of approval right before answering it.

The Bad: I mentioned there weren't too many times when Holt hasn't appeared totally overmatched defensively, but there were games -- more so early in the year -- when she just looked a little lost. She usually snapped out of it, but more than once Thibault had to go to the quick hook on her because it just didn't seem to be here night defensively. That said, the Chicago game when she scored all of her points late also didn't appear to be her night before she bounced back to save COnnecticut.

Similar to Kerri Gardin, Holt's also just learning now how to shoot consistently from the outside, so there have been some growing pains. In three games against New York, for example, she's shot a combined 3-for-14, and one of those contests marked the only time she's gone scoreless this season (and, as far as she could remember, maybe the only time ever). Ten times this year she's also had one or fewer made field goals.

Outlook: I can't see any reason why the Sun won't continue to lean on Holt like they have. She's continued to work hard in practice, gives the Sun what they want defensively and seems to be finding a better offensive groove the last few weeks before the break.

I can't say she's going to come out be another major scoring option alongside Lindsay Whalen and Asjha Jones (that role should fall to Tamika Whitmore, who has always proved better later in seasons), but Holt was highly coveted by Thibault and his staff. And though the coach has been more extravagant in his outlook of Sandrine Gruda, he believes Holt can be a major-impact player, too. If, as a rookie, she holds up to the pressure in the playoffs (she doesn't come from a UConn or Tennessee background where players are bred in the pressure of winning all the time), she just may continue to assert herself as an impact player now. Remember, Holt is the Sun's highest draft pick since Lindsay Whalen was taken fourth in 2004. They picked her knowing they'd need her to play well this year. (Note: I'm not counting Katie Feenstra, who was taken eighth overall in 2005, but was traded to San Antonio as part of the Margo Dydek and never played a single game for Connecticut).

On deck: Asjha Jones
In the hole: Danielle Page

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