Thursday, August 7, 2008

A few notes on ... Tamika Raymond

Now, for the first of three straight former Huskies ...

Tamika Raymond
6-foot-2 forward
Averages: 2.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 10.7 minutes

The Good: Raymond's number are probably consistent with what the Sun expected of her. Coming off two seasons in which she was riddled by injuries (torn ACL, concussion, tweaked knee, pulled hamstring), she physically isn't being asked to do as much, but she has proven to be a valuable energy player off the bench who can rebound, especially on the offensive boards, and spell Asjha Jones for necessary stretches. Number-by-number, Raymond, who was exchanged for Kristen Rasmussen in the offseason, is essentially giving Connecticut what it got from Rasmussen in 2007 (3.5 points, 2.8 rebounds) and what Minnesota is getting from her this year (3.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 13.4 minutes).

But Raymond's entire value really isn't measured in that. Sun coach Mike Thibault wanted her for her leadership in the locker room and her role as a mentor and fourth coach on the team. She's been all that and more. With Jones, Tamika Whitmore and Lindsay Whalen, she's helped given the team a veteran core that leads in several different ways, and was instrumental in keeping the team together during its five-game losing streak. Raymond has also been invaluable with the younger players. She's especially taken Sandrine Gruda under her wing, acting as an instructor and big sister. A weeks ago, when Thibault said the rookie Gruda would benefit from less advice from a number of people and more from just a few, he specifically pointed to assistant coach Scott Hawk, who does individual work with Gruda following every practice, and Raymond, the person Gruda goes to most often on the bench and on the court. I can't tell you how many times I've seen Raymond drawing out plays on her palm, or pointing here or there to point something out while she and Gruda are leaving the court.

Raymond's also helped Jones, her best friend, relax more now also in her seventh season, and at least from my standpoint, she's a great person in the locker room to bounce ideas and discussion off of, even if she didn't play a whole lot on a particular night.

The Sun's chemistry has been so good this season for many reasons, perhaps none more so than how well all the different personalities have come together. And anybody in that locker room will tell you Raymond -- always amicable, always smiling -- is the glue in all that.

The Bad: Raymond wasn't brought to the Sun to be a scorer, but her 37.7 shooting percentage puts her on pace for the lowest of her seven-year career. UConn's all-time leader in shooting (.703, a mark that I can't see ever being broken), she's had trouble finishing around the rim at times, despite setting herself up with her offensive rebounding. (She ranks second on the Sun in offensive boards (40), 19 behind the team-leader, Jones, despite playing 490 fewer minutes, or nearly 19 per game.)

In her defense, she probably isn't able to get as good a rhythm as she's been used to her in her career. Before this summer, she never played fewer than 20 minutes per game, aside from an injury-riddled 2007 season, and if she continues to shoot as often as she has, she'll finish with roughly 70 attempts this season, less than half of what she shot during her full seasons in Minnesota.

Jones has tried prodding her to shoot more.

"I’m like, ‘Score. I know you’re a great rebounder, but score,’" Jones said earlier in July. "In her past, that’s what she used to do, and somehow, somebody pushed her away from that. Here, I have great confidence in her abilities and I want her to do that. I get mad when she doesn’t do the things that she can do. I’m like, ‘Man, what are you doing? Don’t give it to me. You shoot it. That’s why you got it.’ But when I shoot, I know she’s going to go get it."

Outlook: I don't want to jinx Raymond, but a huge plus for her as been her ability to stay healthy. She's played in every game, playing double-digit minutes 16 times, and is part of a bench that's allowed Thibault to only play one starter (Whalen) 30 minutes per game (and Whalen has played exactly that). Raymond and Jones has rarely been on the court together because it's usually she that's replacing Jones (29.5 minutes per game). Don't expect that dynamic to change much when the season starts back up, though as the playoffs approach it will be a little different for Raymond. She hasn't been to the WNBA postseason since 2004, and in five career playoff games, she owns averages of 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds. I'm not saying she'll even come close to those numbers this year, but between her, Whitmore (second all time in playoff games with 40) and Jones and Whalen (who have been to two WNBA finals), the Sun rookies have a lot of playoff experience around them.

On deck: Ketia Swanier
In the hole: Barbara Turner

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