Two identical 18-16 records. Same postseason result as 2018.
WNBA viewers know the Minnesota Lynx in their current state can’t be judged fairly on results alone. The players they lost for good (Lindsay Whalen) or could eventually amount to just one season (Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson) have been discussed at length.
The real story of the 2019 Lynx centers around what they’ve gained.
2019 WNBA Executive of the Year Cheryl Reeve struck several important deals in the past year that infused the current in-flux roster with much-needed talent that contributed to winning this past season. The team is now flush with complementary shooters any contender would envy.
Should Moore return for her age-31 season, she and Sylvia Fowles would reunite to form a star duo that gets them back in the title hunt.
Here’s more on the biggest questions facing the Lynx as they gear up for 2020.
What happened with Odyssey Sims?
The All-Star guard played just 19 minutes (0-2 FG, five assists, one turnover) in Minnesota’s first-round single-elimination loss to the Seattle Storm.
Is there a reason to read anything into that?
Sims played the first 6:03 of the first quarter, did not return until the 3:26 mark in the second and logged just 3:35 during the fourth. Minnesota’s starting backcourt of Sims and Danielle Robinson combining for one point on 0-of-5 shooting became a big talking point.
Sims’ offensive performance in that game didn’t actively hurt the team, though a critical eye could reasonably tag her for two early 3-pointers that Storm All-Star guard Jewell Loyd hit as Seattle got out to an early 18-9 lead.
But the Lynx recovered. They had plenty of chances to break through and take a lead in the second half. Sims not getting more run in an elimination game was odd. Most of what we saw in that game, though, points back to a bigger question about this year’s backcourt pairing.
Is the dual-PG look the best path forward?
Sims and Robinson playing together was an elephant in the room all season. After some well-publicized efforts to develop as a standstill 3-point shooter, Robinson reverted at times to camping out at an elbow or in the short corner. Sims, a sub-30 percent career 3-point shooter, is at her best with the ball in her hands looking to get into the paint.
The pairing undoubtedly made them a better defensive unit, but the Lynx needed somebody to puncture Seattle’s vaunted pressure and set others up for open looks. When Robinson functioned more as a walk-it-up guard, she wasn’t getting downhill in pick and roll or beating her own player off the bounce.
That left Sims to stand around away from the ball or try to get loose coming off a screen. Seattle was able to shift more attention toward Minnesota’s top scoring options the second Robinson gave it up.
Neither guard ended up playing more than 20 minutes as Reeve found more time for Seimone Augustus, Lexie Brown and Steph Talbot off the bench.
Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier posted a double-double in her first playoff action, and Damiris Dantas poured in 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Fowles’ minutes may have also been a bit of a head-scratcher for some, but the All-Star center cost them early in the game (while feeding into Seattle’s hot start) by missing out on some easy scoring opportunities inside.
Some errant entry passes by Dantas (five turnovers) didn’t help.
But amid those struggles in that game, you can see the outline for a really dangerous unit. Plug Moore in for one of those guards and the Lynx become very big at positions 2 through 5, sure to have multiple size advantages they can exploit against any opponent.
Without Moore, it becomes a question of getting enough playmaking on the floor in some form while maintaining the flexibility to play inside through Fowles, Collier and Dantas—if she can improve her back-to-basket game.
Tricky timing getting down to 12
The Lynx face a diverse and complicated set of factors affecting their outlook on the 2020 roster.
Jessica Shepard was a wonderful fit facilitating from the top of the key. When will the projected backup power forward return from the ACL tear she suffered earlier this season?
How will the availability of backup center Temi Fagbenle, who plays for Great Britain’s national team, be impacted in an Olympic year?
Collier and a healthy, reinvigorated Karima Christmas-Kelly give them enough flexibility sliding up to the 4 that they can just get by and wait on one or both of those names if needed.
But once you start rattling off names, you quickly realize Reeve may need to consolidate some of this depth or make some tougher-than-usual cuts coming out of training camp.
Brunson could still return for a 16th season along with Augustus—2020 would be her 15th. If their bodies suddenly fail and keep them off the floor for a considerable amount of time, though, the Lynx may end up cutting ties with a player that had more to offer for years to come.
The biggest of the big fish usually only come available via trade requests. Minnesota may not have enough to offer in those kinds of talks, anyway.
Reeve will hold the No. 6 overall pick, which worked out quite well for her this past year. That could be a sweetener in a potential deal. If she holds onto it, it comes with plenty of mystery, too, with free agency occurring before the draft.
Minnesota must anticipate a similar level of uncertainty heading into next season. Reeve had what felt like 200 plates in the air at several different points along the way, and they came out the other side just fine.
The odd-year Lynx didn’t secure another title in 2019 but made the right moves to help put them in a position to chase a few more rings, plural, well into next decade.
It’s time for a few of these variables to shake out first, but it’s always nice to have so many options.
Note: Contract and free agency status for players derived from the High Post Hoops salary database.
Ben Dull covers the WNBA, the WNBA Draft and women’s college basketball. His year-round coverage can be found at High Post Hoops, BBall Index, and The Basketball Writers. He is a San Diego native and recent alum of Concordia University Irvine’s Master’s of Coaching and Athletic Administration (MCAA) program.