May 5, 2022
2022 WNBA season preview: Minnesota Lynx
Last-minute tumult, considerable upside in Syl's last year
The Minnesota Lynx enter the 2022 season with a clear mission: Do it for Syl.
The 7-time All-Star and former MVP will be retiring following the culmination of the season, putting a cap on a Hall of Famer career and riding off into the sunset as one of the greatest to ever don a Lynx jersey.
Head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve has made it clear that the Lynx will do everything in their power to send Fowles off with one last championship.
“The conversations with Syl [this offseason] centered around competing for a championship in her final season. Everything that we’re doing is to position ourselves to compete for a championship in Syl’s last season. We’re going to do everything possible for Syl, because that’s what she deserves,” Reeve told reporters during the press conference announcing her return. “Syl will be the first to go out winning her last game.”
The Lynx spent the offseason retooling their lineup for one final ride with Fowles, re-signing Rachel Banham, Bridget Carleton, and Layshia Clarendon to one-year deals. They also signed 5-time All-Star Angel McCoughtry to a one-year deal to provide veteran leadership and stout defense.
However, the offseason didn’t go exactly as planned. Napheesa Collier announced in late November that she’s pregnant with her first child and, as such, is expected to miss most, if not all, of the season. Damiris Dantas continues to recover from a Lisfranc injury suffered in early September and it’s unclear when she will be able to return. After signing her short-term deal earlier in the offseason, Clarendon was released on Tuesday after it was determined that they were not healthy enough to compete regularly. Additionally, Kayla McBride will remain in Europe until the end of May as she competes for Fenerbahce in the EuroLeague.
Reeve mentioned multiple times during the offseason her intention to carry 11 athletes on the opening day roster including Collier as WNBA rules don’t allow for an athlete’s salary to be discounted from the cap if they are sidelined due to pregnancy. With Dantas and McBride also out, Minnesota will be down to eight available players on opening day.
Luckily, the WNBA has a policy in place via the hardship exceptions that allow for teams in the Lynx’s position to sign players to fill in until those who are out are able to return. The basic hardship exception allows Minnesota to sign a player as long as two of their athletes are determined out for at least three weeks. However, the rules stipulate that said player cannot put ink to paper until the second athlete has missed two consecutive games. In the case of an emergency, the league can approve an emergency hardship exception per their discretion when a team has fewer than 10 available players.
The Lynx will qualify for the basic hardship exception following their game on Sunday, May 8 against the Mystics and it would seem likely that the league would award them at least one emergency hardship exception for opening night.
What Minnesota will do with its hardship exceptions is difficult to determine. The Lynx also parted ways with 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield as well as 2021 first-round draft pick Rennia Davis on Tuesday, a pair of moves that caught many in the WNBA community by surprise. In theory, either player could return on a hardship deal, though their willingness — or desire — to do so is unknown. Additionally, the Lynx could re-sign Kayla Jones and/or Hannah Sjerven whom they used their second-round picks to select and subsequently cut after training camp ended.
One name to keep an eye on as camp wraps up and hardship exceptions are filled is Yvonne Turner. Turner has not played in the WNBA since 2019, but Reeve has spoken highly of her during training camp, citing her veteran presence as a valuable commodity to the team.
However, the likelihood that Minnesota retains Turner took a hit when it was announced that the team had come to terms on a one-year, training camp deal with Odyssey Sims. Sims—who appeared in 30 games for the Atlanta Dream last summer and averaged 8.7 points and 3.6 assists per game—will likely battle with Banham for the starting point guard role.
Sims appeared in her lone All-Star game during the 2019 season as a member of the Lynx when she averaged 14.5 points and 5.4 assists per game. She was traded to the Indiana Fever during the 2021 offseason along with the rights to Temi Fagbenle, a 2022 first-round pick, and a 2022 third-round pick in exchange for the 2022 second-round pick that was later traded to the Las Vegas Aces.
Regardless of how the end of the bench looks come the middle of the season, the Lynx will continue to function much as they did last season: Hit the offensive boards, feed Fowles in the post, and let McBride cook from deep. Minnesota is primarily a halfcourt team when it comes to offense and the above plan resulted in them finishing with a top-four offense last summer, according to Synergy (0.934 points per possession).
The addition of McCoughtry makes the Lynx’s already strong half-court offense even stronger, assuming she remains healthy following two devastating knee injuries over the previous three seasons. (Of note: She recently received a platelet-rich plasma injection into her knee and her status for opening day is unknown, according to Canis Hoopus’ Jack Borman.) During McCoughtry’s last full season in 2020, she ranked in the 92nd percentile in offensive efficiency in the half-court (1.033 PPP; 84th percentile) and particularly excelled off screens (1.103 PPP) and in spot-up situations (1.212 PPP; 88th percentile).
Even with Collier out and Clarendon seemingly gone, the Lynx have the personnel to register a top-five offense once again in 2022, particularly if Banham, Carleton, Dantas, and McBride shoot well from beyond the arc. Fowles will get her numbers, but the offense ran much smoother last season when the Lynx’s perimeter players were able to knock down shots. Minnesota finished last season ranked ninth overall in spot-up efficiency (0.88 PPP), but much of their struggles were due to Collier shooting an uncharacteristically poor 25.3% from 3; her 0.724 PPP on spot-up attempts ranked in the 21st percentile.
However, the extended absences of Dantas and McBride and the streaky shooting of Banham will make achieving a top-five offense difficult in practice. Sims is a lesser offensive threat at this stage of her career compared to Clarendon and Dangerfield while Natalie Achonwa and Jessica Shepard are non-factors from beyond the elbow. Fowles and Aerial Powers will have to carry the bulk of the offensive load until McBride returns, a boom-or-bust proposal.
Fowles will get her numbers. She’s been a walking double-double for the majority of her career and that will not change in 2022. Powers, on the other hand, runs hot and cold. When on, she is a dynamic threat who can impose her will on opposing teams and take over games. When off, she tends to press and fall into hero-ball tendencies and develop tunnel vision. Add in that she has appeared in more than 20 games in a season only three times in her career — she played a mere 14 last season — and counting on her to be a powerhouse of the offense becomes rather dubious.
Focus on D
Defensively, Minnesota should remain strong. Fowles is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and considered one of the favorites to bring home the award this summer as well. Carleton is versatile and able to defend twos, threes, and fours effectively. Same with Powers. McCoughtry, again if healthy, could be the team’s second-best defender overall. But the loss of Collier looms large and could reap significant ramifications on the Lynx’s defense performance.
The team’s defense has the potential to fall below average overall unless they can tighten up in transition. Last season, Minnesota ranked dead last in transition defense efficiency, allowing opponents to score 1.115 PPP. In the half-court, the Lynx ranked fourth, serving up only 0.849 PPP.
The Lynx have the personnel to log a top-half offense and defense, but the key will be doing so right away at the beginning of the season. Three of the team’s first five games are against Seattle, Washington, and Chicago and while there is no such thing as a must-win game in the first month of the season, it is imperative that they don’t begin the campaign in a deep hole if they wish to play most of their playoff games—assuming they make the playoffs—at home. Minnesota won’t be at full strength until June, at which point they will have already played nine games. They will likely have to win at least four or five of those contests to remain in position for home-court advantage during the playoffs.
The Lynx are among the most well-coached teams in the league and have an MVP-caliber player in Fowles. They will likely make the playoffs — barring catastrophe — and should be among those vying for a top-four seed.
But will they scale the mountain top and send Fowles off to retirement with a championship? Well, that remains to be seen. Some may see their recent flurry of moves, as well as their overall roster construction, as making it unlikely. But never count out Cheryl Reeve.
Written by Lucas Seehafer
Lucas Seehafer is a general reporter for The Next. He is also a physical therapist and professor at the undergraduate level. His work has previously appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Forbes, FanSided, and various other websites.