April 23, 2023 

How the Lynx turned a fringe WNBA player into 2023 draftees Maïa Hirsch and Brea Beal

Minnesota uses 'Sam Presti-like' strategy to add top international prospect in 2023 draft

The Minnesota Lynx are typically an organization that prioritizes a win-now approach, making it difficult for rookies to stick around through training camp and beyond their first season with the team.

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For reference, 2017 draftee and two-time All-Star Napheesa Collier is Minnesota’s only first-round draft pick to sign a second contract with the organization since Maya Moore.

However, the 2023 WNBA season will be Cheryl Reeve’s first without one of Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus, or Moore as head coach of the Lynx, causing the organization to enter a retooling process around Collier.

That process began earlier this month with Minnesota’s selection of rangy Maryland forward Diamond Miller at No. 2 in the 2023 WNBA Draft, which tied for the third-highest draft selection in franchise history behind the aforementioned Augustus and Moore.

Miller’s path to early rotation minutes with the Lynx is rather simple, considering the organization’s investment in her at a premium draft slot.

Though, what’s lost in the shuffle is how Reeve and Minnesota turned a fringe WNBA player into No. 12 pick, Maïa Hirsch, a versatile 6’5, 19-year-old draft-and-stash prospect from France, as well as South Carolina’s Brea Beal, a proven winner, in the late second round.

Spoiler: Reeve, one of the brightest minds in the league, played the long game.

No asset left behind

Sam Presti of the Oklahoma City Thunder is one of the NBA’s most highly-regarded front-office members. The 45-year-old has held the General Manager position in Oklahoma City since 2007, constructing arguably the best young core in league history in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden – three eventual NBA MVPs. Presti needed to find success without generational talents after Harden was traded to Houston, and Durant left for Golden State in free agency. So, you know what? The tactician took his team-building madness to another gear.

Presti’s strategy is to extract every last bit of value in an asset. For example, in 2015, the Thunder traded Reggie Jackson, a 24-year-old guard on the last year of his contract, to Detroit as part of a multi-team trade; sending Enes Kanter to Oklahoma City. Two seasons later, Kanter was traded to New York in exchange for aging star Carmelo Anthony, one of the best mid-range scorers in league history.

The fit was murky with Anthony in Oklahoma City, so instead of buying him out via the NBA’s stretch provision clause, Presti sent Anthony and a lottery-protected first-round pick to Atlanta – which would eventually convey into two second-rounders – for guard Dennis Schröder.

Schröder’s value was at an all-time high after a Sixth Man of the Year season in Oklahoma City, so soon thereafter, he was traded to Los Angeles in exchange for Danny Green and the No. 28 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The No. 28 pick was packaged in a trade to acquire the draft rights to the No. 17 pick, Aleksej Pokusevski.

The Thunder had the option to let Jackson walk in free agency or release Anthony into free agency, but Presti avoids dead assets (a player that is released from their organization without recouping any asset in return) at all costs; instead, he looks to extrapolate as much draft equity as possible in each expendable player. The ripple effect of the trade also allowed Oklahoma City to add equity in future drafts.

Now connecting this to the WNBA, it’s not uncommon for teams to release a first-rounder in training camp or within the first few seasons of their rookie scale contract. Even Minnesota did this recently with Rennia Davis, its No. 9 pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft.

Reeve plays chess, not checkers

In Feb. 2021, Minnesota was part of a blockbuster five-team trade that sent the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft to Dallas; Natasha Howard, Sami Whitcomb, and the No. 6 pick in the 2021 draft to New York, Katie Lou Samuelson, and Stephanie Talbot to Seattle.

Minnesota was the least involved team in this trade, but its impact in the long term is undeniable.

Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, a former first-round pick by Minnesota in 2020, was likely on the fringes of making the Lynx’s roster after a rough rookie season, in which she posted averages of 3.8 points and 2.3 rebounds on 36.6% shooting from the field in 11.1 minutes per game. Herbert Harrigan was subsequently sent to Seattle for a 2022 first-round pick (via Phoenix) in the five-team trade.

Fast forward a week before the 2022 WNBA Draft, the Lynx traded its No. 8 pick (via Phoenix) and No. 13 pick (via Indiana) for Las Vegas’ first-and second-round picks in the 2023 draft, as it would’ve been unable to roster two rookies due to salary cap implications.

Meanwhile, Mya Hollingshed and Khayla Pointer, the two players selected by Las Vegas with the acquired picks, didn’t make the 12-player roster out of training camp.

Minnesota used those two picks to select Hirsch, the No. 7 ranked prospect on The Next’s 2023 Draft Board, at No. 12 and Beal at No. 24 in this spring’s draft.

Herbert Harrigan would have been a dead asset if she wasn’t traded from Minnesota and otherwise cut in training camp. Instead, Reeve took a play out of Presti’s playbook, allowing it to leave with one of the most promising 2023 draft hauls.

So who is Maïa Hirsch? What makes her a unique prospect? And why is this late first-round pick such a significant piece for the Lynx’s future?

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Minnesota’s long-term upside play

Hirsch is in her first season with Villeneuve-d’Ascq, a top club in the first division in France. She has been a rare defender for her age, with the ability to provide value in various ball screen coverages: the 6’5 center can blitz, hedge and recover, defend at the level, drop, and ICE offensive players thanks to her low center of gravity and light feet. Off the ball, she covers a lot of ground on closeouts, and is very good tagging and trapping the box. Her ability to navigate space and positioning stands out, contributing to excellent shot-contesting. Though she can sometimes be a bit handsy on defense, that is expected for a post who’s both incredibly active and young. Another notable limitation is her tendency to face her assignment while chasing, which neuters her ability to provide help.

On offense, she’s a good team passer and has a fluid catch-and-shoot jumper, even if her footwork leaves something to be desired. Hirsch has incredible touch as a finisher on the short roll, although she’s been poor at drawing fouls. Her cutting instincts are quite good, as is her feel for off-ball movement, though she can be aimless on the backside at times. Whether she has a post game is unclear; Villeneuve basically never asked her to create offense.

Given the WNBA’s prioritization rules, if Hirsch was a domestic prospect, she is likely not on the board at No. 12.

For instance, only four French-born players suited up in the 2022 WNBA season, with the French League schedule running until late May.

On the other hand, there are real benefits to being a draft-and-stash prospect in the current WNBA climate. Unlike the NBA, the WNBA doesn’t have a firm development structure with G-League affiliates and two-way contracts that allow young players to come along slowly. In the WNBA, there are 144 roster spots; in most cases, it’s even less than that.

Hirsch’s club team will likely prioritize her long-term development more than a WNBA organization, where it’s easy for rookies to get lost in the shuffle due to the general need for short-term impact.

“We loved our interview with Maïa,” Reeves said. “A lot of things fell into place to move her from a place we were possibly considering with a second-round pick to the first-round based on continuing momentum… she’s just 19, she’s extremely passionate about playing in the WNBA, that energy was palpable.”

It’s unclear how long Hirsch will remain overseas, but there’s no doubt the Lynx will take it slowly and play the long game once again.

Written by Hunter Cruse

Hunter Cruse covers the Atlanta Dream and the WNBA Draft for The Next.


  1. Tim Daniels on April 23, 2023 at 7:14 pm

    Hi, Hunter. I thought it was a nice article that gave Reeve some deserved props for doing a pretty good job of managing team assets, while at the same time putting together largely veteran rosters to try to make a run at another championship while Sylvia Fowles, the last member of their “title” group, was still on the team. The team has now entered a new phase, and as a result of the work that Reeve has done over the years in basically rolling over draft picks, the team was able to have a pretty successful 2023 draft.

    The one concern that I have is that I am not at all sure how many draft picks can stick on the roster. I assume that Rachel Banham and Lindsay Allen both make the team. (They are the only players on the roster with any real experience running an offense, so that’s probably a good bet.) Tiffany Mitchell and McBride are both locks at the two spot, and I think that Powers, Bridget Carleton, and Diamond Miller can all be penciled in at the three. That’s seven spots that are pretty much guaranteed for before training camp begins. Add to those Napheesa Collier and Jess Shephard, and unless Dorka Juhasz has one heck of a camp and beats out either Dantas or Milic, I would be shocked if they don’t carry both Dantas and Milic as additional players capable of spending time in the post.

    Those eleven players totally eat up the team’s available cap room, so that they can at most carry one additional player on the roster and only for as long as Natalie Achonwa is out. (Fortunately, Natalie’s absence provides the team with the special “hardship” exception available to replace players on pregnancy leave. That means that the team can carry one of Juhasz, Beal or Soule, but only for as long as Achonwa’s out. They will have to create cap room to sign an additional rookie by cutting Banham, Allen, or possibly Dantas and then immediately re-signing the player who is cut using the special “hardship” exception.)

  2. Megan on April 24, 2023 at 1:11 am

    Tim. Yr comment seemed rather spot on with most things. If last season is any indication Banham, Milic and Allen will likely be switched in and out of the roster as needed to make space.
    I’m not a banham fan and don’t think her experience running offense is very worthy. She’s valuable to the lynx organization but not in the PG roll. I’d rather take the gamble on others but Reeve seems to like her… idk why.
    Idk with Dantas I see value with her but certainly don’t think her “spot” is secure and also depends on health (she hasn’t had the best few years).
    I hope Achonwa doesn’t come back, her lynx time has been disappointing at best & childbirth probably won’t help.
    We’re in serious rebuild mode and next year Powers, McBride and Achonwa will all be off contract… which should give us many options, basically we just have Phee? I hope and think Reeve can build a great team off our young players and those I see as “undervalued”. I wonder if Beal will make it…

    • Tim Daniels on April 24, 2023 at 12:53 pm

      Hi, Megan. I don’t think that Milic, unlike Banham and Allen, is someone who can be cut and re-signed to the roster using the special “hardship” exception to the cap for replacing players on pregnancy leave. The reason that I say this is because Nikolina signed during the free agency period for $90,000. If she were cut, then the most that she could be re-signed for using the special “hardship” exception is the veteran’s minimum for a player with two years or less of WNBA playing time, or $62,285. Basically, she’d have to agree to nearly a $30,000 reduction in salary, something which I can’t see her doing or the team asking her to do. Cutting and re-signing Banham or Allen doesn’t affect them financially, since they are currently signed for the veteran’s minimum for players with their years of WNBA experience and would be re-signed for the exact same amount using the pregnancy “hardship” exception to the cap.

      Maybe you’re right about Dantas’ spot not being secure, but Reeve is pretty loyal to her players (insofar as I can tell, they have made no attempt to trade Achonwa in order to create additional cap space), and personally, I think that the only way that Dorka replaces Damiris as a backup post is if she outplays her by a pretty wide margin in training camp. I don’t think that’s likely, but maybe she’ll surprise me.

      In any event, whatever happens with the post competition during camp, Dorka, Brea, and Taylor will all have a shot at the 12th roster spot that we have available for as long as Natalie is out via the special “hardship” exception. It should be a competitive training camp.

      • Tim Daniels on April 24, 2023 at 4:15 pm

        My last post may have been somewhat confusing, so let me try and clarify. Both the regular “hardship” exception to the salary cap and the special pregnancy “hardship” excerption allow teams to go over the salary cap in order to replace players who are unable to take the court, in the case of the regular “hardship” exception, due to injury, or in the case of the special exception, due to being absent on pregnancy leave.

        The regular exception becomes available only when injuries have reduced the active players on the roster to a number less than 10. In other words, if a team, started with 11 active players on its roster, two players would have to be injured before the team could use the exception to go over the cap and to sign a replacement player. The special pregnancy exception is a little more team friendly in that it doesn’t matter how many active players a team has on its roster. If a player is unable to play because she is on pregnancy leave, the team can use the special exception to sign a replacement even if there are 11 other active players on the roster. However, both the regular “hardship” exception and the special p[regnancy exception are limited exceptions to the cap that do not allow a team to sign a replacement player to any salary that the two sides can negotiate. While the team can go over the cap to sign a replacement, the replacement cannot be signed for more than the applicable veteran’s minimum based on the replacement’s years of service in the league.

        That means that this cutting and re-signing strategy, which is designed to create cap space to allow a team to sign an additional rookie, is dollar-neutral only as to players who are currently signed for the veteran’s minimum. For the Lynx, those players are Rachel Banham, Lindsay Allen, and Damiris Dantas, all of whom have signed contracts for the applicable veteran’s minimum, based on their years of service, of $74,305. If the team wants to sign another rookie other than Diamond Miller, then it can do so, despite being up against the cap, by cutting one of these players in order to create the necessary cap space and then re-signing whoever was using the special pregnancy exception to the cap. None of these players would be affected financially by participating in such a strategy with the team–they would be paid the same salary after re-signing as they were earning beforehand. However, that’s not the case for Nikolina Milic or anyone else other that Banham, Allen, and Dantas.

  3. Stumble guys on April 24, 2023 at 2:36 am

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