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.
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.
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.