June 19, 2020
Inside the Minnesota Lynx’s offseason
Cheryl Reeve spoke to The Next about her team's offseason and her roster-building philosophy
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Cheryl Reeve. (Photo Credit: Chris Poss)
This past WNBA offseason was among the most notable in league history. Big names like Skylar Diggins-Smith, Angel McCoughtry, DeWanna Bonner, and more all changed teams. It’s possible this player movement could shift the balance of power for the coming season and beyond.
Then there’s the Lynx, who didn’t land any of the aforementioned players or the likes of a Tina Charles or Kristi Toliver. However, if you ask Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve if she would take the over/under of 11 wins for her team this season, she would bet heavily on the over.
And why not? Despite key losses like Danielle Robinson and Seimone Augustus, in addition to another year of Maya Moore’s absence, this is still a good core. Sylvia Fowles is still here along with reigning Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier. Around them are good supporting pieces like Lexie Brown, Rachel Banham, Kiki Herbert Harrigan, and more.
It’s important to remember that this team will return most or all of Moore, Cecilia Zandalasini, and Odyssey Sims next season. The Lynx are aware of this and affords them more patience than someone may expect.
This is a roster better suited for the WNBA in 2020. Reeve likes the direction her team has taken this offseason.
“We look different. We felt like we looked different last year. I don’t think different is bad. I think it’s being agile and nimble to morph into the best team you can become with what you have,” Reeve told The Next. “Getting Lexie Brown on the floor more. I don’t know yet what the challenges are.
Getting Rachel Banham more opportunities. Someone wrote getting a second-round pick for Rachel was this major coup Connecticut pulled off. I think Rachel Banham is a pretty good player, [but] we’re going to find out…I’m excited about Shenise Johnson.
“I think we have an interesting perimeter group. It is different; there are new names and new faces. But I’m excited to build out our offensive and defensive schemes. Napheesa Collier’s evolution is going to be very important for us.”
The seeds for this new-look roster were sown in 2018 as the Lynx attempted to mount another title defense. Fowles was also coming off her MVP season and drawing significant attention from opposing defenses.
Reeve realized they needed to do more to make teams pay for doubling Fowles. With Fowles in mind, the team began reorienting its offense around the perimeter to prevent defenses from packing the paint.
“If you read what some people wrote you would think we had the worst offseason in the history of offseasons. I would say that some of our goals, and if you have been on the inside since 2018, after Sylvia Fowles’ MVP season,” said Reeve. “In 2018 we began realizing, even with Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore, what life was like in a crowded paint and how more and more difficult things had gotten for Sylvia Fowles.”
“That’s not to say we’re suddenly going to become a team of ‘analytics’ and the 3-ball; it’s not that at all. It’s just that we can hopefully put teams in more difficult positions to make choices. The entire offseason was about how we can make Sylvia Fowles’ life easier and we think we’ve been able to do that. Obviously time will tell.”
Unlike traditional basketball thinking, the Lynx are poised to have shooting throughout the roster, not just the backcourt. Herbert Harrigan, Collier, Zandalasini, and Huff are all forwards capable of regularly making 3-pointers.
Another emphasis for the Lynx will be on rebounding. Just because the Lynx have improved their perimeter shooting doesn’t mean they’re only worried about Fowles inside. Reeve spoke a lot about rebounding on draft night and it seems that will be another point of emphasis.
The curious case of Stephanie Talbot
One player that seemed to fit this vision of a floor spacer was guard/forward Stephanie Talbot. Talbot was acquired from Phoenix early last season for a 2020 second-round pick. At 6’2 and a dangerous 3-point shot, Talbot seemed like a natural fit.
However, that wasn’t the case. Talbot played 17 minutes per game over 33 games and even started 10 games. Talbot attempted three or fewer shots in a game 14 times and didn’t make a field goal in eight games.
Yet, Talbot still attempted career-highs in field goals and 3-pointers. This is a lot of inconsistency for a player who received so much opportunity. Over the final three games of the season, Talbot logged just under 10 minutes total.
On draft night, the Lynx traded Talbot to New York for the rights to Erica Ogwumike. Ogwumike was later waived by the Lynx on May 26. Suddenly, the Lynx received nothing in return for Talbot. What happened?
“We thought we had an opportunity there,” Reeve said. “I would just say that when you go through a season and you put the whole thing together, being in the trenches, we felt there were different opportunities for us that, for lack of a better word, we preferred.”
“As I told Steph, she helped buoy us when we were down to seven players. Damiris [Dantas] had reinjured her calf and I believe, at that point, we won four-straight with seven players and Stephanie Talbot’s play was crucial to our ability to get through that. So, Stephanie certainly has some great qualities.”
“At the end of the day, you can’t know all the information. There are reasons things work versus other things not working. We just made the best decision on what we felt like in terms of the big picture for Stephanie and for us,” explained Reeve. “And, I will say this: we like Erica Ogwumike a lot. We just thought there was a really good opportunity for her to be a fit. If there was a player affected by this decision to cut down, Erica was one of them because I thought she was going to put herself in a position to make the final roster.
“Hopefully, we’ll find out in the future and if we rewind back to prior to all of this, we ran into an Olympic season. We weren’t sure if Steph was going to be a part of it. With all the information we had, we ultimately got to this place where we felt like this was the best move for us at that time.”
A source familiar with the situation told The Next that between in-season observations and Talbot’s exit interview at the end of the season, it had become apparent that it would be best for both sides to find her a new opportunity if possible. Between these factors and potentially conflicting Australian National Team commitments, the Lynx decided to make the draft-night deal with the Liberty.
Reeve also spoke highly of Ogwumike on draft night, especially her rebounding and coming from a basketball family, so it’s not as if she was a throw-in in the trade.
Evaluating the 2020 Lynx
While the Lynx may not be an apparent title contender, it’s reasonable to expect a competitive team every night. Between Collier and Fowles, and the additional young players with something to prove, a .500 season is within reach. The team has already finished 18-16 in each of the last two seasons and matching or bettering this performance is a possibility.
Reeve’s input gives us a way to evaluate the success of this year’s Lynx. Fowles may still see double teams, but the team’s ability to create open looks out of that pressure will be important. If successful, the Lynx may get more favorable 1-on-1 matchups for Fowles.
Assuming Fowles remains healthy or doesn’t lose a step, both scenarios are possible. What the Lynx don’t want are teams continuing to harass Fowles inside and remain unable to punish defenses from outside.
The league has changed significantly since the Lynx’s last title in 2017, but the team is doing what they can to keep pace with its evolution and build towards contender status again. Reeve may not have landed one of the top free agents or trade targets this winter, but the Lynx feel good about the direction of the roster.