July 12, 2020
Odyssey Sims weighing options for 2020 season
With the birth of her son, Odyssey Sims must now consider what's best for her family when weighing her options for the 2020 season.
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Odyssey Sims’ approval of her first season in Minnesota was evident at the conclusion of the Lynx’s 2019 season.
Despite being only five days removed from her team’s first-round, 84-74 playoff loss to the Seattle Storm in which she was held scoreless, Sims greeted media members with a familiar smile at her end-of-season press conference on Sept. 16, 2019.
“It was fun for me,” said Sims when asked about her first season playing for the Lynx. “This is somewhere I see myself being. I had a lot of fun; I really enjoyed my teammates. You guys seen I was smiling all year through our ups and downs.”
Sims’ recurring smile was warranted.
Sims wasted little time eliminating the doubts of skeptics who were unsure whether a former Sparks player could thrive with the Lynx crew after Minnesota traded Alexis Jones to Los Angeles for Sims’ rights in April of 2019.
The guard averaged a team-high 14.5 points and a career-high 5.4 assists per game and earned her first All-Star and All-WNBA honors in 2019, limiting the uncertainty regarding the Lynx’s backcourt in the post-Lindsay-Whalen era.
Sims concluded her final 2019 press conference sharing she would not be playing overseas in the following winter, which, at the time, was the most surprising news about her offseason.
Then 2020 came a-knocking.
Winsidr’s Rachel Galligan reported Sims would likely miss the 2020 WNBA season on Jan. 28.
WomensBasketball247 added to Galligan’s news 13 days later by reporting that Sims was pregnant and would miss at least part of the 2020 season.
Questions regarding the Lynx’s guard depth surfaced. How would the team that led the league in turnovers per game (16.2) in 2019 assemble a capable backcourt?
But 2020’s knocking turned into a forceful banging in the following months, making roster uncertainty the new normal across the league.
The 2020 WNBA season was originally scheduled to begin on May 25, less than two months after Sims gave birth to a baby boy. But the league’s decision to postpone the 2020 season until late July due to the continued spread of COVID-19, which has now killed nearly 130,000 Americans, has provided Sims time to heal from labor and weigh her options on playing in the upcoming season.
The Star Tribune’s Kent Youngblood reported on Sims’ pregnancy on May 16, but Sims remained tight-lipped on her 2020 status.
“We’ll see,” Sims said. “I’m not going to say I’m not playing, or that I am playing. I’m giving my body time to heal, spend more time with (her son), watch him grow every day. Literally, every day. That’s the best part.”
Youngblood’s recent Q&A with Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve confirmed Sims would not be traveling with the team to Bradenton on Monday, July 6, but that she planned to join the Lynx at some point.
Now, Sims must decide whether the benefits of joining her team outweigh the risks 2020 continues to present.
Added familiarity in a season of uncertainty
Reeve and her staff have been preparing for the possibility of Sims not playing in 2020 for a while now.
The Lynx signed former Sun guard Rachel Banham on Feb. 26 and added veteran Shenise Johnson into the mix on March 6. Reeve added more backcourt depth by selecting former UConn point guard Crystal Dangerfield with the 16th overall pick in the 2020 WNBA draft.
Sims will have to serve a two-game suspension for a 2019 drunken driving arrest when she does return to play. However, it’s no question Sims’ familiarity with the Lynx’s system would be extremely valuable in 2020, regardless of when she can play.
The 12 players on the Lynx’s current roster hold an average age of 26 years old. The four guards listed have an average age of 25.5 years old and have a combined 13 years of experience playing in the league, and Lexie Brown is the only Lynx returner.
Sims, 27, with six years in the league, would surely add a veteran presence to the team that carries five players under the age of 25 and six who have yet to play a game for the Lynx.
Banham and Brown are expected to make up the Lynx’s starting backcourt once the season begins, but both players have primarily served as shooting guards rather than main ball handlers this far into their careers.
Sims split point guard duties with former Lynx guard Danielle Robinson — who has since signed with the Las Vegas Aces in free agency — in 2019 but quickly became her team’s go-to ball handler after showcasing her passing and pick-and-roll expertise.
Sims’ 5.4 assists per game were muddied by her career-high 3.3 turnovers per game, but she recorded the Lynx’s best assist percentage of players who played more than six games and tallied a team-high 185 total assists, 60 more than Robinson’s second-most.
Minnesota’s 2020 roster additions of Rachel Banham and rookies Mikiah “KiKi” Herbert Harrigan and Crystal Dangerfield should increase the Lynx’s 3-point shooting depth. The return of Lexie Brown, Napheesa Collier and Damiris Dantas won’t hurt matters, either.
In theory, added shooters should open up the paint for Sylvia Fowles, one of the most efficient scorers in the league. But how will the Lynx overcome their 2019 struggle of getting the ball to Fowles while they’re without last season’s leading distributor?
Fowles averaged 13.6 points and shot 58.8% from the field, the second-best shooting percentage among all centers (only after current teammate Kayla Alexander who appeared in three games). Yet, Fowles only attempted 9.9 field goals per game (fifth among centers) and just 1.9 attempts in the fourth quarter (12th).
Without Sims in the equation, Dantas holds the best 2019 assists-per-game average (3.2) among Lynx returners, and no player has registered meaningful point guard minutes alongside Fowles.
Hurdles will be unavoidable for the Lynx’s 2020 season, but having Sims around may mitigate the impending backcourt obstacles.
Playing in her prime
The Lynx provided Sims with an abundance of opportunity in 2019, and Sims made the most of it.
The Phoenix Mercury’s Leilani Mitchell was named the 2019 Most Improved Player of the Year after receiving 27 of the 43 votes cast by the national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters. Sims came in second place after receiving five votes.
Sims’ usage rate went from 19.5% in 2018 to 25.5% in 2019, and she improved in almost every major statistical category.
2018 stats: 25.5 mpg, 8.2 ppg, 2.8 apg, 2.5 rpg, 0.6 spg, 38.8 FG%
2019 stats: 31.9 mpg, 14.5 ppg, 5.4 apg, 3.4 rpg, 1.4 spg, 41.5 FG%
Of course, continued progression isn’t guaranteed — especially given what Sims’ body has been through this offseason. But considering how quickly she meshed with the Lynx in 2019, it seemed Sims was poised to enter the prime of her career as she continued to familiarize herself with the Lynx’s system.
We don’t know what a year off from competitive basketball would do to Sims’ career, but we do know Sims now has much more to consider than awards and assist-to-turnover ratios.
Motherhood in a pandemic
Sims is currently getting into basketball shape after recovering from giving birth, which is, of course, a difficult process on its own.
Now try adding the complications of a dangerous pandemic into the mix.
Not only will Sims have to decide if and when she’ll be physically ready to play in the 2020 WNBA season, but she’ll also have to decide whether she’s willing to uproot her family to Florida.
ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel shared that players’ children will be able to join them in the IMG Academy clean site along with a caretaker. If Sims decides to join the Lynx in Florida later in the season, her delayed arrival will give her a better idea of what living conditions are like for players and their children in the clean site.
On Saturday, Reeve gave a glimpse of her prior conversations with Sims in which she helped her weigh her decisions.
“Those are obviously all very individual decisions,” Reeve said. “We talk about motherhood, for sure. And she talked about what she thinks at that point in time.”
Reeve shared Sims reached out to the team again on Friday, Day 1 of training camp.
“She reached out actually yesterday, and we’re going to hopefully connect here soon,” Reeve said. “We had a couple long days, so we’re going to reach out to her and see what she’s thinking about.
“It’s going to be something that we’re really cautious about. This is not a decision that would be an easy one by any stretch.”
This year has presented an onslaught of challenges, all of which WNBA players aren’t exempt from. Sims has the opportunity to return to play in Florida where basketball and social justice initiatives await.
But her career decisions are no longer centered around best team fits and player development. She now has a family to consider.