July 28, 2020 

Overreacting and making sense of the Lynx’s season-opener

Before you overreact to the Lynx's win over the Connecticut Sun, let's identify what reactions require a larger sample size.

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Lynx center Sylvia Fowles recorded 17 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks in Minnesota’s 77-69 win over the Connecticut Sun on Sunday. Photo credit: NBA Content Network

We waited 319 days to watch another Lynx game after Minnesota’s 2019 first-round playoff loss to the Seattle Storm.

319 days.

And toward the end of that extended waiting period, as the coronavirus and racial injustice continued to take American lives, a year without WNBA basketball wasn’t out of the question.

So when our basketball deprivation ceased and we finally had actual, brand-new games to analyze, overreacting to every missed shot, sloppy turnover, botched defensive rotation, DNP, and a late comeback was as natural as Cheryl Reeve and Curt Miller interrupting broadcasters while mic’d up.

Despite the first-game chaos that comes even when the Lynx are kicking off a season outside of the Bradenton wubble, the Lynx managed a 77-69 Game 1 win over the Connecticut Sun.

The rollercoaster of a game that presented four lead changes, three ties and an 11-point deficit in favor of the Sun ignited fiery, in-game Tweets, slack messages and text messages that were left on read as we attempted to make sense of the first game of the season through a lagging ESPN cast.

Now that we’ve had some time to gather our thoughts and finish our iced coffees that turned to watered-down coffee while we flipped through 28 Google Chrome tabs during the game, let’s attempt to address our first-game-of-the-season overreactions.

Overreaction: “The Lynx’s outside shooing woes won’t be solved this season.”

Before the start of the season, the Lynx touted a revamped roster with capable outside shooters who’d provide Sylvia Fowles with a plethora of room in the paint to dominate. We were told returners Damiris Dantas, Napheesa Collier, and Lexie Brown would all continue to space the floor with their outside shooting while new signees Rachel Banham and Shenise Johnson would present more of a perimeter threat than last season’s Lynx guards could.

But during Game 1 of the season, the Lynx’s outside shooting was a bit more blemished than the team’s social media crew’s video editing led us to believe during training camp.

The Lynx shot 4-for-17 from 3-point range in their season debut and were just 1-for-12 from deep through the first three-quarters of their Sunday win. Seven Lynx players attempted threes but only four players were able to connect.

A silver lining is that the Lynx weren’t too off-target on those misses. Most of their missed outside shots were a product of tired legs or a haphazard offense that resulted in throwing up an outside shot to avoid an expiring shot clock (we’ll come back to the offense).

Yet, if you’re interested in looking at another overreaction to rationalize the original overreaction, take a look at how the rest of the league shot from deep during the league’s opening weekend.

Screenshot from WNBA.com

Eight teams shot above 30% from 3-point range after attempting 17 or more outside shots, four teams shot above 40% and five teams attempted 23 or more long balls.

The Lynx wouldn’t be considered one of the league’s elite outside shooting teams if we were basing the season off of the first weekend, but lucky for them, one, we aren’t, and two, neither would Connecticut.

The Sun were 2-for-19 from deep and failed to hit an outside shot in the second half of their Sunday loss. Their 10.5% accuracy only topped that of the Las Vegas Aces who ignored the arc in their 0-for-5 opening weekend performance.

Rational thinking: Curt Miller’s 2019 Sun team held opponents to a league-low 30.5% shooting on above-the-break threes. Plus, first-game jitters were probably a factor.

Overreaction: “The Lynx will once again lead the league in turnovers.”

I saw many complaints about the Lynx turnovers and was critical of them myself during Game 1. But the disorder wasn’t all that bad in retrospect.

The Lynx committed 10 turnovers in the first half — five in each of the first two quarters — and it wasn’t pretty at times, which was to be expected.

Yet, they cleaned things up in the second half and their 14 total turnovers came in under their 2019 average of 16.2 turnovers per game. Not to mention, seven of the league’s teams committed more turnovers than the Lynx in their season debuts (hey, Phoenix).

Offensive chaos ensued when the Lynx were passive at the top of the key and allowed the Sun defense to find its footing. The guards failed to provide much direction in pick-and-roll action early on, which led to impatience and rushed isolation attempts.

Shenise Johnson took initiative and provided some guidance during her nine-point first half, but the offense began to shape up when rookie Crystal Dangerfield took over in the fourth quarter.

“Connecticut was just really dictating the pace of the game, how aggressive they were, and we weren’t matching that intensity early on,” Dangerfield said. “In the second half, we wanted to turn the table and do that ourselves.”

The rookie identified the Lynx’s first-half deficiencies then played a large part in correcting them.

Dangerfield only got four minutes of playing time in the first half and failed to get on the board in her first WNBA stint. But her 10-point poised second half was just what the Lynx needed.

“We were just looking for something different at the guard spot,” Reeve said. “(Dangerfield) made the most of it. That’s what UConn players do; she’s ready. She’s confident.

“We probably don’t win without Crystal’s minutes today.”

If you read any Lynx season previews, you’re well-aware that Dangerfield is the only true point guard on the roster. Brown and Johnson will get a fair shot at holding their starting backcourt roles. However, I’m not ready to say it’s an overreaction to predict Dangerfield will be the Lynx’s starting point guard earlier than we anticipated.

Rational thinking: There weren’t that many turnovers for Game 1, and things turned around for the Lynx offense once Dangerfield received more playing time. We need a larger sample size to gauge the correlation.

Overreaction: “The Lynx should not have drafted Kiki Herbert Harrigan with the sixth overall pick in the 2020 draft.”

Fans expected to see rookie Kiki Herbert Harrigan record her first WNBA minutes, points, and maybe even block on Sunday. Instead, the only “first” the former South Carolina Gamecock recorded was a WNBA “DNP.”

After the game, Reeve told The Next she didn’t believe Herbert Harrigan was ready for WNBA minutes based on what she had seen from the rookie during practice.

“I just don’t think Kiki was ready — from what we saw in practice — to play in this game today,” Reeve said. “We’re just not there yet.”

But writing off Herbert Harrigan after one game is the most damaging overreaction of them all.

Since draft night, Reeve has made it clear that it will take Herbert Harrigan some time to adjust to the pros. And since draft night, Reeve has made it clear the Lynx are willing to put up with a lengthened adjustment period if it means eventually cashing in on Herbert Harrigan’s high ceiling.

I also saw people overreacting that Reeve should have thrown Herbert Harrigan into the frontcourt mix when Collier and Dantas got off to terribly slow starts. That’s also an overreaction.

Why would giving playing time to a rookie, who is seemingly struggling to learn her team’s playbook, be the best solution for her team or the rookie herself when disarray is amounting? That sounds like a recipe for failure for both parties.

Rational thinking: This year’s No. 6 pick is not going to have the season last year’s Lynx’s sixth pick had. The sooner the comparisons — from fans and reporters alike — die down, the sooner success will come Herbert Harrigan’s way.

“I would just tell (Herbert Harrigan) to keep her head up,” Collier said. “It’s not like there’s pressure. You have to go out and do what you can do as a basketball player. No one is telling her that she needs to be Rookie of the Year, we just need her to do what she needs to do at her position, and she’ll get there. It’s really hard coming into a new team — especially in this shortened, two-week training camp — and learning all the plays and our defense.

“She’s going to get there, so I’ll keep telling her to keep her head up. It’ll come.”

Overreaction: “The Lynx’s transition defense needs a lot of work.”

Wait, this isn’t an overreaction.

Overreaction: “The Lynx can overcome any deficit if they just don’t give up in games this season.”

Save the perseverance narratives for a best-of-five Finals series.

Yes, scoring 49 points in the second half and starting the fourth quarter on a 20-8 run was impressive, and I’m not totally sure last year’s Lynx squad could have pulled off the same type of comeback on opening day.

But Connecticut’s limited roster has to factor in a little bit.

“Depth is such a big concern and issue … We only have 10 people in the bubble. Natisha (Hiedeman) is a little bit gassed. Today you could tell for the first time that you know her COVID positive process does not have her game legs ready,” Miller said.

Hiedeman joined the Sun in the bubble just last week after recovering from a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. The third-year player was held to five points and two rebounds in just under 12 minutes of playing time. Not to take away from the Lynx guards who contained Hiedeman, but her recent recovery shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Lynx were one of the very few teams that had a healthy, 12-player roster during their entire training camp. Plus, their three more-than-capable assistant coaches ensured they’d always be able to rummage up a 5-on-5, inner-squad scrimmage. Most teams didn’t have that assurance during training camp and will be playing catch up as they attempt to restore their rosters in the first few weeks of the season. This reality could make the Lynx a strong second-half team for the time being.

Rational thinking: Slow your roll before getting too stoked about the Lynx overcoming an 11-point deficit. Reeve said the only thing she felt good about was that her team pulled off the win. There’s still plenty of work to do.

We are bound to overreact in a 22-game season. To some extent, we should. A couple of wins could make a team’s season, and a given-up 11-point lead could come back to haunt a team come September.

But there is no way to overreact to Fowles’ continued dominance.

When chaos ensued on Sunday, Fowles kept the Lynx in the game in the quiet, brilliant way only Fowles can manage.

The 13-year veteran racked up 17 points, 18 rebounds, four blocks, and provided impeccable rim protection against the Sun. She passed Rebekkah Brunson to become the Lynx’s fifth all-time leading scorer and is just seven rebounds shy of passing Brunson to become the league’s all-time leading rebounder.

But what she’s done behind the scenes this season has made a similar impact on her team’s success.

“Syl has been an exceptional leader, and I’ll be saying this a lot. I think she learned so much about leadership last year that we’re benefitting from this year,” Reeve said.

Fowles hesitated to become the vocal leader the Lynx needed at the start of the 2019 season but has since learned to unleash a nurturing Mama Syl or an encouraging Mad Syl when needed.

“Certainly there is frustration when you’re getting beat and you’re getting scored easily on for the first time you’re on national TV,” Reeve said. “It sure would have been easy to fold the tent and not feel very good. Syl just didn’t let us do that.”

According to Fowles, Reeve told her star center she wasn’t doing enough at halftime.

“I kind of had to step outside of myself and just do Syl-like things,” Fowles said. “From that point on, I just tried to go forward.”

And she brought her team along with her.

“That’s the beauty of what we have: we trust each other, and we understand things are going to get hard — especially against a team like Connecticut that makes you play fast,” Fowles said. “I think we all made it clear we were going to stick together, no matter what, and we were going to treat each other well. Eventually, it played in our favor.”

As the overreactions amount, one thing is certain: Sylvia Fowles’ value to this developing Lynx team cannot be overstated.

Written by Katie Davidson

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