February 4, 2021 

‘We want to win this year’: How Natalie Achonwa will help lead Minnesota to the playoffs

Newest Lynx forward is ready to skip the rebuild and go straight to the championship

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Indiana Fever forward Natalie Achonwa (11) shoots during the WNBA game between the Indiana Fever and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on May 28, 2019. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Upon signing with the Minnesota Lynx, forward Natalie Achonwa expressed a similar simple goal to Kayla McBride’s yesterday: winning. A resounding message this week from Achonwa, McBride, and Coach Reeve has been that of wasting no time in bringing home another trophy.

And Achonwa is going to play an essential role in making that happen.

The forward was selected by the Indiana Fever in the first round (ninth overall) of the 2014 WNBA Draft and has established herself as one of the toughest players and best leaders in the league. She was honored with the 2020 Dawn Staley Community Leadership Award and was named the 2019 WNBA Community Assist winner.

She’s played in 168 regular-season games throughout her career and has averaged 7.7 points per game (on 52.6 percent shooting) and 4.5 rebounds per game in her first six years. In 2018, she started all 34 games for the Fever and registered career-highs of 10.3 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game (12th in the WNBA).

Achonwa is also no stranger to the playoff stage, appearing in seven career playoff games including a trip to the 2015 WNBA Finals against, well, Minnesota. She intends to waste no time in helping her new team get to the postseason this year.

Lynx have no time for rebuilds

Achonwa put it best Wednesday when she said, “There is no such thing as a rebuild in Minnesota.” There’s this narrative around the Lynx that tends to reminisce on their glory days and all the success they’ve had in the past – are they still contenders or are they in a rebuilding phase?

But Achonwa and Reeve have no interest in a rebuilding phase. They (and McBride) have their eyes set on a 2021 championship.

“I’m ecstatic to join the Minnesota Lynx, a franchise that has proven it knows what it takes to win. From my role in Coach Reeve’s system, to the commitment and the impact the Lynx have in the community, it’s a great fit. I can’t wait to carry on and contribute to the leadership and tradition of success of the Lynx.”

One of the major strengths the Lynx have to help this goal come to fruition is their cohesiveness. The team is close-knit and both Achonwa and McBride have expressed how important it’s going to be for them to settle in and absorb all the knowledge they can from their new teammates.

Achonwa recalled a story from the bubble that demonstrated Coach Reeve’s drive to win perfectly. The forward was sitting in the locker room, which was really comprised of very thin walls, and overheard Reeve chewing out her team for losing to the Washington Mystics at the half. Achonwa admired that Reeve was trying to light a fire under them to get them to play better.

“That’ll be your job now, I don’t have to do it anymore,” Reeve joked with Achonwa.

Achonwa to focus on winning possessions

Achonwa highlighted the correlation between winning possessions and winning games. This piggybacks off Reeve’s philosophy that the best team is the most efficient team – not the fastest or the strongest. An all-around efficient team with a dynamic offense and resilient defense is going to take you to the playoffs.

It’s going to be crucial for Achonwa to do whatever it takes to create opportunities on the court for her team to score. Fortunately, she has an unselfish mindset when it comes to making plays, even admitting she “loves screen assists.”

Luckily for Reeve, Achonwa’s play style and on-court mindset is going to blend perfectly with the type of versatile offense she wants to coach this season.

“A great screen leads to a great possession, and it’s a lost art,” Reeve said.

Social justice played a role in Achonwa’s decision

Last summer, Minneapolis became the epicenter of a nation-wide social justice movement following the killing of George Floyd. WNBA players have long been advocates for social justice and tend to be heavily involved in their communities, and last year’s bubble season was no different.

In fact, Achonwa says social justice and community played a big part in her decision-making process and ultimately pushed her to Minnesota.

“It was a big piece of the decision for me – committing to a team that is about more than putting a ball in a hoop,” Achonwa said. “I can’t wait to embed myself in Minnesota and see how I can get involved with the community.”

She also hopes to use her platform as a Black female professional athlete to continue passing power on to the next generation.

Achonwa will strive to make her presence felt both on and off the court. With the Lynx also signing guard Kayla McBride, there’s no doubt they are looking to be a strong contender for the trophy this season.

Written by Sydney Olmstead

Pac-12 and Las Vegas Aces reporter.

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