May 16, 2023 

2023 WNBA season preview: Minnesota Lynx

A new era finally tips off in the North Star State

For the last several months, and perhaps for even longer than that, the three words “a new era” have constantly been mentioned in conversations on and in coverage of Minnesota Lynx basketball. The theme was present during last season’s disappointing finish and the emotional retirement of team leader and former league MVP Sylvia Fowles. It loomed over the official retirement of the legendary Maya Moore in January, and it exacerbated rapid reactions to the team’s free agency swings and misses in February. 

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Now it’s officially spring (even in Minnesota) and as the calendar has finally turned to May, attention can finally turn to the Lynx’s new era taking place on the floor. 

Cheryl Reeve’s youngest outfit of players now have most of preseason — including a sold-out game in Toronto — under their belts before the games start counting for real Friday night at home against Chicago. It’s an expedited timeline for a team trying to overhaul its offensive identity, reclaim its defensive prowess, and seamlessly transition into the leadership tenure of lone team captain Napheesa Collier, the first time the team has had a single captain under Reeve.

“I get excited for every training camp, but this one had a little extra kind of energy to it,” Reeve said to the media after the first day of camp. “The newness, the excitement, the uncertainty, the expectations I put on myself, to get this group to do things that people don’t think that they can do. And that’s pretty exciting for me.”

As far as to-do lists go, the one currently facing the Lynx at Mayo Clinic Square in downtown Minneapolis is a particularly long and daunting one. Though, one of the first items on that list: to have an ultra competitive training camp, was an item this group of Lynx players emphatically crossed off the list on the first day of camp. 

Immediately following the 2023 WNBA Draft, Reeve harped on the importance of making sure the first camp of this new era would be as competitive as possible. April’s draft decisions were influenced by that goal and so far the results in May have pleased the future Hall of Fame coach. 

The Minnesota Lynx introduce their 2023 WNBA Draft Class at Target Center in Minneapolis on Thursday, April 13 (Photo Credit: John McClellean)

“I think we nailed that one. I think we nailed that with the type of people (we brought in),” Reeve said. “You can be competitive, spirited, want to win. I think we’ve got across the board a pretty good camp with that.”

The return of Captain Phee

While a healthy amount of uncertainty can make things exciting, there is zero uncertainty when it comes to the team’s leadership on the floor. This is Napheesa Collier’s team. The only captain of a team playing a hundred some feet beneath the four championship banners and three (soon to be four when the organization retires Sylvia Fowles’s number on June 11) retired numbers of last decade’s dynasty. The 2023 Lynx will go as far as Collier’s able to take them and visible reminders of the greatness of previous Lynx teams literally hang over every game. 

Another certainty for this team: there’s no shortage of pressure on the young captain’s shoulders. 

“It does put pressure, but I feel like it’s good pressure,” Collier said after day one of training camp. “It’s like an honor. This is a dynasty organization. To have that be on my shoulders now, I take it really seriously. I definitely want to appreciate the people that came before me and make sure that I’m leading the team in the right direction.”

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Recognition as the single captain on any team is a prestigious distinction, but it’s not a surprising one to anyone who has been in the Lynx facilities since the team selected the UConn star with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft. 

“There was space for her in other years to kind of begin (this) process,” Reeve said. “Phee, in her rookie season—we always talk about this as a coaching staff—we were on a road trip and we were in a locker room where somebody was maybe behaviorally outside of what we’d hoped for. And it was the rookie, not the veterans, it was the rookie Napheesa Collier, who expressed that that was disappointing and that probably wasn’t going to be the path for us. And so we need that all the time.” 

The story of Collier as a captain will continue to unfold in the games and seasons to come. But for now, in a training camp that is not at all short on rookies, it makes a lot of sense for Reeve and company to lean on their leader who showed a captain’s qualities as a rookie. So far, the message of what’s expected of being a Minnesota Lynx seems to be received loud and clear by Collier’s younger teammates. 

“I can’t wait to learn from (Collier) even more,” No. 2 overall draft pick Diamond Miler said after day one of training camp. “I got to know her for just this week and she’s so nice. I can ask as many questions as she wants and she doesn’t get tired of me, which is amazing. Because I have a lot of questions to ask and I’m just gonna be a sponge. Just to see her reps, everything is hard.” 

“I think it’s a lot more of a teaching role,” Collier said. “I have to be a lot more vocal. I have to, if I see something that someone’s doing, tell them my opinion or tell them how to fix it. (I have to) just kind of take on that leadership role being more vocal and knowing that I’m one of the vets on the team now, so really kind of being a mature energy out there.”

One can’t draw too many conclusions from a preseason game, but the Lynx being one of a few teams who got to host a game in the opening weekend of the preseason provided their fanbase a couple of comforts. One of those of course was seeing Collier on the Target Center floor for the most amount of minutes in a single game (23:40 total) since the 2021 season, the other; an energy fueled fourth quarter comeback charged by Minnesota’s young pieces learning by example.  

“She’s been everything we need her to be so far. She’s eager and she’s open to feedback,” Reeve said of her captain. “She wants to make sure she’s doing everything possible. She knows she’s young at it. Right now it’s pretty easy, as it’s the first few days, you know there’s 12 cities right now where the players are excited about being there. This is the easy part. The hard part comes when you have challenges through the course of a season and you have your ups and downs. You experience more. You have wins, you have losses.

“You have to be outside of yourself, which Phee does very naturally. You have to understand what’s happening, when to step in, how to step in, to be there for her teammates in whatever way possible. All those things, the first few days, have come naturally for her. In terms of people seeing her in that role I think that’s been good for everybody.”

New styles of offense, defense, special teams, all the things!

From an on-court perspective, just about everything will be different for the Lynx. The retirement of Fowles opens fairly big holes on both ends of the floor, but when holes open so do possibilities. 

Collier is back on the floor after four truncated appearances due to pregnancy in 2022 to provide high octane attack as well as length and tenacity on defense in addition to the aforementioned leadership. 

The biggest change will likely be most evident on the offensive end, where the Lynx will shift to a ‘Five Out’ scheme. 

“It’s a fun way to play. We’ll find out how successful we can be in it,” Reeve said. “But it’s a fun way to play. We’re not going to depart completely from play calling and really targeting certain players and some things but the Five Out nature is not so much even inverted where you just have one player it’s all five players outside the three point line. 

“It’s predicated on being able to finish. If you don’t have what we have in Tiffany Mitchell and Diamond Miller, you’re gonna have a hard time generating the offense. Through day one, I thought more possessions were good than the ones that weren’t good. Shot selection, we have some newcomers that’ll have to learn how strongly we feel about shot selection.”

When it’s humming, the Lynx offense will be fast and free, looking to create lanes for finishers like Mitchell and Miller to attack the basket, and to get shooters like Rachel Banham and Kayla McBride looks in open space. Like in all 12 camps across the league, the Lynx attack is a work in progress, but the earliest reviews of the team’s new style paint a picture of an offense that will be fun to watch as well as play in. 

“I like to just play ball,” Lynx veteran guard Rachel Banham said. “I’m not very good when I’m thinking too much. And in this offense, you kind of just play. You don’t have to overthink the motions. You’re just playing basketball, so I think it’s pretty good for me. I think it’s good for a lot of us.”

Written by Terry Horstman

Terry Horstman is a Minneapolis-based writer and covers the Minnesota Lynx beat for The Next. He previously wrote about the Minnesota Timberwolves for A Wolf Among Wolves, and his other basketball writing has been published by Flagrant Magazine, HeadFake Hoops, Taco Bell Quarterly, and others. He's the creative nonfiction editor for the sports-themed literary magazine, the Under Review.


  1. Tim Daniels on May 16, 2023 at 3:51 pm

    With the release of Brea Beal earlier today, the final Lynx roster has just about taken shape. Lindsay Allen and Rachel Banham should both make the roster—Lindsay to play the role of a traditional point guard when Reeve wants to run a play, and Rachel to back her up and to fill the role of a reliable three-pointer shooter when the team is operating their five-out offense. Tiffany Mitchell, Kayla McBride, Diamond Miller, Aerial Powers, and Bridget Carleton can also be penciled in at the wing, and we will also have Napheesa Collier, Jess Shephard, Nikolina Milic, and Dorka Juhasz in the post. That leaves one spot up for grabs—we will either carry Damiris Dantas as a fifth post (and prior to the game last Saturday, when she was having trouble getting up and down the floor, I would have bet on that outcome), or we will carry Taylor Soule as a third rookie. Soule has certainly looked good in both preseason games, so perhaps she beats out Dantas for the 12th spot. (Of course, we don’t have the cap space to sign 12 players, so expect Lindsay or Rachel to be cut initially in order to create the necessary cap space and then be re-signed using the special “hardship” exception to the cap that we will receive based on Achonwa’s pregnancy.)

  2. Tim Daniels on May 18, 2023 at 6:30 pm

    The Lynx announced today that they have waived both Damiris Dantas and Taylor Soule. They had to cut Lindsay Allen, Rachel Banham, or Dantas in order to create the necessary cap space to sign Dorka Juhasz. However, I think this means that Dantas has made the team over Soule, and that she will be re-signed, using the special “hardship” exception to the salary cap, as a replacement for Achonwa while she is on pregnancy leave. This maneuver, i.e., cutting DD to create cap space and then re-signing her using the “hardship” exception, won’t affect her financially, since she (like Lindsay and Rachel) is currently making the league minimum, and since players signed using this hardship exception are all signed for a pro=rated share of the league minimum. If Dantas is re-signed quickly, and if Achonwa misses the entire year, then a pro=rated share of the league minimum for the time that Achonwa is out is roughly what DD was making prior to being cut.

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