July 2, 2022
What’s behind Aerial Powers’ offensive struggles?
Powers is in the middle of the worst offensive season of her career. But her good moments suggest how she can right the ship
When the Minnesota Lynx signed Aerial Powers to a three-year, max-level contract in early 2021, they expected that she would be an invaluable, high-level starter alongside their Big Three of Sylvia Fowles, Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride. They did not expect — or necessarily want — her to be a focal point on offense; rather, they wanted her to match up against opponents’ top wing scorer and pick and choose her spots on the other end of the court.
But myriad factors, including injuries and chaotic roster flux, have thrust Powers into a more prominent offensive role. Her usage rates of 30.9% last season and 27.7% this summer are by far the highest of her career and have produced mixed results for the Lynx.
When she’s on, Powers is one of the most dynamic wing threats in the league. She possesses great athleticism, and the emotion she displays on the court is second to none. But when she’s off, her shoot-(mid-range jumpers)-to-get-hot approach has dragged Minnesota’s offense into a pit of mediocrity (and sometimes worse).
This has been particularly true during the 2022 campaign, which has been inarguably Powers’ worst offensive season of her career. The evidence:
- 36.8% effective field goal percentage, the worst of her career
- -8.83 on-off net rating, the worst of her career
- 0.600 points per possession (2nd percentile) in transition, the worst of her career per Synergy
- 0.796 points per possession (35th percentile) in the halfcourt, the second-lowest of her career per Synergy
- 22 “bad passes” as defined by PBP Stats, including nine that went out of bounds, the second-worst and worst of her career, respectively
- 37.65% of her shots have come at the rim or from 3, by far the lowest of her career
- 28.1% 3-point percentage, the second-lowest of her career
- 77.9% free throw percentage, the lowest of her career
- 14.8% turnover percentage, the third-highest of her career
Simply put, Powers has been a net negative for a Lynx offense that ranks sixth in the WNBA with a 101.6 offensive rating.
The Next, a 24/7/365 women’s basketball newsroom
The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff and dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.
Yet, despite the struggles, there have been shimmers of excellence. Powers can squeeze passes through clogged channels in a way that most members on the team, save for perhaps forward Jessica Shepard, simply aren’t able to. She has produced highly efficient games, such as when she led all scorers with 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field in the Lynx’s recent 92-64 win over the Dallas Wings. She was even 2-for-4 from mid-range (though a step backward would have resulted in two extra 3-point shots).
“I think you guys are going to talk about the shots that she made. That kind of defines players, oftentimes, is how many points they scored, which is why they overvalue those things. But AP was very efficient. But AP had the assignment of [Dallas guard Arike Ogunbowale] and that was more important to us,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said postgame. (Ogunbowale scored 16 points on 5-for-12 shooting and posted a plus-minus of -20.)
“Yeah, scoring, you have to be able to put the ball in the hole,” Reeve continued. “But she kept it simple. When she was open, she shot it. One or two times … she tried to go somewhere where there just wasn’t a hole. But she was really engaged and pretty motivated and, when you make shots, I mean, sometimes it’s your night. And I thought that was the case for AP, but I’m more pleased overall with her one-on-one matchup with Arike.”
And in Reeve’s words lie the key to Powers’ — and ultimately the Lynx’s — success moving forward. Keep it simple on offense and make life difficult for others on defense. Don’t force up shots — particularly those that end up being contested from mid-range — in an attempt to right the ship. Play within the offense and function as the team’s fourth option.
Doing so will elevate the play of both Powers and the Lynx as a whole, improving their odds of reaching the playoffs and potentially even causing a stir.
Written by Lucas Seehafer
Lucas Seehafer is a general reporter for The Next. He is also a physical therapist and professor at the undergraduate level. His work has previously appeared at Baseball Prospectus, Forbes, FanSided, and various other websites.