May 10, 2022 

Despite struggles, Reeve isn’t ready to make grand changes for Lynx

Minnesota looks to avoid an 0-3 start

The first two games have not gone exactly as planned for the Minnesota Lynx. Head coach Cheryl Reeve was not delusional — she had an inkling that her team may struggle without the likes of Napheesa Collier, Kayla McBride, and Damiris Dantas, but she didn’t particularly think things would play out as poorly as they have.

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Through their first two games of the season, the Lynx have been outscored by 35 points. They’re shooting 37.2% from the field and 25% from 3. They’ve turned the ball over 34 times. 

“Clearly we aren’t playing well,” Reeve said matter-of-factly following her team’s dispiriting 78-66 loss to a Washington Mystics team that consisted of only eight available players, with none of them being Elena Delle Donne or Tianna Hawkins. “That’s an understatement.”

In many ways, Minnesota’s poor start is reminiscent of that of a year ago, when the team began 0-4 before finishing with a 22-10 record. Just like last season, the team is missing McBride and the point guard play has been shoddy at best. But, in a few key ways, the beginning of the 2022 campaign feels different.

For starters, Napheesa Collier ain’t coming through that door any time soon. Despite struggling with offensive efficiency for the first time during her three-year career, Collier was named an All-Star, led the team in scoring (16.2 points per game), and finished second on the team in rebounds (6.6), assists (3.2), blocks (1.3), steals (1.3), free throws made (3.4), and free throws attempted (3.9). She was the most important—and best—member of the Lynx on both sides of the ball outside of Sylvia Fowles. Losing her for the entire season was always going to deal a major blow to Minnesota’s odds at winning the 2022 WNBA title, but, in the early going, it has also prevented them from functioning on both ends.

With Collier out, the Seattle Storm and Mystics were able to hound Fowles in the paint and make life difficult for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year; it’s unlikely that this trend will change among opposing teams anytime soon. Minnesota has primarily run 4-out sets with Fowles planted on the block and the main focus for the offense has been to get Fowles the ball. However, Seattle and Washington were able to make this goal difficult to achieve.

Both teams primarily accomplished this by either doubling Fowles once she got the ball or by keeping a second defender nearby, clogging passing lanes, and encouraging the Lynx to attempt a shot from outside or mid-range. Thus far, Minnesota has not made their opponents pay, to say the least. 

To be fair to Minnesota’s more perimeter players, Fowles hasn’t exactly made opponents pay for allowing her to catch the ball in the pain either. The future Hall of Famer is currently shooting a career-worst 50% from the field despite attempting 26 shots through two games. (If she continues at this pace, her 13.0 attempts per game would be the second-highest of her career.)

“I think we do really good things in spurts, but when we do bad things, it’s really bad,” Fowles said following the loss to Washington. “And everybody take turns doing those bad things. I think the most important part [for us moving foward] is just locking in. I think our attention to detail these last two games has been at a minimum at best. So locking in and paying attention to details. When I do watch film, I think about how can I be better for my teammates. Tonight I wasn’t there defensively. Offensively, we knew what Washington was going to do, they was going to crowd the paint. That’s typical. But me being better for my teammates, how can I be better for my teammates, that’s what I’m worried about going into game three.”

Additionally, Minnesota’s primary playmakers — namely Rachel Banham and Aerial Powers — have been unable to run the offense efficiently. Poor shot selection and turnovers — two of Reeve’s largest pet peeves — have been a significant bugaboo for the Lynx through two games. As a result, both Seattle and Washington were able to get out in transition. Minnesota was not expected to be a good transition defense team to begin with, and turnovers hurt their ability to dictate the overall pace of play.

At this stage, it’s far too early to panic about Minnesota. They will ultimately be fine if only because they will have too much talent not to win games once McBride and Dantas return. Additionally, don’t count out an additional tweak or two to the roster as the season progresses from Reeve, an active general manager. 

But Minnesota’s first two games are emblematic of a gamble Reeve placed during the offseason that has yet to bear fruit. Layshia Clarendon was supposed to be the team’s starting point guard. Angel McCoughtry was supposed to provide veteran clarity on both sides of the ball. Well, Clarendon is not on the team and McCoughtry is still getting her feet wet with her new team after missing the final preseason game and season opener with right knee soreness. Reeve placed many eggs into the basket of Clarendon and McCoughtry and to this point—granted it’s still very early—not of them have hatched.

Reeve isn’t quite ready to make grand changes, either to her roster or the way she wants her team to play. Right now, the focus is on steadying the ship as it pushes through rocky waters.

“As we shared with them, I sure would like them to try to do what they’re being asked to do before we go and change anything,” she said. “When we’re together and we’re practicing and we’re prepping, they’re saying all the right things and, frankly, doing all the right things. Then we get into the game and it’s not happening. Just some really basic things. I just want to make sure we are playing with a pace and with a passion that we’re seeing that’s only part of the game. It’s hard to win in this league, and it’s really hard if you don’t bring that level of intensity it takes to win possessions.

“Just keep showing them video,” Reeve continued. “Keep on asking them to do the things they know it takes to be successful. And whether the challenges—I don’t think any of us thought the beginning of the season would be easy by any stretch. But when you hit difficult times we don’t want to be a team that falls apart and starts blaming and that sort of thing. Because that can happen really quickly. And chemistry is false when that happens. Chemistry has to be real. And I think it is. I like the way, internally, it doesn’t feel very good. Your home opener, haven’t seen our fans in a while, it doesn’t feel very good. So, I know how they’re feeling. I think in terms of how they handle that and staying together, what they were saying in time outs, that sort of thing. That’s good. We’re in a good place. It’s got to turn.”

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.

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