May 21, 2022 

Jessica Shepard has been a bright spot during Minnesota’s dark start

Shepard is having her best season to date and has been a weapon for the Lynx with her passing and offensive rebounding

Throughout the dusky start to the Minnesota Lynx’s 2022 campaign, the light of Jessica Shepard has shown brightly and confidently.

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“She’s been doing really well,” future Hall of Famer Sylvia Fowles said following Minnesota’s loss to the Las Vegas Aces on Thursday, a game in which Shepard registered a 14-point, 14-rebound double-double. “We’ve just thrown a lot of things at her and she’s responded well, and I’m happy with her play.”

Shepard has been the Lynx’s most consistent player through the first six games of the season, averaging career highs across virtually every statistical category on a per 36-minute basis. As a result, Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve — who has long been a champion for Shepard and her skill set — rewarded her with a two-year contract extension reportedly worth $243,600.

“Jess has really gained her footing after a strong overseas season and has made major strides towards her player maturity after enduring a few difficult years of battling an injury,” Reeve said in a statement announcing Shepard’s extension. “She is a poised competitor who will be an integral part of the Lynx for years to come.” 

Reeve and the Lynx front office faced mild criticism this past offseason — including from me — after deciding to retain Shepard in favor of players such as Crystal Dangerfield and Rennia Davis. The criticism was based primarily on Shepard’s inability to earn consistent playing time due to injury as well as a jam-packed Minnesota frontcourt. 

However, Shepard is finally healthy — she tore the ACL in her right knee during the 2019 season — and has seized the opportunity in front of her while starters Damiris Dantas (foot) and Napheesa Collier (pregnancy) remain sidelined, making everyone who questioned why the Lynx kept her around look like fools. 

The former Notre Dame star is the deftest passer on the Lynx and currently leads the team with 27 assists; her 23.8% assist percentage is more akin to that of a point guard than a frontcourt player. Shepard particularly excels in the high-low post game with Fowles as she possesses both elite court vision and a soft touch, allowing her to set up her All-World teammate for easy looks even in crowded areas.

Shepard feeds Fowles from the high post for the and-one.

She is also an elite offensive rebounder, a skill that Reeve values highly. Her 10.9% offensive rebounding percentage trails only Fowles (11.8%) and Nina Milic (22.5%) and ranks 10th overall among players who have appeared in at least five games.

“She’s a player you can put the ball in their hands from [a decision-making standpoint],” Reeve said. “She’s rebounding and making plays, and she’s grown in her confidence in terms of our individual offense.”

Reeve will continue to rely heavily on Shepard on both ends of the court as Minnesota looks to rebound from a rocky 1-5 start. The Lynx will look to pick up their second win of the season against the Dallas Wings (3-2) on Saturday night.

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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