May 30, 2024 

Napheesa Collier’s MVP-level play has fueled the Lynx’s hot start

Gone are the days of spunky, overachieving Minnesota

In the age of SEO, engagement and click-farming, it has become commonplace to exclaim from the virtual mountaintops takes with such solar energy that people can’t help but not look away. “The Las Vegas Aces are no longer the best!”; “Caitlin Clark sucks, actually!”; “The Minnesota Lynx possess arguably the league’s best defense!”

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*Record scratch* Wait a moment. I’ve just been informed that that last one is actually true?

After finishing with the 10th defensive rating during both the 2022 and 2023 seasons, Minnesota has risen from the ashes, born anew as the WNBA’s premier defensive unit. The Lynx have ridden their second-ranked defense (92.5 DRTG) to a blistering 4-2 start, with their only losses coming to the league’s lone undefeated team (83-82 in overtime to the Connecticut Sun) and the reigning champs (80-66 to Las Vegas). Should they keep up this level of play all summer long, they would boast the franchise’s best defensive rating in two decades (91.9; 2004).

And the fulcrum of the stalwart unit? Napheesa Collier.

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Collier, long considered one of the league’s best offensive talents and a top-four finisher in MVP voting last summer, has displayed signs of taking the proverbial leap early in the 2024 campaign. The hush-toned murmurs of MVPhee have escalated into a genuine conversation. And the reason is her play on the defensive end of the court.

“She was the first player I talked to at the end of our [2023] season and said, ‘If our defense is going to get better it’s because our best player is going to be leading that,’” Lynx president of basketball operations and head coach Cheryl Reeve said. “And she’s doing that for us.”

Collier primed her nose for the ball all offseason and has spent the early parts of 2024 sniffing out every opportunity to get her hands on it. She currently ranks second in steals (2.7), fourth in defensive rebounding (7.8) and sixth in blocks (2.0) per game leaguewide; no other athlete in the WNBA ranks in the top 10 in all three categories.

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Perhaps most impressively, her excellence on defense hasn’t come at the cost of her offense. Collier is fourth in scoring with a career-high 22.2 points per game, trailing elite scorers Arike Ogunbowale, A’ja Wilson and Kahleah Copper. With Collier on the court, Minnesota has outscored opponents by 47 points. With her off? They’ve been outscored by 10. (The 57-point on/off difference is second on the team behind Kayla McBride’s 77; the Lynx are +57 with her on versus -20 when she is off.)

The Lynx’s on-court cohesion has been a sight for sore Minnesota eyes, who have long pined for a return to the days of Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. While new additions Courtney Williams and Alanna Smith have fit seamlessly into a team desperate for outside shooting, offensive playmaking and defensive impact, Reeve credits the team’s chemistry, and ultimately its success, to Collier.

“You know when it’s special,” Reeve said. “You could feel it [during the preseason]. I always think that the core of [success] is good people — selfless people — that are committed to a team’s success. So certainly selection of people is a part of any organization’s success and building chemistry. I think when your superstar, your MVP, is the most likable person, she brings so much good out of you.”

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For all of the team’s success to date, Collier was quick to point out following the loss to the Aces — who bullied them physically all night — that it’s still early in the season. While many may have viewed Wednesday night’s battle as a litmus test for Minnesota’s championship legitimacy, Collier did not see it that way.

“This is our sixth game. We were 0-6 at this point last year, and we ended up fourth [in the league standings]. You just have to chug along,” Collier said. “I don’t think it was a statement game. It’s so early in the year. But I think it was a good game for us to have early. We can learn from it. This is really the first team, I mean, Connecticut was pretty physical but Vegas was, I think, a little bit more. I think it’s a great learning opportunity for us because people are going to continue to [play that way against us].”

Minnesota’s play has officially put it on notice around the league. Gone are the days of the spunky, overachieving Lynx. Their 4-2 start has placed on their shoulders heavy expectations. Luckily, Napheesa Collier appears ready to carry the load.

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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