May 7, 2022 

Napheesa Collier dries ink on max-level extension with Minnesota Lynx

Collier is set to be the Lynx's next franchise player, but they still need to shore up their point guard play

While she may not play in 2022, as she is expecting the arrival of her first child, Minnesota Lynx forward Napheesa Collier won’t be calling any place home other than Target Center any time soon.

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Collier signed a three-year, $624,657 max-level contract extension on Tuesday, cementing her as a fixture in the Minnesota rotation for years to come. Although signed prior to the 2022 season, her new contract will not kick in until the 2023 campaign.

“Minnesota is home,” Collier told reporters in a press conference on Wednesday. “It’s the best organization for a reason. I’m so excited to get back on the court and to watch and cheer on the team until I do and then to stay here for the years coming up.”

The Lynx drafted Collier out of the University of Connecticut with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 WNBA draft, and the former Husky immediately developed into one of the league’s premier talents. Since entering the WNBA, she has been named to two All-Star teams, was the 2019 Rookie of the Year, and was named to the All-Defensive and All-WNBA teams in 2020. 

“[Collier] gave us the opportunity to continue as a franchise aspiring to championships,” Reeve said during the press conference. “However we got here, [pick] number six, lucky, whatever you want to call it, we’re glad that it happened. We’re excited to make Phee a cornerstone piece to our franchise moving forward.”

In what can only be described as a team-friendly wrinkle based on the WNBA’s unique protected contract rules, the entirety of Collier’s contract extension is unprotected, meaning that the Lynx could cut her for no financial penalty. WNBA rules stipulate that teams can only carry six protected (i.e., fully guaranteed) contracts on their roster at any moment, and although not all six will be on the team next summer when Collier’s extension kicks in, her deal cannot be amended to become protected. 

Regardless, Collier will likely remain a member of the Lynx for as long as she chooses, and it would be shocking to see her cut over the next four seasons. 

Despite making the All-WNBA Second Team last summer, Collier struggled to produce relative to her norm, posting a career-worst 46.7% effective field goal percentage and 11.4% rebound percentage. Still, she was one of the league’s strongest players in the post, according to Synergy (0.939 points per play; 70th percentile), and was solidly above average defensively thanks to her length and ability to defend multiple positions. 

Napheesa Collier’s 2022 defensive rankings. (Source: Synergy)

Collier’s extension formally signals that she will be the face of the Lynx after Sylvia Fowles’ retirement following the 2022 season, a fact that Reeve discussed extensively during Wednesday’s press conference.

“The teams that have [a face of the franchise] are the teams that can be successful,” Reeve said. “If you don’t have that, then you don’t know from one year to the next what you’re going to look like. What’s your identity? Being able to know your identity and establish that and formulate a plan around that — I mean, that’s what most teams strive to have. Phee believing in this organization will allow us to attract some other players similar people to Phee, and that just allows you to have an organization that you know that direction. You know the identity. So it’s a huge, huge bonus to have someone like Phee as a cornerstone.”

Lynx struggle in season opener

Minnesota fell 97-74 to the Seattle Storm in Friday’s season opener, but you never would have predicted that after the first half. The two teams were tied at 41 through the first 20 minutes, exchanging blow after blow. 

Fowles and Aerial Powers fueled the Lynx offensively, combining for 26 of the team’s points. However, the rest of the team — particularly the point guard rotation of Rachel Banham, Odyssey Sims and Yvonne Turner — struggled, to say the least.

And then, in the third quarter, everything fell apart.

The Storm began the period on a 16-2 run in which they dictated the pace and collectively locked down like a vise grip defensively. Powers and Fowles began to miss open looks and relatively easy attempts at the basket, and the rest of the team never thawed from their offensive permafrost. Minnesota would muster only 14 points to Seattle’s 34. 

“We settled, we settled,” Reeve said after the game regarding the Lynx’s abysmal third-quarter performance. “Powers started settling for jumpers. If you’re 5-for-6 [from 3], great. 1-for-6, that’s not a good idea. But no, I thought that stuff that we weren’t getting was layups at the rim.”

To be clear, Reeve was not simply singling out Powers, but rather providing her as an example of how Minnesota could have better controlled the Seattle fire that began as an ember and turned into an inferno from the winds of the Lynx’s poor shot selection. But shot selection wasn’t the only variable that caused the Lynx’s demise.

“If you ask every player what was the number one key, it was not to turn the ball over because our offense had to be good. And we didn’t get that done in that third quarter,” Reeve said. Minnesota ended up with 17 turnovers on the night, eight of which came from Banham, Sims and Turner. (In addition — or maybe subtraction? — the three point guards combined to shoot 6-for-26 from the field and 1-for-8 from 3.)

If Friday night made anything clear, it’s that the Lynx will absolutely need more from the point guard spot moving forward to contend for a top-four playoff seed. Turner, who arguably put forward the best performance of the three, is unlikely to be on the roster beyond May, as she was signed to a hardship contract on Thursday. Banham has never functioned as a true point guard in the WNBA and, at this time, lacks some of the quickness and natural ball security skills required of the position. Sims did not appear in any preseason games and is still working her way into game shape.

It is still early and, therefore, not time to panic or rush to conclusions, but the Lynx can’t be encouraged by their play — point guards and otherwise — through two preseason and one regular-season game.

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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