July 16, 2022 

The Lynx may be back, and Rachel Banham is a big reason why

The role Banham has carved out accentuates her skill set and provides the Lynx with much-needed bench scoring

The beginning of the Minnesota Lynx’s 2022 season was an unmitigated disaster. Injuries mounted, as did the losses. Head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve routinely questioned the collective will of her team and wondered aloud whether it had what it took to be successful.

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Emotions seemingly came to a head following the Lynx’s 76-59 loss to the Washington Mystics on June 10. The defeat dropped Minnesota to 3-10 overall, and a somber Rachel Banham sat at the postgame podium. The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Lynx beat writer Kent Youngblood asked the former Minnesota high school and Golden Gopher standout about the difficulties of seeing good shots not fall through the hoop over and over and over again. (Banham was 13-for-42 — 30.9% — from 3 during her first 13 games and struggled to perform as the team’s lead ball-handler.)

“Yeah, frustration. Sorry, I’m super emotional. That’s just frustrating,” Banham said through tears. “We got to put the ball in the hole. Like, that’s just how basketball goes … just keep at it. You know, I always say shooters are gonna shoot, so, you know, things are gonna get better.”

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The Lynx have gone 7-6 since Banham’s comments, but they have looked particularly strong over their last 10 contests, particularly on the offensive end. Here’s how they’ve stacked up league-wide, according to the WNBA stats site:

  • 111.4 offensive rating (1st)
  • 100.5 defensive rating (5th)
  • 10.9 net rating (1st)
  • 68.5% assist percentage (4th)
  • 57.8% true shooting percentage (2nd)
  • 38.1% 3-point field goal percentage (4th)
  • 22.3 3-point field goals attempted (7th)
  • +94 plus/minus (1st)

Their seven wins have come against Phoenix (x3), Dallas, Las Vegas, Chicago and Indiana — all but one of whom would be in the playoffs if the season ended today — and their three losses have come by a combined 14 points to Dallas, Vegas and Chicago. 

Arguably no team has been playing better basketball than the Minnesota Lynx over the last month of the season, and Rachel Banham is a significant reason why.

Banham began the season as Minnesota’s primary point guard after Layshia Clarendon was surprisingly cut in training camp. (Clarendon reportedly hadn’t fully recovered from a stress injury in their right leg suffered at the end of last season — though Clarendon denied this — and has not appeared in a WNBA game this season.) The results were not what either Reeve or Banham would have liked.

The Lynx began the season 0-3 and the would-be point guard tallied a meager 16 points on 6-for-23 shooting from the field and a -31 plus/minus in 57 minutes. She was relegated to only 17 minutes across the next three games — as Reeve attempted to right Minnesota’s briskly sinking ship — before seeing her minutes pop back up to her career norms. Upon Banham’s return to the rotation, her role had changed. No longer was she expected to be the point guard — that was now firmly Moriah Jefferson’s job to lose — but rather simply a guard.

Banham would retain some ballhandling duties, but her job was not predicated on directing the flow of the offense. Instead, she was asked to score efficiently and lead productive minutes off the bench. The result has been her best overall season in the WNBA to date.

Rachel Banham’s field goal percentages this season by location, relative to the league averages. (Chart from WNBA.com/stats)

Banham’s last 10 games have been particularly eye-popping.

  • 12.3 points per game
  • 26-for-58 from 3 (44.8%)
  • 30 assists to only 17 turnovers
  • +68 plus/minus
  • 208 minutes

Banham has drawn criticism over her six-year WNBA career for never completely living up to the hype she produced at the University of Minnesota. She earned Big Ten Player of the Year as well as Associated Press First-Team All-America honors in 2016 and finished sixth overall in the NCAA Division I women’s basketball all-time scoring table. Her ability to get buckets prompted the Connecticut Sun to select her fourth overall in the 2016 WNBA Draft. 

While she has not performed as well as one may have hoped for a former top-five pick, she has been an integral locker room presence and an underrated shooter since entering the league. She has always performed best in pick-and-roll and spot-up situations, and this season is no exception. She currently ranks in the 76th (0.884 points per possession) and 65th (1.047 PPP) percentiles, respectively, in scoring efficiency in those situations, per Synergy.

Banham may not be cut out to be a true point guard in the WNBA, but that’s okay. The role she has carved out with the Lynx accentuates her skill set and provides her team with much-needed scoring off the bench.

“She’s found her way within the offense,” Reeve said following the Lynx’s recent win over the Phoenix Mercury, in which Banham scored 25 points. At the time, Banham had hit 17 of her last 34 3-point attempts. “She’s just confident. I think earlier in the season, she’s not somebody that responded well to my hard coaching, and I’ve left her alone now a little bit more. She’s just a player that’s confident shooting the ball. She was a player that wasn’t beginning [the season] shooting that well percentage-wise. I thought she was playing okay, but percentage-wise [wasn’t shooting well]. So, that’s a bit of a regression to the mean for Rachel. Happy for her. Without Rachel, we don’t win today.”

Minnesota’s play as of late has many people in and around the league wondering what the Lynx could accomplish should they work their way into the playoffs. They currently sit one game behind the Atlanta Dream for the eighth and final spot and recently beat the WNBA’s top two teams, the Sky and the Aces.

It’s quite possible that the Lynx are back, and while there are myriad reasons why it looks that way, Rachel Banham is a significant one.

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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