To be a WNBA fan in the Twin Cities is a blessing from the basketball gods themselves. The Minnesota Lynx play beautiful, passionate basketball and have been the best team in the league for six years running. The expectations of excellence continue in 2017. To help you prepare for the season, we’ve highlighted some major talking points.
OLD CATS. NEW TRICKS.
Whether you call them "experienced,” "veteran,” “old” or "seasoned,” the Minnesota Lynx have highest average age roster in the league. Not only do they have five players who have played 10+ seasons in the WNBA, but also among the players expected in the regular rotation, only Natasha Howard was born in the 1990s. However, predicting decline from this team simply because of age would be foolish. In our opinion, the Lynx will continue to challenge the stigma of being "old" in three ways this season.
The core has been together since 2011, and they’re the bedrock of the entire franchise. The value of having a collection of elite players returning to the same team year, after year to play under the same coach in the same system can not be overstated. Specifically this season, they return their top eight players from last year's squad that went 28-6, and who had the best offensive and defensive rating in the WNBA.
2. Key Players’ Year-Long Commitments to Team
Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Jia Perkins all stayed stateside this winter, turning down paychecks that can range from 3x to 5x that of a maximum WNBA salary. Choosing not to play a second season lessens the toll on a player's body and psyche. It also allows players to spend the off-season developing and fine-tuning their basketball skills.
3. Minnesota as a Free Agency Destination
The team's championship pedigree and veteran players entice other veteran players who are interested in a change of scenery. This season, that player is Plenette Pierson, the two-time WNBA champion and former all star who played under Reeve from 2004-2006 in Detroit. These days, the 14-year vet hangs her hat on defensive competitiveness and devastating screens as much as anything else, but she's a perfect fit into what looks to be the deepest team in the league.
While the roster remains virtually unchanged from a season ago, there are a few differences for the team this year. From a player/personnel perspective, the biggest loss facing the Lynx is the departure of associate head coach Jim Petersen. At a recent Lynx press event, Cheryl Reeve said she considered herself, assistant coaches Petersen and Patterson, as well as Whalen, Augustus and Brunson the “core six” of the franchise. If continuity remains important to the team’s sustained success, the loss of Petersen (who had been with the team since 2009) could be troubling this season. Jim Pete will be replaced by James Wade, who was an assistant in San Antonio last year.
With the best offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) in the WNBA last season, you would think the Lynx may opt to adhere to the philosophy of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Fortunately, the coaching staff seems to understand that it isn’t always that simple. In pre-season interviews, coach Reeve has mentioned two tweaks to what we can expect from this season’s offense. The first is finding more touches and shots for Sylvia Fowles. 2016’s defensive player of the year is still in the prime of her career and she’ll be expected to deliver more on the offensive end of the court. Secondly, the team needs to catch up to the rest of the league in 3-point shooting (cue Wolves fans nodding knowingly). The Lynx were 11th in a 12-team league in three point shots attempted and made last season. Look for Augustus and Whalen to turn in some of their long 2s for more efficient shots this summer.
The last notable change this season is the very building in which each 2017 Lynx home game will take place. Due to Target Center being closed for renovation work all summer, the team will instead make their home at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul. This type of season-long relocation might cripple the attendance of most WNBA teams, but of course, the Lynx are the exception to the rule. With the largest season ticket holder base in the league, and Saint Paul only being a mere 12 miles from Minneapolis, the franchise instead hopes to expand their business to the east metro.
THE PLAYERS AT HAND
The Lynx enter the season as title favorites yet again. The championship window won’t be open forever, but this should be another memorable year. Don’t forget to count your blessings.