Needing A Repeat
When the Minnesota Lynx tip off their 2018 campaign on Sunday they will enter the season in a familiar position: defending a championship.
As longtime fans of the team know, winning the title in consecutive seasons is one of the few missing milestones from the franchise’s dynasty run. Minnesota will attempt to be the first team since the 2001-2002 LA Sparks to repeat. Protecting the throne and winning a championship in back-to-back seasons will be a major motivating factor for the Lynx.
“We’ve had all these tries at it and at this point we’re lucky and thankful we have another shot at it,” Lindsay Whalen said. “We’ll take the things we learned from other years and put it into making this season our best chance (to repeat).”
Another factor that should keep complacency at bay is simply time. More specifically, an understanding that this window, with this group will not be open for much longer. 2018 MVP favorite Maya Moore said it best at Wednesday’s media day.
“A huge motivation for me is wanting to take advantage of every minute I have with this awesome group, especially the core that’s been here.”
Moore and 2017 MVP Sylvia Fowles are smack dab in the middle of their prime seasons, but Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson, and Seimone Augustus are involved in a very real battle with father time. The window to add rings to their already heavy hands is open now.
In what has become a Lynx offseason tradition, the bench has once again undergone major changes.
Departures by Rene Montgomery (free agency), Jia Perkins (retirement), Plenette Pierson (retirement), Natasha Howard (trade) leave the Lynx without their four most used reserves from a year ago. The franchise’s success in the Cheryl Reeve era gives the organization massive cache with players around the league, and three veterans were brought in to refresh Minnesota’s bench.
The new second unit is headlined by point guard Danielle Robinson. She is known for her open court speed, irritating defense and the fact that she’s never connected on a three point shot in her WNBA career (0-33 3PA in 188 games). Despite her lack of scoring acumen, Robinson will have the largest influence on this new Lynx bench.
Twelve-year veteran Tanisha Wright joins the team after a year away from the league. Instead of playing in the WNBA, she took a position as an assistant coach for the UNC-Charlotte women’s basketball team. Wright was a starter for the 2010 champion Seattle Storm, and also will bring a hard-nose defensive skillset to Minnesota.
Pick-and-pop big Lynetta Kizer will be asked to chase opposing stretch-fours out to the perimeter as well as bang down low with centers. After a underwhelming year in Connecticut last season, Kizer will be looking to get back to the solid two-way play she’s been capable of in the past.
Three second-year players round out the roster. Each could make an strong argument for being included in Cheryl Reeve’s 9 man rotation. Sharpshooter Alexis Jones, euro-wunderkind Ceclia Zandalasini, and backup center Temi Fagbenle are full of potential.
Cause for Concern
Due to September’s FIBA World Cup, this upcoming WNBA season will be slightly compressed. Last summer, each team played 34 games in 114 days. In 2018, the same amount of games will be played over 94 days. This is something that will negatively impact the more veteran teams in the league, like the Lynx. It may be more common to see less talented, but younger teams pick up surprising wins against older competition. While less practice and more games is perfectly fine with some members of the team, Fowles is concerned.
“I’m not sure how were going to hold up. It feels almost like an overseas season where games are back to back to back. With our team its something we’re not looking forward to. Recovery time, rest time, trying to find time for those older players to make sure their bodies are recovering right.”
Long-range shooting may also be an issue in 2018. Last season the Lynx were below league average in threes attempted and made. To make matters worse, they then swapped out Montgomery and Pierson for much worse shooters (Robinson and Kizer). Taking and making threes is an important part of an efficient offense, but possibly more important is the threat of that shot which clears out the paint for Fowles to go to work. It may take some time for Cheryl Reeve to find the best substitution patterns to ensure their offense go quiet for long stretches.
Despite those concerns, this team is going to be fantastic, if not historic on defense. Their offense might cost them a few games in the regular season, but make no mistake, this is the is the most talented, experienced and driven team in the league. They remain a great bet to make their seventh Finals in eight years.
The Lynx return to Target Center after a season in St. Paul, opening up at home against their rival the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday afternoon.