In both 2018 and 2019, the Minnesota Lynx finished the regular season with an 18-16 record, and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Nonetheless, Cheryl Reeve was named Executive of the Year in the WNBA yesterday, and deserved it.
Despite the same results, 2018 and 2019 were very different seasons for the Lynx. 2018 marked the end of a dynasty. The Lynx won their fourth title in 2017 behind their aging core group that fans had come to love. Although the handwriting was on the wall, the team was brought back more or less intact for 2018—the group deserved a shot to keep it going, and these players absolutely earned the right to go out on their own terms.
But it was clear from the beginning that this was no longer a championship squad. They won games largely on muscle memory, with only Sylvia Fowles and a struggling Maya Moore still anything close to their primes. By the end, it was over. Lindsay Whalen was headed for retirement, Rebekkah Brunson was injured and would not return, Seimone Augustus, the great Seimone, was a shadow of her former self.
The big blow came when Moore announced she would not play at least for the 2019 season, and that her career might be over for good, as she wished to pursue other interests.
That left Reeve, entering only her second off-season as general manager, a huge task of rebuilding a team that was facing huge turnover but was used to great success. It was clear from the start she had no interest in or patience for tanking.
Three major moves Reeve made paid off and led to her award. She traded Alexis Jones to the Sparks for Odyssey SIms, who made her first All-Star team this season. Sims led the Lynx in scoring and assists in a sort of combo-guard role, while displaying her excellent defense.
The Lynx also signed Damiris Dantas as a free agent. Dantas, who started her career with the Lynx, had her best season as a pro. She set career highs in scoring, three point shooting, and assists, showing a remarkable playmaking ability from the high and low post. She was the Lynx’ most effective three point shooter and a capable starter up front next to Fowles.
These two moves for in their prime veterans, as well as the acquisition of Karima Christmas-Kelly, who unfortunately missed almost the entire season with injury, showed the intention to reload as quickly and efficiently as possible and remain competitive.
But what brought it all together is that the Lynx struck gold in the draft, nabbing Connecticut star Napheesa Collier with the sixth overall pick. Collier would go on to win the Rookie of the Year award, become the Lynx most indispensable player, and appear to be their next big star. She was phenomenal defensively as a rookie, and filled up the stat sheet in all areas. The only rookie to make the All-Star game, Collier has a chance to emerge as an All-WNBA talent.
In short, the Lynx lost Moore, Whalen, Brunson, and missed Augustus for much of the season, and still remained competitive and made the playoffs. That’s Executive of the Year material.
But Reeve would be the first to tell you the job is far from done. She is anything but a settler, and being pretty good is not enough for this franchise. So there is work to do, and the issues are fairly clear cut.
The Lynx, as they almost always have, played excellent defense, finishing second in the league in defensive rating to the Las Vegas Aces. The problems were mostly on offense, where they managed to finish in the middle of the pack despite some glaring issues.
They remain behind the league in three point shooting: tenth in attempts, ninth in percentage. Beyond Dantas and reserve guard Lexie Brown (another good off-season acquisition who shot 38 percent from three), there were not a lot of threats from deep on the roster. Collier shot a somewhat surprising 36 percent on 2.5 attempts per game, and hopefully the three becomes a bigger part of her arsenal going forward, but that’s about it.
In the past, the Lynx overcame this with offense that excelled in the paint and got to the free throw line, but the talent simply isn’t the same, and they finished tenth in the league in free throw attempts as well.
A related problem is the Lynx led the league in turnovers. Their lack of floor spacing reduced passing and driving lanes, and their need to get the ball in the paint in order to score meant a lack of space and a lot of forced dribbles and passes, which cost them massively. Neither Sims nor Danielle Robinson, for all of their good qualities, is a traditional game organizer from the point guard spot, and neither provide spacing, which exacerbated their problems.
So the Lynx desperately need shooters who can spread the floor and create more space for drivers and for Fowles in the post, and could probably use a ball-handler who can organize things offensively.
It won’t be easy, but after hopefully spending a bit of time enjoying her award, I’m confident Cheryl Reeve and the Lynx staff will be at work and committed to solving their problems.