Although it remains unclear when, or even if, the 2020 WNBA season will start, the league will proceed with its draft on Friday night, so it seems like a good time to review the Lynx off-season and see what needs they might look to fill from the college ranks.
Last season, the Lynx slipped into the playoffs with an 18-16 record, but promptly lost in the first, single elimination round. It was (and is) a team in transition, from their storied championship decade into what they are hoping is a reload with limited painful rebuilding.
They were strong defensively, anchored by future Hall of Famer Sylvia Fowles in the middle, they had the second best defensive rating in the league. They struggled on offense, however, finishing 6th in a 12 team league.
That ranking, I think, understates the issues: They finished last season with the most turnovers, and tied fewest made threes. These are not unrelated: Teams had no fear of the Lynx from the perimeter, so they clogged the middle and made it hard to get the ball to Fowles and Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier. This led to a lot of the turnover problems, as they simply could not stretch the floor and open things up.
Since the end of the season the guard rotation, already thin, has thinned out even more, with Danielle Robinson departing in free agency, and Odyssey Sims out for the season because she is pregnant. And of course long time Lynx and local hero Seimone Augustus shockingly left for the rival Los Angeles Sparks.
That really means only Lexie Brown is left from last season’s guard rotation. Brown came off the bench last year as their main perimeter shooting threat and did that job well, making 38.5 percent of her threes. They will need more of the same from her this season.
To replace the departed, the Lynx have brought in veteran Shenise Johnson, who has spent the last five seasons with the Indiana Fever in a diminishing role due to injuries. She has appeared in only 31 games over the past three seasons, but the Lynx are hoping for a return to health. Even so, she’s probably better suited to a bench role.
They also acquired local hero Rachel Banham. Banham was of course a huge star at the University of Minnesota before being taken in the first round of the draft by the Connecticut Sun. She was a scoring machine in college, but in four years has yet to really find a groove in the pro game. Early injuries set her back, but she has not averaged more than 13 minutes a game in any of her pro seasons, and was never a major part of the Sun rotation.
Of course this was a popular acquisition locally, but it remains to be seen whether Banham can contribute significantly at this level.
In addition, the Lynx are hoping for contributions from Karima Christmas-Kelly, who was a free agent signed last off-season, but missed all but six games due to injury. They also expect to have sweet-shooting forward Ceci Zandalasini this year after she decided not to play in the WNBA last summer.
That brings us more or less up to date as we approach the draft. The Lynx remain in dire need of back court help—a starting level point guard and more perimeter shooting are vital. It’s not likely they can get real impact help immediately through the draft, though it’s worth pointing out that they once again hold the sixth pick where they were able to grab Collier last season.
I won’t pretend to have any expertise in the draft. The Lynx hold the 6th overall pick along with the 16 pick, and obviously need guard help. Whether that’s the direction they go in the first round remains to be seen, with several bigger players with upside likely available to them.
Among the guards, Crystal Dangerfield from Connecticut is a popular player mocked to the Lynx. She became a star in her years at UConn, developed her shot to the point where she made over 40 percent of her threes as a senior, and can handle and take care of the ball. She’s quick and good in transition. She’s also very small (5’5”) and might struggle around the basket in the half-court.
A bigger, more defensive-minded option is Tyasha Harris from South Carolina. The Gamecocks have been the best team in the country for the past couple of years, and Harris is a big reason why. She controls the game on both ends and is going to be a quality pro, even if she isn’t an offensive difference maker.
Te’a Cooper, who finished her career at Baylor, is an unlikely option but you never know. More of a combo guard, she can handle and score,
We’ll find out which direction they go on Friday night. Whatever they do, the remaking of the back court will be something to watch this season, whenever it happens.