The Minnesota Lynx announced Tuesday that they had come to terms with guards Rachel Banham and Layshia Clarendon, bringing the total number of athletes on their roster to 13.
Both guards figure to play prominent roles for the Lynx this upcoming summer just as they did during the previous campaign.
Clarendon excelled as the starting point guard after being picked up by the Lynx and led them to a 16-5 record in games they appeared in. They finished third on the team in plus/minus (+121) behind franchise cornerstones Napheesa Collier (+153) and Kayla McBride (+122) despite appearing in roughly one-third fewer games. Eight of the Lynx’s 14 3-woman lineups that produced at least a 10.0 net rating contained Clarendon in their midst.
While they aren’t much of a threat from beyond the arc, Clarendon has traditionally been among the league’s most potent as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll. Last summer they averaged 0.918 points per possession, according to Synergy, which ranked in the 83rd percentile.
One area out of the pick-and-roll that Clarendon has grown the most over the last two seasons is their ability to knock down mid-range jumpers off of screens. They ranked in the 63rd percentile (0.96 ppp) in 2020 with the New York Liberty before seeing their production skyrocket to the 95th percentile (1.273 ppp) with the Lynx.
“I’ve always kind of tried to work on it,” Clarendon told Canis Hoopus. “I’ve gone back and forth because the pull-up has always been my bread and butter since I played in college, but I played [in] different roles, different systems, and opportunities all across the league. Last year, I did really work a lot in the offseason. I actually was at the Warriors practice facility in Oakland where I live and I used their [shooting equipment]. So, there really was a level of dedication I put into that. But it was also just, like, coming home to myself. As you know, New York, [their] style of play under [former head coach Walt Hopkins] was to not shoot twos. So, that was, you know, it was difficult for me to play in that style. It’s what I do. It’s what I’m really good at and also getting to the rim, so I think it’s just like a kind of homecoming.”
Banham’s return is strictly for her offense as she is a strong outside shooter who can function well enough in the pick-and-roll and in limited minutes as a reserve point guard. The Lynx struggled mightily as a team during spot up situations last summer, though Banham was among the team’s best, scoring 0.881 ppp (50th percentile league-wide) while shooting 37.3% from beyond the 3-point line.
However, one of Banham’s weaknesses during her six-year WNBA career has been consistency, both in terms of empirical and ethereal production. She said during Wednesday’s press conference that being more consistent is one of her biggest goals for the upcoming campaign.
“Being able to bring it in some way, even if maybe I’m not shooting great [like] being a really great leader throughout being tough, especially playing the point guard position. That is at the top of the list [when playing point guard]. Something you have to be able to do is be tough and bring it even if you’re not your best self. So, I think just being consistent with that, and do that each and every day. I think that will be the biggest difference.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these signings, however, is in regard to the Lynx’s salary cap situation. Minnesota currently finds themselves $132,084 over the cap with 13 athletes on the roster. (Note: Technically speaking, Banham’s and Bridget Carleton’s contracts don’t count against the salary cap until they officially make the team as they are considered Training Camp deals. However, they functionally count against the cap as the team still needs to drop below the $1,379,200 limit before they play their first regular-season game.)
Reeve mentioned during the team’s press conference introducing Angel McCoughtry last week that the Lynx would likely carry 11 athletes on their roster including Collier who is expected to miss all of the 2022 season due to pregnancy. According to the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement, an athlete’s salary continues to count against the cap, even if said player is suspended by the team, if they miss games due to pregnancy.
This leaves the Lynx with a few options. The most likely transaction is the release of Jessica Shepard who is slated to make $60,471 this coming season. Shepard has shown instances of promise over her first two seasons in the league, but injuries as well as the presence of Collier, Sylvia Fowles, Damiris Dantas, and Natalie Achonwa on the roster has prevented her from seeing significant minutes. However, doing so would still require the Lynx to part with approximately $72,000 to get under the cap, a figure that may leave either Banham or Bridget Carleton on the chopping block, though either of their departures is very unlikely.
Another potential move the Lynx are likely considering is packaging the No. 8 and/or No. 13 picks in the upcoming draft with Achonwa for future draft capital. The Lynx currently own four picks in the draft and Achonwa will make $160,000 during the 2022 season. Trading her without bringing on any salary would open up a protected player slot and drop the team’s salary below the cap on its own. Pairing an Achonwa salary dump with a release of Shepard would dive the Lynx’s finances far enough below the cap to either sign one of their draft picks or a mid-tier free agent.
An interesting possibility: Dumping Achonwa and releasing Shepard would leave the Lynx with a hair over $88K in space, which would be enough to sign a draft pick or pick up one more cheap vet in free agency. https://t.co/UknbJV884c— Lucas Seehafer (@seehafer_) February 8, 2022
While the Lynx are likely done making significant moves in free agency, their offseason remains in full swing. Corresponding roster moves will have to be made with the signings of Clarendon and Banham. Now, all we can do is wait to see what unfolds.