The 2022 WNBA preseason got underway today for the Minnesota Lynx, who dropped their first exhibition game 78-66 at the hands of the Washington Mystics.
Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said postgame that her team’s attention to detail can be improved, but that experiencing difficulties with that is normal at this stage of the season, which is right on the mark.
“That’s what you expect in your first preseason game, so it’s one of those games you’re really glad when it’s over so you can get back to work,” an upbeat Reeve said with a smile, before joking: “You certainly don’t want to come here and play great and think that you’re really good yet because it’s hard to have their attention. So, we haven’t.”
So, where are the Lynx going to be looking to improve ahead of Sunday’s preseason finale against the Las Vegas Aces?
Minnesota shot 3/20 (15%) from 3 and 16/45 (35.6%) for a final tally of 19/65 (29.2%) on Wednesday afternoon, which is never something you want to see, preseason game or not.
Reeve’s top three shooting options from deep — Bridget Carleton, Rachel Banham and Aerial Powers — shot a combined 0/10 from deep, which isn’t too much of a concern considering they shoot 39.5%, 35.7% and 34.0% from deep for their careers and have proven they can consistently knock down open looks.
All of the Lynx’s 3-point production came from 2022 first-round pick Kayla Jones of NC State (two triples) and Ohio’s CeCe Hooks (one), a 2022 undrafted free agent.
“We shot more 3s than they did and, honestly, I don’t think we took a bad 3 in there,” Reeve said postgame. “We just didn’t make them.”
The offensive process for Minnesota was centered around taking efficient shots and working to get players shots where they are comfortable.
Reeve was pleased that half of Carleton’s shots were from downtown; Carleton is the team’s best catch-and-shoot option and Reeve reiterated consistently last season that she wants the former All-American at Iowa State to be more assertive as a shooter.
The Lynx also made a point to try and get undrafted rookie Chloe Bibby, a career 35.5% 3-point shooter at Mississippi State and Maryland, going from deep. Reeve alluded to Bibby having success in training camp.
“I think Chloe got for the most part, open shots, no shots that we ran stuff for her to get and it just didn’t fall for her,” Reeve said. “I know she would like to have seen that with some people around, since we’re back in her neck of the woods.”
Minnesota also struggled in the paint, where they shot 11/21 (52.4%) as a team and just 7/16 outside of Sylvia Fowles, who shined on in her final first preseason game. Fowles was as sharp as ever, scoring 16 points on 5/6 shooting (plus 6/7 from the free throw line) to pair with eight rebounds and a block in just 15 minutes of play.
Fowles led the charge in the Lynx getting to the free throw line at a tremendous rate. The Lynx scored 25 of their 66 points (37.9%) on 31 trips the line; the highest percentage of points any WNBA team scored in a game from the free throw line last season was 34.7. Obviously this was a preseason game, but that is an extremely encouraging number to build upon. Reeve appreciated the physicality her team played with.
“I’m happy that we put ourselves in a lit a little bit in terms of, you know, physically, taking some hits and the willingness to do that,” she said.
On days when the team isn’t shooting the 3 at the best of their ability, getting to the stripe will be pivotal for a team whose coach is very analytically-forward and has high expectations for her players in the offensive efficiency department.
Converting Turnovers Into Points
A key area in which the Lynx are looking to improve upon their performance last season is points off turnovers. Today wasn’t the best start in the scoring department, but the team, much like they did last season, did a terrific job in creating turnovers.
The Lynx turned the Mystics over 19 times, but were only able to convert those into 10 points.
“That’s the first thing I said to the staff postgame, because we want to be able to play off our defense. ... We will be looking at every one of those turnovers and see what happened following the turnover. Were they dead ball turnovers, which are hard to play off of?” Reeve said. “Because if you work that darn hard to stop a team, turn over a team, you want to cash in at the other end. So it’s been something we’ve worked on in practice, just creating fast break situations and getting more comfortable in that, but we certainly have a lot of work to do to still with that.”
Minnesota committed 20 turnovers that Washington turned into 25 points, for a final margin of -15. Despite keeping it close in the total turnovers department, the Lynx struggled to keep pace in the points off turnovers contest, which was a theme last season.
The Lynx in 2021 won the turnover battle (forced a turnover on a higher percentage of defensive possessions than their opponent did) in 18 of the team’s 32 regular season games (56.2% win percentage), ranking fourth in the league behind New York, Phoenix and Dallas. Despite that, Minnesota on average scored 1.22 less points off turnovers than their opponents did, placing the Lynx ninth of 12 teams.
Improving upon that in the 2022 campaign is a stated goal, so it will be exciting to see how the Lynx get aggressive and work towards achieving it this summer.
Turner is playing in her first full WNBA training camp after not playing in the W for the past two seasons, and is showing out for Reeve, who recruited Turner hard to Lynx camp.
The pace-pushing guard did a terrific job of getting down hill and scoring in the paint (3/3), as well as getting to the line, from where she was 6/7, for a total of 12 points.
“You can impact the game just by playing hard. Yvonne is the epitome of that,” Reeve said postgame. “You need somebody who can collapse the paint and Yvonne’s very good at that.”
Reeve also loves the attitude that Turner, who is one of the most positively infectious people you can find, brings to Minnesota.
“So with Yvonne, it doesn’t matter what you tell her. She receives the information and then goes out there and tries to do it,” Reeve added. “that’s one of the endearing qualities about Yvonne Turner the basketball player and certainly Yvonne Turner the person.”
Damiris Dantas is still sidelined with her Lisfranc injury suffered last August and Kayla McBride will not complete her overseas duties for perhaps another four weeks, which means the Lynx will likely start the season with a hardship roster spot available to them. Expect Turner to get significant consideration for that given her strong camp performance and the void she fills as a guard that collapses the defense and scores inside.
Incumbent starting point guard Layshia Clarendon did not play today because of soreness in her right foot and leg. The beloved veteran floor general has been putting in extensive work in training camp and has expressed confidence in getting past their injuries during camp.
“That’s a challenging situation. We got to make sure we’re doing the right things here. [Lay] had been doing quite well,” Reeve said. “We’ll take precautions and go get some imaging and all that good stuff when we get back to town and then go from there.”
Clarendon did make the trip to D.C. and he was not wearing a boot again, but does not have a timetable for return and we’ll know more about how her results come back later this week.
Expect Banham — whose role is now playing as a full-time point guard instead of primarily as a 2-guard — to handle the starting point guard duties until Clarendon is back to 100%.
The Lynx are back in action on Sunday at 1 PM CT when they take on the Las Vegas Aces at Target Center in Minnesota’s sole preseason home game. Minnesota will open the regular season next Friday, May 6 at 9 PM CT in Seattle to face off with the Storm.