Napheesa Collier didn’t know exactly what to expect coming into the 2023 WNBA season, her fifth year in the league and with the Minnesota Lynx. Coming off of missing nearly the entire 2022 campaign after giving birth to her daughter Mila, there were moments in her recovery where she had doubts about whether or not she would return to All-WNBA form.
That journey back was a long one for Collier, and it carried into the start of the year as she took over the role of being the face of the Lynx franchise while also trying to return to the caliber of player we saw earlier in her career. Though there were challenges for the 27-year-old, she didn’t let that impact her pursuit of greatness while attempting to grow even more than the last time she stepped on the court.
Not only did Collier return to form, she blew past that and took her game to the next level in 2023 while putting her name in the WNBA MVP conversation during a career year and lifting her team back to the playoffs a year after failing to do so.
“That process, it was long and it was definitely tedious in the offseason trying to get back,” Collier said on the Hitting the Hardwood Podcast with Mitchell Hansen. “I came back really fast after I had my daughter and my body just honestly didn’t respond very well to that. I spent a lot of my offseason doing a lot of rehab, trying to get my body back to where it needed to be, and then also like trying to improve my game at the same time. You don’t want to just get back to the level that you were at before, the goal of each offseason is to come back better.
“It was a really hard offseason, I worked my butt off. I was really proud that it translated onto the court and into my game, because obviously you want to see results when you’re working hard.”
Along with the pressure to perform on the court, Collier also took on the challenge of being one of the leaders of the Lynx, a role she hadn’t experienced to this extent since arriving in Minnesota.
“I was really proud of myself, it was definitely like a learning experience on a lot of different fronts. There was a lot of growth that I felt like I needed to go through to be like a good leader for my team. And I want that,” Collier said. “That was definitely a challenge being outside of my comfort zone with that and trying to grow in that respect. … Just growing in that way and knowing that I had a lot more responsibility on the court as well. … It was a lot of fun, I feel like I really grew as a leader and as a player. It was a really fun year for me.”
Collier not only took her game to the next level in 2023, but that resulted in the Lynx also improving and exceeding expectations many set out for them entering the season. Led by Collier, Minnesota recovered from a slow start to the year to return to the playoffs and even make a push at advancing to the semifinal round only to come up just short.
“I think we definitely exceeded expectations, but I think we always do that. I feel like we always are going above what maybe other people think we can,” Collier said. “It was just a really fun year, we had such a great team. They were just so enjoyable to be around. It was really fun that we were able to do what we did. Obviously, it was a rough start, which people love to talk about, but I think we had so many new people, we had so many young people and we just needed time to really gel on the court because we gelled so well off the court.
“We kind of knew that it was only a matter of time before we started playing better, and that’s exactly what happened. … I was really proud of how resilient we were this past year, how hard we played. It was just like a fun year to be in.”
Part of the credit for the success Minnesota had was due to how close the players and coaching staff were on the team, Collier believes, which resulted in the team being able to build strong chemistry on the fly as the season progressed.
“I think it just showed how much we really cared about each other. It was such a great group of people to be around and it was because we were all really good teammates. We wanted to win for each other, there was no one out there that was there for themselves, we were there for the team and what was best for the team,” Collier said. “We were genuinely happy for each other whenever we did well. It was just such a fun environment, and I feel like that really helped us to grow so fast. You didn’t have people who are out there just trying to chase stats or whatever it might be. If you made a mistake, people took constructive criticism, they wanted to get better for the team and do well for the team, and that allows you to grow really fast.”
Despite the chemistry built and the success that followed, some of the challenges Collier and the Lynx faced at the end of the season was the lack of experience in the playoffs. But with that experience now under their builts and having gone through a postseason together, Collier thinks that will only help the team grow for years to come.
“By the end, we didn’t have a lot of people who had been in the playoffs, like at all. We had a lot of new people, some people who came from other teams who weren’t in the playoffs a lot, so we didn’t have a lot of experience, like with end-of-season,” Collier said. “I’ve never gotten past the first round. We didn’t have a lot of experience of people who have played in the playoffs and won. I think that definitely kind of showed. … I think it really just came down to a little bit of inexperience for us. I’m excited to have this team back again next year and to have that under our belts and to have another year of experience.”
High Hopes For the Future
Now with the 2023 season over and the offseason underway, Collier is focused on improving her game and adding to her skillset so she can come back even stronger in 2024. That includes working on her three-point shooting, moves off the dribble, one-on-one moves, being able to change direction and more.
“I always want to grow. I don’t think I’ve reached my potential as a leader or as a player. I hope I continue to strive for that. I never want to be happy with where I am,” she said. “There’s a lot of things I’m going to work on this offseason physically for basketball and I also can’t wait to start being a leader again for the team when the season starts and taking what I learned last year and implementing it this year and hopefully growing in that area too. I’m definitely not satisfied with where I am, I want to continue to get better.”
Along with having high hopes for her game on a personal level, Collier also has high hopes for leading the Lynx into the future. And she’s going to try to do all she can to help her team improve this offseason in an attempt to continue to add to the roster, if possible.
“I think recruiting is going to be a big thing for us this offseason. Just filling different roles that I think that we have some holes in on our team,” Collier said. “We have a lot of people playing out of position, so hopefully we can get people who are meant to play that position this offseason. That’ll be a big thing. And then maybe some people with some more experience as well because we were really young this year. Having more of a veteran presence, maybe something like that.”
Collier is also dedicated to Minnesota and the organization that drafted her sixth overall in the 2019 WNBA Draft. She wants to lead the Lynx back to being a championship contender in 2024 and for years to come while leading that charge of a new era of Lynx basketball.
“I love Minnesota. … I really love the area, I love the community around it, I love the fandom around us. So many great players have come through Minnesota and we have an amazing coach. It’s just such a perfect situation for me,” Collier said. “I just feel really blessed that I have been there my whole career and I haven’t experienced some of the things that other players have. I’ve been really fortunate and where I got drafted.”
Though there were moments of doubt in her return to greatness, Collier took her game to the next level in 2023. But she isn’t satisfied. Collier doesn’t want to settle for just reaching the playoffs or being in the MVP conversation. She wants to go beyond that with the goal of taking her game and the play of her team to another level in 2024 and beyond.
“I hope a championship is next and I hope an MVP is next,” Collier said.
Listen to the Full Podcast
Hear the entire Hitting the Hardwood podcast with Napheesa Collier, including her full reflection of the 2023 season and what she thought of the year that was for her and the Lynx, what she plans to work on this offseason to become a better player and leader in 2024, what the Lynx might do ahead of the new year, the future of Minnesota in 2024 and beyond, and more.