At the conclusion of the 2022 WNBA season and throughout the offseason, much of the attention surrounding the Minnesota Lynx was with the retirement of future Hall of Famer Sylvia Fowles and who might take over the reins of the franchise moving forward.
Leading up to the 2023 campaign and moving forward, that player is clearly Napheesa Collier, who will be entering her fifth season in the league and is back to full strength after giving birth to her daughter Mila in March of 2022.
Everything the Lynx have done and will continue to do is centered around the 26-year-old Collier. From players brought onto the team to decisions made throughout the organization, everything Minnesota does has its new leader and face of the team in mind.
That includes players selected in the 2023 WNBA Draft, notably second overall pick Diamond Miller. The 22-year-old rookie matches Collier’s aggressiveness and willingness to get into transition, among other things, and she will get the chance to grow along with Collier as the Lynx go through a rebuild.
Collier is the star and Miller is the promising pupil. But as they grow together both on the court and off, that duo could be a dominant pairing for many years to come.
Collier is the new centerpiece of the Lynx, both on the court and as a leader. Minnesota is officially handing the keys to the organization to its best player, and all the successes or failures that take place will begin with Collier.
Although that increased role and title of leader and star could be intimidating for some, Collier takes it with a badge of honor and hopes that returning to “2021 Phee” form will result in success for her and the Lynx.
“It’s a good pressure. It’s like an honor. Obviously, this is a dynasty organization, so to have that be on my shoulders now, I take that very seriously,” Collier said. “I want to appreciate the people who came before me and make sure I’m leading the team in the right direction.”
As Collier aims to return to form that could be considered MVP caliber, her teammates are already noticing and speaking highly of her leadership leading up to the start of the regular season.
“She’s just so poised and she’s always calm. No matter what the situation is, she stays calm and she’s like ‘we’re good’,” Miller said of Collier. “That’s a good trait to have. When people are rallied up, she’s always like ‘relax’ and that helps.”
Though she did appear in four regular season games in 2022, Collier admitted she wasn’t in the physical shape she would have liked to be while attempting to at least take the floor with Fowles for a few games before her retirement. Now back at full strength, the 14.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, three assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks over her first three WNBA seasons will certainly be welcomed back by the Lynx.
“Phee is so active at both ends. The stuff that she can do offensively you can’t teach,” Reeve said. “Her instincts and her movement. She’s shooting the heck out of the three-ball, which was a big thing. So I’m really pleased that’s happened. That was a mission that we had for her, and it actually happened. It doesn’t always happen. And then defensively, you know her length and her instincts for movement and her rebounding.
“Yeah, we just missed Phee. Obviously, the way she does things, the way she carries herself, we’ve missed all that.”
After the 2022 season, Minnesota found itself in a spot it hadn’t been in years: in the top two of the WNBA Draft Lottery. The Lynx had their highest selection since picking Maya Moore first overall in the 2011 draft this offseason, with a big decision on who they would like to surround Collier with as future pieces of the franchise.
That wound up being Miller out of Maryland, a player many thought going into the draft was one of the most athletic and aggressive prospects available who has one of the highest potentials of anyone entering the WNBA.
As soon as she took the court in training camp and during preseason action, Reeve noticed that to be true. Miller’s athletic ability is off the charts and she has shown great flashes in her first professional action. And the way she has adjusted has been quicker than Reeve and Co. could have hoped for.
“Literally from the first time that she’s stepped on the floor, she has been one of our best players. I wasn’t expecting that,” Reeve said of the rookie. “ We needed more athleticism, so that was really appealing. But the relentlessness is what’s really endearing. She’s so competitive, wants to win every shooting drill and anything we’re doing she wants to win.
“That’s always attractive when you’re looking at players, especially those that plan to be one of your best players that can be an example to everyone, she’s definitely done all that. She only knows one way.”
Miller has already said during training camp she knows she has a lot to learn and a ways to go to get where she wants and where Minnesota wants her to be. It’s going to be a learning process that has many ups and downs as a rookie, but Miller is already handling it like a veteran.
“I think they expect a good amount of stuff from me. One thing I know, they’re constantly teaching me,” Miller said during Media Day of her new team. “I think that’s helping me on the way. … I do have expectations for myself, but I just want to play hard and give it my all. Every time I play now, I still get this excited feeling. … That’s my main goal, to be happy and have fun out there on the court.”
Lynx coaches, Miller’s teammates and the fan base all have high expectations for the rookie. That’s what follows when you’re the No. 2 pick. But Miller welcomes that pressure and hopes to live up to those expectations now and into the future.
“I think pressure is something that you love. If you’re not having pressure that means it’s not important,” Miller said. “The fact that I have pressure, it keeps you going and it’s exciting to be like ‘what can I do?’ That’s the fun part of being a professional athlete is that there is constant pressure on you. I’m just going to stay true to myself. I’m not perfect by any means and I don’t plan to be. I’m just going to try my best and whatever happens, happens.”
There is no question the Lynx are going through a serious transition of the franchise from a dynasty era to a new era in the present day. They are taking full inventory of the team and putting their eyes on the long game rather than strictly trying to win now like in years past.
At the center of that transition and as cornerstones of the franchise are Collier and Miller, the star and the diamond.
They are still in the early stages of playing together, but the enticing thing for the Lynx is the young duo growing together, both this season and for many years to come. Collier will grow as a star and as the leader of the organization, while Miller will grow as a player and as a professional.
“I think as Phee grows in her skill set and Diamond improves in her skill set. That’s a pretty good combination,” Reeve said. “They’ve played well together in the times that they’ve shared the court together, so they’ve got good synergy. Diamond has kind of found her way with a few people that really, you can see the synergy that she has. But certainly, to have your best player in Phee and your No. 2 pick be as good as they are, and be as good as they are together, that’s encouraging.”
Minnesota will continue to build around its new star duo of Collier and Miller; they are the present and the future of the Lynx. And once they get more acclimated to playing together and build even more chemistry, it could be a pairing that puts the league on notice for years to come.
“I think the future is really bright here, especially with Diamond as our rookie. I can’t believe I’m five years in, that’s crazy,” Collier said. “I think it’s going to be really cool. I’m going to try and bring her under my wing as much as I can and the future is always the goal. We’re always looking to what we can do this year and the future of this year, and what we can do in the future of our organization as a whole.
“I think with me and Diamond together, it’s going to be really bright.”