After missing a few different players for extended periods of time over the first half of the WNBA regular season, the Minnesota Lynx are starting to get closer to full strength with those key players returning to action.
Already getting Tiffany Mitchell (wrist) and Aerial Powers (ankle) back from injuries after missing a few weeks, the Lynx will also be getting center Jessica Shepard back on the floor this week.
Last week, I reported Shepard was expected to return this week from a non-COVID illness that has sidelined her since mid-June. On Wednesday, the Lynx made it official with the activation of Shepard entering the game against the Washington Mystics at Target Center.
Minnesota #Lynx injury update:— Mitchell Hansen (@M_Hansen13) July 22, 2023
Lynx forward Jessica Shepard is expected to return next week from a non-COVID illness, given no setbacks.
Shepard has missed the last 13 games while averaging 9.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 4.4 assist in nine games this season. #WNBA
Shepard has missed the last 14 games with her non-COVID illness, leaving a gap in the paint and in the starting lineup after a strong start to the season. The fourth-year forward last played on June 11 against the Los Angeles Sparks, a game which she posted eight points and 13 rebounds.
Over nine games this season, Shepard has averaged 9.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 53.2% in 33 minutes per game in nine starts. All of those marks, albeit over a limited sample size, are on pace to be career highs for Shepard. Her best performance of the season so far was a 15-point, 10-rebound and 5-assist double-double against Dallas on May 30, one of her two double-doubles this season.
Coming into the 2023 season, many were wondering how the Lynx would replace Sylvia Fowles after her retirement over the offseason. Shepard picked up the duty of being that post presence at the beginning of the season, doing a little bit of everything for Minnesota on the glass and even handing out a team-leading assist mark.
“She just has a great instinct to make great passes. She’s very aware. It’s just kind of who she is as a player,” Kayla McBride said of Shepard earlier this season. “When she has the ball in her hand at the top and the middle, playing off of for her, we’re very comfortable in what we do.
“Especially I know me, [Napheesa Collier], Rachel [Banham], we’ve had extended periods of time with Jess. I’ve gotten a lot of backdoor cuts. I scored a game winner last year off one of Jess’s passes, and she’s very, very good and she continues to come back better.”
Since Shepard has been sidelined, Lynx rookie Dorka Juhász has done a nice job in taking over in the starting lineup, improving as each game takes place in her first season. With Shepard’s return, her and Juhász could make for a nice pairing in the paint for the Lynx that entered the year with a need at that position. At the very least, it will be a welcomed addition for Minnesota to have Shepard back on the floor.