A new era of Minnesota Lynx basketball is beginning at the Target Center. For the first time since 2011, All-Star players Lindsay Whalen and Maya Moore won’t be wearing a Lynx uniform -- Whalen is retired and Moore is taking a year off to focus on family and ministry. So where does that leave the Lynx heading into the season? This team isn’t rebuilding, but rather regrouping. Read on:
How will the Lynx replace Maya Moore?
There’s no way to fully replace Moore, the 2014 league MVP and Minnesota’s leading scorer in five of the last six seasons. But head coach/general manager Cheryl Reeve made a few moves this offseason to lessen the blow. The Lynx signed Karima Christmas-Kelly in free agency, a 6-foot forward who’s averaged 10.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game over the last four seasons but is coming back from knee surgery. Minnesota also made the position its first priority in the draft, selecting Napheesa Collier sixth overall out of Connecticut. Collier can play both small forward and power forward. She averaged 20.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in 2018-19 for the Huskies, and if she can further develop her 3-point shot (33.7% clip in college), she’ll be a force in the WNBA. Plus, let’s not forget about Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus. Scoring the basketball is never an issue with those two on the floor.
How will the Lynx replace the retired Lindsay Whalen?
Here’s where it might get even tougher. The Lynx struggled a bit last season in Whalen’s swan song when she averaged a career-low 5.7 points and 3.1 assists in 19.3 minutes per contest. Whalen was the piece that made Reeve’s scheme run smoothly, so Minnesota needs a new voice to step up at the guard position. Danielle Robinson, a three-time All-Star from 2013-15, returns for her second season with Minnesota, but perhaps Reeve’s biggest move this offseason could erase the loss of Whalen. The Lynx traded guard Alexis Jones to Los Angeles in exchange for Odyssey Sims, a 26-year-old guard who ironically was Whalen’s biggest nemesis when the Lynx-Sparks rivalry was at its peak. Sims is more of a scorer than facilitator -- she owns career averages of 12.8 points and 3.6 assists per game. In two preseason games, Sims averaged 22.5 points, 5.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals. Yes, it’s only two games -- and preseason, at that – but Sims looks like she’ll thrive in Reeve’s system.
Are any roster moves expected to be made this summer?
In a word, yes. Due to basketball obligations overseas, Cecilia Zandalasini isn’t currently listed on Minnesota’s roster but is expected to join the team at some point this summer. As the Lynx’s second-best 3-point sniper last season with a 38.3% clip (23 of 60), Minnesota will need her in a league that’s beginning to rely more and more on the outside shot. Rebekkah Brunson, the 37-year-old forward who was a part of all four WNBA titles with the Lynx and has been with the organization since 2010, is still a free agent. Brunson suffered a concussion late in the 2018 season but still put together a solid season in her 15th year in the league. She didn’t report to training camp but also hasn’t announced anything about retiring, so a return to Minnesota at some point this summer could be a possibility.
Is there a dark horse on the roster to emerge into an impact player?
The Lynx were one of the oldest, if not the oldest, team in the WNBA the past few seasons. That’s changed. Reeve brought in a flurry of young talent that could contribute in 2019. Besides first-round pick Collier (22 years old), the Lynx also added Damiris Dantas (26) in free agency, drafted Jessica Shepard (22) and traded for Lexie Brown (24), Alaina Coates (24) and Stephanie Talbot (24). Of the names just listed, Dantas probably will make the biggest impact as the starter at power forward, for now. But don’t sleep on Talbot or Brown. Talbot is a career 38.4% 3-point shooter and Brown shot the 3 at a 38.5% clip in college but didn’t get to show it much in her first WNBA season last year, as she played just 5.6 minutes per game as a rookie for the Sun. Minnesota sunk the second-fewest 3-point shots in the WNBA last season (183), so it needs snipers off the bench. Talbot and Brown could be those players.
So, who’s the best competition in the Western Conference?
The bulk of Minnesota’s schedule will be against the other five teams in the Western Conference. It’s going to be a battle. Las Vegas is listed as the favorite to win it all in 2019. The Aces missed the postseason in their first year of existence in 2018, but they used the first overall pick to select Notre Dame’s Jackie Young, adding a dynamic guard to a roster that already boasts 2018 rookie of the year A’ja Wilson, who is also a contender to take home the MVP this season. In addition, Las Vegas traded for Liz Cambage, a 6-8 center that averaged 23.0 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last season. Look out for that big three. Los Angeles will be good again with Chelsea Gray, Candace Parker and co., and it’ll be interesting to see how former NBA star Derek Fisher does in his first season as head coach.