The WNBA playoffs begin tonight, and your Minnesota Lynx are in the very first game of all, taking on the Connecticut Sun at 7pm on ESPN2.
The WNBA played 40 games this year, their longest schedule ever, but I suppose it’s possible that you missed a few Lynx games here and there. Or perhaps you missed all of them, because you don’t get Bally Sports, and because nobody knows which channel “Ion” is supposed to be.
So here, as a service to you the potential playoff viewer, are some answers. What is the Lynx’s deal, anyway?
Okay, first of all, we must know: who are the Lynx’s good players?
Minnesota’s best player is Napheesa Collier, who was on the second All-WNBA team this year. She also shared the Comeback Player of the Year award, after returning from last year, when she was busy growing a whole dang brand-new human.
Note: She shared the award with Britney Griner, who was stuck in a Russian prison; the parents among us can debate which of these was more difficult.
Beyond Collier, wings Kayla McBride and Diamond Miller will score most of the rest of the team’s points. The trio will take two-thirds of the shots on the team, and they will set a lot of screens for each other at the three-point line, and in general if all three aren’t playing that well, you will look up and the Lynx will have scored like twenty points in an entire half.
Well, this is a Cheryl Reeve team, so they’ll lock it down on defense at least, right?
Unfortunately, you’re wrong! This team cannot play defense at all! They have the worst defensive rating of any playoff team, and regularly managed to give up 90+ points to bad teams down the stretch.
If you thought Reeve was a little angry about this, you’d be right. Here is what she said after Minnesota’s season finale:
“In the first quarter, we came out and we said, ‘We don’t trust you, coaches,’” Reeve said. “‘We don’t trust you. We don’t trust that team wants to be in the paint.’ It’s rooted in trust. How do you come out in the first quarter and give up 20 points in the paint? And then you turn around and ask, ‘Oh, you want me to help?’”
Hmm, this sounds bad, but is there any chance she could use the most disgusting metaphor we’ve ever heard, as well?
You’re in luck!
“Flush it? We’re not flushing this,” she said. “There is no such thing as flushing what we did defensively the last two games. No. You need to sit in it. Because you had an opportunity to do something special, and twice we didn’t do what we needed to do. So there is no flushing. Sit in it. Feel it.’’
Do the Lynx at least have cool young players?
Here’s where you’re in luck. In Miller and Dorka Juhász, Minnesota managed to provide 40% of the WNBA’s All-Rookie team. As the #2 pick, Miller was probably expected to be here, but Juhász - the 16th pick - was a pleasant surprise, averaging six points and six rebounds a night and playing pretty good defense.
Juhász went to UConn, which is a reminder that “draft UConn players” has pretty much been how the Lynx have built a franchise. They took Maya Moore with the #1 pick; she led them to four titles. They took Collier at #6 in 2019; she was the Rookie of the Year, and now she’s one of the top ten players in the league. They took Crystal Dangerfield 16th in 2020; she was the Rookie of the Year too, and they could really use her back.
Is everyone healthy for the playoffs?
Heck no! Starting big Jessica Shepard hurt her ankle and hasn’t played since August 26, and point guard Lindsay Allen broke her thumb a few weeks ago and hasn’t returned.
Tiffany Mitchell has been filling in at the point, but Shepard’s absence will hurt Minnesota, especially as they try to contend with the Sun’s post tandem of Alyssa Thomas and Dewanna Bonner. Thomas averaged - AVERAGED - a triple-double in four games against Minnesota this year, and the 6’4” Bonner leads the Sun with 17.4 points a game.
In response, the Lynx are going to throw Juhász and probably Nikolina Milic, who’s only averaged 12 minutes a game this year, at Bonner and Thomas.
Is (insert name of player you remember from the Lynx’s title teams) still around?
Unfortunately, no. Most of them are retired and in the Hall of Fame at this point. The closest we can give you is former Gopher guard Rachel Banham, who shoots almost exclusively threes these days, and makes 40% of them. When the Lynx second unit is in the game, their best offensive plan is usually to try to get Banham open and have her rain down a couple of threes on the opposition; it’s actually kind of fun to watch, especially if you remember her doing the same at Williams Arena.
What is going to happen in this series?
What usually happens is these Lynx-Sun games is that Thomas and Bonner combine for 55 points, the Sun outscore the Lynx 60-30 in the paint, and Minnesota hopes to keep it close by hitting a dozen three-pointers and getting 30 points from Collier.
If Collier, McBride, and Miller are all scoring efficiently, the Lynx have a chance, even if they struggle on defense. If it’s one of those games where Collier has four points at halftime and Bonner and Thomas are running layup lines, forget it.
Okay, so all of that said, you didn’t actually answer the overall question: what is the Lynx’s deal?
There have been three eras of Lynx basketball.
From 1999-2010, the Lynx were very bad. They only made the playoffs twice and won exactly one playoff game.
In 2011, the Lynx drafted Maya Moore, and were immediately very good. They won the WNBA title four times, every other season starting in 2011, and they lost in the Finals two other times; they were in every sense a dynasty.
Moore retired after the 2018 season. Since then, the Lynx have made the playoffs four times in five years, which is good, and won one playoff game (which also counted as a playoff round), which is not. This is their second consecutive season finishing the year with a losing record; last year could be chalked up to missing Collier, but this year truly felt like the real beginning of the rebuild.
Minnesota has some nice pieces in place, but this is not their year. What they need is for this year to be the year before their breakout year. I don’t know that they’ll be able to beat the Sun, but winning one game - and getting to play Game 3 at home in Minneapolis - might mean that this qualifies as a successful year.
When the Lynx started the year 0-6, I was not alone in dreaming about Minnesota taking Caitlin Clark with the #1 pick, another alliterative superstar to lead the Lynx back to the top of the WNBA.
Now that they’re in the playoffs, that’s not going to happen. They’re going to have to do this the hard way, with drafting well and developing talent and perhaps adding some free-agent pieces. Getting waxed 2-0 in this series isn’t going to help with any of that. They need a step forward, is what I’m saying; that’s their deal.