Coming into her 12th season in the WNBA and fifth with the Minnesota Lynx, Sylvia Fowles was faced with a new challenge in 2019 that she hadn’t had to necessarily deal with a ton in past years.
With the absence of three key veteran players and three vocal leaders in Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson in Minnesota this season, Fowles was expected to carry more of a veteran leadership and vocal role among the team this summer alongside veteran guard Seimone Augustus.
To kick off the year, Fowles appeared to be in mid-season form for the most part while performing like her dominant self that WNBA fans have been accustomed to seeing out of the 6-foot-6 center throughout her career.
As the year continued to progress, however, Fowles hit a bit of a bump in the road. And that bump in the road started to match the team’s overall struggles in the latter half of the regular season, bringing up questions as to if the former league MVP was trying to carry too much on her shoulders.
“It definitely was tough, but you have to find a way to do other things,” Fowles said. “You can’t really worry about your scoring, it comes and goes. You have to go out there and worry about blocking shots and getting steals and helping your guards on the perimeter. So those were the things that I focused on more.”
Most notably during Minnesota’s lengthy road trip to start the month of August where the team played six of eight games away from Target Center, Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve started to see that things were starting to get a little more difficult for her star center.
Around the time Minnesota was in New York to face the Liberty in the middle of the month, a game where Fowles recorded seven points and eight rebounds, Reeve realized that the Lynx needed to try and focus on getting Fowles back on track if they wanted to make a run in the postseason once again this year.
“I think it was in New York when we made the recognition that Syl was just struggling and she needed allies as opposed to challenging her,” Reeve said. “I think you are hearing so much from athletes now. When you have something like the news with (Indianapolis Colts quarterback) Andrew Luck and us with Maya (Moore), being a professional athlete is a great life but there is a lot that goes with it. It’s not easy and I think you just go through times and you have to navigate those difficult times.
“They are people too. They are in relationships and they have families just like all of us have. Sometimes, things get a little more difficult.”
During a five-game stretch during that period in August, Fowles averaged 9.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 blocks while seeing her team go 1-4 and drop down to the No. 8 seed in the WNBA standings during that span.
Minnesota was struggling, and it needed to focus more on how it could get the focal point of the team back on track to gain steam heading into the playoffs.
“Just frustration and not playing the way that you can,” Napheesa Collier said regarding what she saw from Fowles during her mid-season struggles. “I think she has kind of locked in and learned from those experiences and what wasn’t working for her. She’s in the gym early every day getting shots up, so you can definitely see her dedication. That’s part of the reason why she is Sylvia Fowles, she’s amazing.”
During the Lynx four-game homestand that they wrapped up with a victory over the Indiana Fever on Sunday, Fowles has appeared to have found her way once again. And her play has resulted in Minnesota playing some of its best basketball of the season, winners of four straight entering Friday’s contest against the Phoenix Mercury.
“(I got back on track) more so by just looking out for myself. I know that might sound a little selfish, but I realized that me just making sure my teammates do what they do and taking myself out of the equation wasn’t good for the team,” Fowles said. “I just wanted to come back and make my way in the way I am capable of playing and not worry about everybody else. Just making sure we are clicking and me doing my part.”
During the team’s four-game winning streak, pushing them up to the No. 6 seed in the league standings with two games remaining in the regular season, Fowles averaged 12.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 blocks per contest.
Part of her recent success has been due to her not worrying so much about everybody else, but in return helping everybody else by working on her own game and making sure she plays the way Fowles knows she’s capable of.
“It’s not so much me trying to free myself, but I was trying to make sure everybody else got theirs. It wasn’t working and it took me a while to realize that it wasn’t working. I just wanted everybody else to play well and I kind of left myself out of the equation,” Fowles added. “Once I started doing what I do best, and that’s just dominating down low and not worry about anything, I’ve realized that the team works better that way.”
The Lynx are back to playing the style of basketball that fed into the successes in the last handful of seasons.
And perhaps one of the biggest reasons for that turnaround and recent success is due to Fowles getting back on track while continuing to provide Minnesota with a dominant presence down low and being a focal point night-in and night-out.
“She is everywhere. Just her persistence and her presence under the block is amazing,” Collier said of her teammate. “She is a force and just so dominant.”