For nearly the past decade, roster consistency has been a common theme surrounding the Minnesota Lynx and their success.
This season, that isn’t the case for Minnesota. As the 2019 WNBA campaign gets underway, we are officially entering the start of a different era in Lynx basketball.
Minnesota — which opened up training camp on Sunday and will continue on with camp before kicking off preseason play at 7 p.m. Friday against the Washington Mystics at Target Center — heads into the new year looking towards the future.
With the absence of three star players in Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore and — at least for the start of the season — Rebekkah Brunson, the Lynx will begin the year with a new feel and a much newer look than fans have been accustomed to in the past.
“There’s going to be a lot more teaching,” said Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve. “Things that were a well-oiled machine, like I could say something and the group just knew what I was talking about, this group has no clue. That’s the biggest difference. It’s refreshing in some ways, because you get to teach again. I don’t have to worry about doing less, I can do more. That’s refreshing and exciting at the same time.”
Minnesota opened up practice this week with 12 of the 18 players it expects to report to camp being new faces. The six returning players from 2018 include Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus, Erlana Larkins, Danielle Robinson, Temi Fagbenle and Cecilia Zandalasini.
“When I walked in the locker room today, I looked at all of them and said, ‘Ya’ll nervous?’” said Augustus, who is entering her 14th season in the WNBA and with the Lynx. “They were all kind of nervous, but mostly about the plays, because it’s a lot in a few days. We practice against Washington on Thursday and have a game on Friday, so they were more nervous about the plays coming in. I just told them to relax, it’s basketball.
“You gain so many players that you have to try and teach how to compete and how to become that champion.”
Throughout the offseason, the Lynx steadily added new pieces, and Reeve and company began to shape what they’d like the team to look like this season and beyond.
During the free agency period and within the trade market, Minnesota added a few veteran pieces to the mix, notably forwards Karima Christmas-Kelly and Damiris Dantas via free agency and guard Odyssey Sims via a trade with the Los Angeles Sparks.
All three of those players, who will provide a tough, physical presence to Minnesota, will see playing time right away for the Lynx.
“I don’t do well with players that aren’t tough. … That’s just simply not a profile of a player that we would bring here if it wouldn’t be good for them,” Reeve said of the additions. “That was extremely important. A physical toughness and a mental toughness.”
During the WNBA Draft in April, the Lynx brought in four more notable young pieces in Napheesa Collier, Jessica Shepard, Kenisha Bell and Lexie Brown.
“They all look good (right now). You can tell which players will probably break out and are really showing off their talent,” Augustus said. “Napheesa is one that is very, very versatile. She plays the perimeter, she plays the post and she’s not afraid to go in there and bang around as well as step out. Shephard has looked really good as far as being a stretch four and being able to open the floor for us. Those are two faces right now, but you can tell that players like Bell from the U of M has been doing well, just her energy and her intensity. We’ll see over the next few days.”
Collier, along with Shepard, will likely see a decent amount of playing time within Minnesota’s rotation in 2019, providing the Lynx a sneak peek into what their future might look like.
“We like our first-round pick (in Collier), we like J-Shepard, and the other two (Bell and Brown) are trying to figure out what place they can play,” Reeve said. “(Collier) naturally just plays the game simply. She’ll cut when she’s supposed to cut, she’ll take a shot when she’s supposed to take a shot, she’ll be where she needs to be defensively, so I think that contribution can happen anywhere at any time. I think the difficulty would just be with the speed of the game, the physicality of the game that she’ll have to adjust to.
“Overall, I think her game transitions right away just because she’s a good basketball player.”
Although training camp has a different feel this time around for Minnesota with a flood of new personnel filling the practice facility, Reeve and the Lynx believe they have a good understanding of where they think they are and who they will move ahead with as the roster continues to take shape.
“I know who’s not getting cut and there’s probably 10 of them. Some of the draft picks, they are fighting for a spot because we need that extra guard. I think there’s real opportunity there,” Reeve said. “For the most part, we feel pretty set in what we’re doing with the outside chance that maybe having a surprise (in training camp).”
It was bound to happen eventually, but we are officially entering a new era of basketball in Minnesota. But the Lynx are excited for the opportunity to carry on their success from the past while looking ahead to the future.
“It’s been just more of a drill down, more nuances, there’s a lot of communication that has been going on with our veterans to kind of shortcut where we are trying to go. … There’s a newness that is refreshing, but I’m not saying that if I had a choice, that I wouldn’t prefer a bunch of veterans that know what the heck they are doing,” Reeve said. “But that’s not the case and I like the idea, this is where we are and this is what happens as you go on throughout a franchise’s history.
“This is the start of a different era,” Reeve continued. “I know we are going to teach like crazy and we are going to play hard. The plays that we run are just going to be ran by different players, but we hope at the same effectiveness.”
Make sure to check back at Zone Coverage throughout the opening week of training camp to check out our extensive coverage of the Minnesota Lynx as they prepare for the start of the 2019 WNBA season.