The Minnesota Lynx entered the 2019 WNBA Draft in somewhat unfamiliar territory.
The Lynx have generally been one of the teams in the league in contention for a WNBA title annually and therefore have found themselves holding a lower pick in the draft year after year.
After getting bounced in the opening round of the WNBA Playoffs in 2018, however, Minnesota held the No. 6 overall pick in the draft and was hoping to be able to select a solid impact player who could step in right away, especially after the Lynx learned they would be without a few key pieces and All-Star players coming in this season.
Minnesota ended up selecting Napheesa Collier with that pick in the opening round of the draft, a 6-foot-1 wing who just finished up a stellar career at Connecticut.
And so far in Collier’s rookie campaign, the Lynx might just have found that impact player they were searching for.
In 11 games during her rookie year thus far, Collier has thrived in her role with Minnesota, starting in all 11 games entering Sunday’s contest against the Dallas Wings in Arlington.
While averaging 32.4 minutes per game in a starting role, Collier has averaged 12.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, two assists, 1.7 steals and one block per game. She is also shooting an impressive 48.9 percent from the field, 34.4 percent from deep and 80 percent from the free-throw line.
“She’s hard to guard. She can shoot the 3, she can take it off the dribble, she can shoot jumpers, she’s posting up. Nobody can guard her,” Odyssey Sims said. “Everyone that has been guarding her these first games have been smaller than her and we’ve been telling her to take full advantage of it.
“We are just trying to get her the best looks that we can and telling her to play hard and keep it up.”
Among fellow rookies and players that came out of the 2019 Draft, Collier currently ranks first in player efficiency (15.0), first in minutes played, first in points per game, first in steals, second in blocks, third in rebounds and fifth in assists, according to WNBA.com.
Although her offensive stats are impressive and her presence on the offensive side of the floor has been felt, perhaps the most important part of Collier’s game early on in her career has been her defense.
Collier has stepped up big on the defensive side multiple times for Minnesota already, proving that she can step up for her team on both ends of the court. Which is something that plays very well into Cheryl Reeve’s philosophy as a head coach.
“For me, it’s doing whatever the team needs in order for us to win. I think I need to just keep being aggressive, I kind of got away from that the past couple of games,” Collier said. “Just staying aggressive with that and keep shooting it, but it all starts with my defense.”
After going off for 27 points and six rebounds in her WNBA debut back on May 25, Collier opened the month of June having trouble consistently putting solid games together for the Lynx.
But as of late, she has found her groove once again, proving to Reeve and her teammates that she is worthy of a starting role on this team.
“She’s ready for (an expanded role), I don’t have any doubt about that,” Reeve said of the rookie. “It’s interesting with Naphessa, I think what I’m learning about her is the worse she practices, the best she plays in a game. She had a terrible week of practice (last week). This also happened in training camp, where she didn’t score hardly ever in training camp and then came out and had 27 (points) in our first game. I guess I hope for bad practices going forward.”
Over the course of the past two games, which have resulted in two straight wins for Minnesota, Collier has averaged 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals, two assists and 0.5 blocks per game, emerging as a nice No. 3 option on offense behind Sylvia Fowles and Sims thus far.
As the Lynx look to continue to climb in the WNBA standings this season and aim to stretch their winning streak to three straight on Sunday against Dallas, Minnesota will continue to look for Collier to step up in her role within the starting rotation.
With the regular season officially one-third of the way complete, the rookie has found her groove as of late. And the Lynx think they have found that young playmaker they hoped they were getting in the draft back in April.
“The girl is good. Bottom line, there isn’t anything else to say,” Sims said. “We got the best rookie out of all the rookies in the draft.”