It’s hard to believe that the Minnesota Lynx season is already over after being swept by the Seattle Storm in the semifinals.
Going into the 2020 season, a 22-game regular season followed by a traditional playoff format played in a bubble at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., the expectations weren’t incredibly high for a Lynx team that was viewed to still be in a transition period exiting a dynasty run while rebuilding to try and return to championship contention.
With those expectations, Minnesota surprised some people around the league during the regular season, jumping off to a hot start and finishing the season with a 14-8 record. After compiling records of 18-16 the last two years and seeing their seasons end in the first round of the playoffs in both seasons, the Lynx recorded their highest winning percentage (63.6%) since the 2017 season (27-7 overall, 79.4%).
Along with that regular season result, Minnesota claimed the No. 4 seed in the playoffs and advanced beyond the first two rounds of the postseason for the first time since winning the WNBA title in 2017, ultimately falling in three games to a tough Seattle squad.
With the arrival of the offseason, they turn their focus to 2021 and continue to grow into a contender once again. Let’s dive into five positives that Minnesota can take away from the season that was.
Napheesa Collier Stepping Into Leadership Role
After winning Rookie of the Year award after being drafted No. 6 overall in the 2019 WNBA Draft, Collier and the Lynx had high hopes for the young forward going into Year 2 this season.
Early on in the year, Collier got off to a slower start than she or her team would have liked, but ended up picking up her level of play as the summer progressed. By the end of the 2020 campaign, Collier put her name into some MVP conversations with her play while serving as a captain in just her second season.
In 22 games, Collier averaged career-highs of 16.1 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 blocks in 34.2 minutes, also tallying 1.8 steals per game while shooting 52.3% from the field, 40.8% from three and 82.9% from the free throw line. Her performance also landed her on the WNBA All-Defense Second Team while getting two votes for Defensive Player of the Year, which was won by Los Angeles’ Candace Parker.
We already knew Collier was good, as she showcased during her rookie season. But in 2020, her second year in the WNBA, she took another step forward on both sides of the floor and has become a leader on this team that will continue for the foreseeable future.
Crystal Dangerfield Storming the Scene
One of the biggest question marks leading into the 2020 season for Minnesota was who would take over at the point guard spot. A position that was long held by former Lynx great Lindsay Whalen and most recently occupied by Danielle Robinson until she left in free agency this offseason. The Lynx had a hole to fill in the starting lineup and were looking for someone to step up to the challenge.
Somewhat unexpectedly, that player quickly became rookie point guard Dangerfield, who was drafted No. 16 overall in the 2020 WNBA Draft out of the University of Connecticut.
It was a surprise to see Dangerfield fall into the second round of the draft — where she was ultimately selected by Minnesota — after many thought she would go as early as sixth overall to the Lynx.
Minnesota ended up selecting a player it had its eyes on during the draft process, and man did that selection pay off.
Following some early-season injuries, mainly to opening day starting point guard Shenise Johnson, Dangerfield’s number was called to take over as starting point guard. From that point on, she didn’t give that role up.
Dangerfield put together a dominant rookie campaign, which resulted in her receiving 44 of the 47 votes to win the Rookie of the Year Award and become the second straight Lynx rookie do win the award.
In 21 appearances this season, Dangerfield averaged 16.2 points, 3.6 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 0.9 steals and shot 47.1% from the field and 33.3% from three in 30 minutes per game. She ranked 11th in the WNBA in scoring and third in free throw percentage (92.2%). She also ranked second among rookies in scoring, minutes and assists.
Although it maybe happened earlier than many expected, Dangerfield has stormed onto the scene in the WNBA, which is great news for the Lynx as they now appear to have the starting point guard spot filled for the long-term.
Success in Florida
When news broke that the WNBA season would be played in Florida from late July to October, nobody knew what to expect. Every game being played basically on a neutral court during the regular season and postseason.
Without any fans in attendance outside of team personnel and some of the players’ family members, and no team having any sort of a home court advantage, it was going to be interesting to see who could put all of that aside and step up to the challenge in 2020.
For Minnesota, it was a positive to see it do just that and surprise some people en route to a top-4 finish in the WNBA standings.
There’s no question the Lynx have one of the more favorable home court advantages in the league, oftentimes ranking near the top of the WNBA in fan attendance. But with out of the equation this season while playing at IMG Academy, Minnesota found success away from its home arena to still put together a strong year.
You have to wonder if that experience playing away from Minnesota will help the Lynx in away games once teams and fans can return to their home arenas, not only during the regular season but in the playoffs.
Valuable Playoff Experience, Accelerating The Timeline
At the end of the regular season, the Lynx made history by qualifying for in the playoffs for a 10th straight year. That extended the longest active straight in the WNBA for teams reaching the postseason, and they became the third team in league history to reach the playoffs 10 or more times in a row.
Not only did it get into the postseason yet again, but Minnesota reached the semifinals to play in a best-of-5 series for the first time since 2017. They earned a first-round bye as the No. 4 seed, and the Lynx edged past the Phoenix Mercury in a single-elimination second-round contest, going on to play Seattle, a title favorite, in the semis.
Whether it be the tough back-and-forth second-round game against Phoenix or getting the chance to take part in an actual series, Minnesota gained some valuable playoff experience that can be used beyond the 2020 season.
With a young team, especially a young starting lineup lacking veteran center Sylvia Fowles for most of the season due to injury, that playoff experience will be huge in the development of Minnesota’s players and gives them a taste of what it takes to make a deep postseason run.
After being swept by Seattle in the semifinals, Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said she was most excited about the fact her team got that playoff experience, adding it likely accelerates the timeline for this team in trying to get back to title contention.
Of the bright spots Minnesota can take away from the season, the fact that it was able to not only get back to the playoffs but advance deeper in the postseason has to be one of the biggest positives.
Young Assets To Mix With Veterans Moving Forward
With this year now over, the focus immediately turns to 2021 and how the Lynx will look next summer and beyond.
With a few different players stepping up into larger roles and earning playoff experience, Minnesota has to feel good about how this team looks going into the future.
The Lynx are a young team, but they will look to get some veteran players back as soon as 2021 to mix in with the nice young stars on the roster.
Not taking into account what Minnesota could get via the WNBA Draft this offseason, some of the young core that will return to the floor next year likely includes the likes of Collier, Dangerfield, Damiris Dantas, Rachel Banham, Lexie Brown, Jessica Shepard, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Cecilia Zandalasini.
As far as veterans, Fowles will be back, Odyssey Sims will likely be returning and the Lynx could also look to retain Karima Christmas-Kelly, who missed nearly the entire season due to injury. That, of course, isn’t even taking into account the fact that Maya Moore could potentially return, if she decides to do so after taking the last few years off.
For a majority of the last decade, Minnesota has featured a team that has been veteran-heavy and relied on older players to lead the way in what seemed like annual championship runs. In 2020, the Lynx developed some young players to mix with some veterans in order to get back to being that championship caliber team once again.