Coming into the 2020 WNBA season, Minnesota Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve didn’t really know what to expect out of point guard Crystal Dangerfield in her rookie campaign.
When the Lynx drafted Dangerfield out of the University of Connecticut at No. 16 overall, Reeve went into the year hoping Dangerfield would at least be a significant contributor off the bench. Maybe she would insert her into the starting lineup at some point during the season.
After an early-season injury to opening day starting point guard Shenise Johnson in the first few games of the season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., Dangerfield’s time as a starter arrived early on in her professional career. And to say she has stepped up to the occasion would be an understatement.
“In the case of Crystal Dangerfield, there’s a level of toughness there,” Reeve said. “I didn’t necessarily know how tough she is. How physically and mentally tough she is. … Crystal has a lot of dog in her, and that’s the highest compliment you can give a player.”
At the midway point in the 2020 season, Dangerfield has already made her mark in Minnesota, resulting in her name already being thrown around for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.
“I didn’t know just how good she was, how fast she would be able to adjust and her decision making in the pick-and-roll,” Reeve said of Dangerfield. “She’s just really good. That’s a player who is hurting. She’s one of my most banged up players, but you would just never know it. When she’s out there between the lines and she’s hoopin’, that’s hard to do. It speaks to her belief in herself and her resilience. We just trust her and she’s played great.”
TAKING HER GAME TO THE NEXT LEVEL
With multiple Lynx players missing time already this season due to injuries — including Sylvia Fowles who is out indefinitely with a calf strain and fellow guards such as Rachel Banham, Odyssey Sims, Lexie Brown and Johnson all missing at least one game this year — Dangerfield has put that increased workload on her shoulders and has stepped up big for Minnesota.
“She’s been getting hounded a little bit because she’s a point guard and there’s a lot of responsibility with that,” Napheesa Collier said of Dangerfield. “But she’s taking it in stride and she’s doing great facilitating our team and getting to the basket. She’s been playing really well.”
In 11 games leading into Friday’s game against Phoenix, Dangerfield is averaging 14.3 points, 3.5 assists, 1.7 rebounds, 0.6 steals and is shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 38 percent from three in 28.7 minutes per contest.
“You never want to get too high or get too low. That was something I wanted to take (from Connecticut) and translate over here,” Dangerfield said. “You want to be able to stay steady, be composed and show poise out there on the floor, especially at point guard.”
Dangerfield has seen a lot of improvement recently. In the last five contests, she is averaging 19.6 points, 4.4 assists, 1.4 rebounds and 0.6 steals in 32.2 minutes as the Lynx starting point guard. In the last two games alone, she has averaged 21.5 points, 5.0 assists, shot 61.5 percent from the field and recorded a plus/minus of plus-38.
Those types of performance have begun conversations around the league about Dangerfield earning a rookie’s highest honor, the Rookie of the Year award.
BACK-TO-BACK ROOKIES OF THE YEAR?
When Dangerfield was drafted in the second round of the draft this year, not many people had her on their lists of potential Rookie of the Year candidates. With the flood of other talent in the draft class there was really no realistic reason to believe that Dangerfield would be in the running for the award by the end of the year.
Halfway through the season, however, that has changed dramatically. And the point guard is arguably at the front of the pack to win Rookie of the Year at the moment.
“Crystal is definitely up for Rookie of the Year right now,” Collier said. “She’s playing unbelievably and she’s playing so well for our team. I think she’s the best rookie right now.
“Crystal for Rookie of the Year.”
If Dangerfield would be crowned Rookie of the Year in 2020, she would be the first rookie drafted in the second round to win the award and the lowest draft pick to do so since 1998. No pick lower than the No. 7 pick (Tracy Reid in 1998) has won the honor in WNBA history.
“I think my confidence level is pretty steady right now,” Dangerfield said. “Just trusting my teammates, moving the ball and taking what the defense gives me and taking advantage as much as possible.”
Dangerfield would be the third Lynx player to win Rookie of the Year, joining Maya Moore in 2011 and Collier in 2019. It would also be back-to-back seasons a player on Minnesota would claim the honor.
We are just halfway through the year, but Dangerfield has begun her rookie campaign perhaps better than anyone could have imagined. And if she is able to continue to play at this level for the rest of the regular season, she will undoubtedly be the favorite to land the 2020 Rookie of the Year award by year’s end.
“I think she’s surprising everyone. I obviously know what she can do, but it’s a whole other ball game once you get to the league,” Collier said of her teammate. “This was what she was doing in college and I knew she was really fun to with who is a great point guard. I’m really glad she’s transitioned so well and I’m proud of what she’s done.”