More often than not over the past decade, the Minnesota Lynx have annually found themselves in contention for a league championship and therefore at the bottom of the WNBA Draft every April.
In the last few years, however, that position has shifted more towards the middle of the pack with the Lynx seeing a decent amount of roster turnover following claiming their fourth title in franchise history in 2017.
For the second straight year, Minnesota will be selecting at No. 6 overall in the 2020 WNBA Draft, which will take place at 6 p.m. (CT) on Friday. The draft, which will be presented in an unusual virtual format for the first time ever, will air live on ESPN.
“There’s greater pressure to get it right when you earn your way to the middle of the pack, so you need some help. The view from the bottom of the first round is not a very good view. You’re always hoping somebody is going to fall or you’re trying to move up,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “Our mindset has shifted to being less inclined to trade the pick unless there is real return on it, because of where we are and because we need some young talent. There is a greater pressure to get it right.”
Along with the sixth overall pick in the draft, the Lynx hold the fourth pick in the second round (No. 16 overall) during the three-round, 36-pick draft.
“The draft feels a little more predictable this year than last year. I think last year, it felt like a little more uncertainty,” Reeve said. “This class has players that you go ‘there’s just no way they’re going to be there.’ Last year, it was a very subjective top of the draft and that led to multiple scenarios.”
Picking at No. 6 again
In 2019, Minnesota also found itself with the sixth overall pick in the league’s draft. That pick ended up being a home run for Reeve and company, landing eventual 2019 Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier out of Connecticut.
“Napheesa Collier wasn’t a player when we drafted her at No. 6 that we thought would be a starter or a candidate for Rookie of the Year. I was actually worried about getting her enough minutes as a rookie to do anything meaningful,” Reeve said. “Napheesa just made the most of the opportunity. We knew she was a good basketball player and I think the same thing will happen for us at No. 6 this year. We will get a good basketball player.”
In the second round of last year’s draft, Minnesota also landed Jessica Shepard out of Notre Dame, a player who Reeve believes has a bright future with the Lynx.
In 2020, Minnesota isn’t expecting to find a Rookie of the Year type player or someone that would necessarily come in and make a huge impact the way Collier and Shepard did last season. The Lynx are simply just trying to take the best player possible with each draft pick, especially at No. 6.
“If you look at the draft, there are largely considered three legitimate potential stars. The fourth who will not be there is Lauren Cox (from Baylor). Once you remove those four from the occasion, now you have a handful of players that we think will be good players in the league,” Reeve said. “I would say it has allowed us to be a little bit more laser-focused on three or four players and just making sure you have consensus on your staff, and we do.
“When it’s all said and done, there are probably about three legit prospects that we have honed in on.”
For Minnesota, there is an obvious need at point guard that could result in the Lynx eyeing a guard with the sixth pick. A few names that could be on the board at No. 6 include point guards Crystal Dangerfield of Connecticut and Ty Harris of South Carolina.
“Napheesa Collier being from Connecticut, we have a lot of insight on Crystal. Napheesa has very much lobbied for Crystal Dangerfield to be on the Minnesota Lynx and has been doing that for quite some time,” Reeve said. “Ty Harris might be the player that has had the biggest bump from having a great season. … Her stock really rose. I believe that Ty Harris will be the first point guard taken after Sabrina (Ionescu). Dangerfield will probably be the third point guard.
“I think it’s pretty much a consensus that Ty Harris is going to go ahead of Crystal Dangerfield, but I don’t know if she will go No. 6 or not.”
Even if Minnesota picks a point guard in the first round of Friday’s draft, Reeve said not to expect a rookie taking over that starting role this season.
“I don’t think that you’re going to see a rookie point guard starting for the Lynx in 2020. I’m actually pretty sure of that,” Reeve said. “But maybe something presents itself and we end up having a rookie point guard. If I think they are talented enough or if I think that the point guard could be a solution going forward, sometimes it makes sense to immediately get where you’re going.”
The 2020 WNBA Draft will be delivered in an unusual virtual format this year due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. The league will air the draft without players, guests or media members in attendance, with commissioner Cathy Engelbert announcing draft picks and players taking part remotely.
For the Lynx and the rest of the league, this is a chance to be in the spotlight and to take a step up on the national stage in front of the rest of the sports world.
“We have some veteran players in the league that are really excited about anything WNBA and to be front-and-center on ESPN in a live event,” Reeve said. “It’s a great opportunity to anybody who is a sports fan tuning in. Maybe they are a new fan watching and learning.”
In a new virtual reality for the WNBA and the rest of the sports world, other leagues might also use Friday’s draft to see what will work well for their offseason events in the future. Most notably, the NFL is holding its draft next week in a similar virtual presentation.
“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity to have our league front and center and to put on a great show. I know ESPN has worked really hard to put this together,” Reeve added. “Maybe the NFL Draft will learn something from what the WNBA does.”
Roster moving forward
Regardless of the outcome of the WNBA Draft and which players Minnesota ends up selecting with its two picks, Reeve is fairly comfortable with where the Lynx roster is at right now.
There are a few question marks still remaining before the season can begin to ease any concerns she may have, including finding out the status of guard Odyssey Sims — who reportedly might not play in 2020 — as well as continuing to fill needs within the roster.
“If we were playing on May 15, I wouldn’t be feeling as comfortable as if we were playing perhaps sometime in July or August where I will be able to have a fuller complement (of players). I’m alluding to, of course, Odyssey Sims’ availability. Odyssey Sims’ ability to return and build on her first year, I think it helps our chances,” Reeve said. “I’m enthusiastic about the team that we can put on the floor in 2020 in terms of how we are going to change offensively. Defensively, we have our work cut out for us, but I’m up for the challenge.
“I like our roster. I don’t know where we would be picked. I’m quite sure we wouldn’t be looked at as a favorite and that’s OK. I think there is a lot to be enthused about with the roster.”
Given the need at guard and Sims’ status still in question, those are reasons why it will be likely that Minnesota addresses that position with at least one of its two picks in Friday’s draft.
With Reeve saying she doesn’t foresee that incoming player stepping into a starting guard role for at least this season, she added the Lynx are still sitting in a nice spot to be able to address that need moving forward.
“We’re largely considered a team that needs a point guard and I think that’s in a broader sense true. We have gone down a path that there’s not going to be a true point guard, per se, in the immediate future,” Reeve said. “It’s not an area that we find to be a pressing need like everyone else does. This could be catastrophic, this decision that we made to forgo multi-year guaranteed contracts for players that we did not deem to be moving towards the future and having an eye on the future at the point guard position. The good news is, I think it’s a short-term catastrophe, if it does happen.
“We know that in free agency next year there will be some appealing situations and it’s a strong draft next year with point guards. Does that mean we are not going to take a point guard on Friday? No, that’s not what that means. … I think our greatest need is to add a good player and collect talent. That’s our greatest need, period.”