Nearing the midway point in the 2020 WNBA season, veteran center Sylvia Fowles has been the best player for the Minnesota Lynx and has even emerged as an early MVP candidate throughout the league.
Fowles, in her 13th season in the league this summer, has once again been a focal point for the Lynx offense and has made an impact on both ends of the floor while helping Minnesota jump out to a 7-3 record through the first few weeks of the regular season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Last Thursday against the Las Vegas Aces, the Lynx lost that important piece in the middle of the floor when Fowles exited the game with a calf injury about a minute and a half into the first quarter.
The next day, Minnesota found out Fowles would be added to an already growing list of injured Lynx players, officially suffering a calf strain that will sideline her indefinitely.
“It’s the type of blow you think it would be. You’re losing one of the best players in the league and an MVP candidate,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “I mentioned this not too long ago that I was concerned about the sustainability of what we’re doing. That’s what you’re seeing now. We have a number of players who (have injuries) and all of them are dealing with something. We’re just trying to get through this.”
Before going down with that injury, Fowles had missed two games earlier in the year while battling a calf injury, but was able to appear in a total of seven contests for Minnesota, averaging 14.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 0.9 assists and 0.9 steals while shooting 60.9 percent from the field in 24.1 minutes a game.
As the season continues to roll along, the Lynx now have a massive hole to fill on the team as Fowles tries to work her way back onto the floor.
“It’s a huge blow losing Syl,” Napheesa Collier said. “She’s such a huge part of our offense and our team, both as a leader and as a player. It hurt losing her. It’s on us, we have to play without her and we have to make the best of it.”
A TEAM EFFORT TO MAKE UP FOR FOWLES’ ABSENCE
When it comes to an MVP-caliber player like Minnesota has in Fowles, there’s no replacing her with a single player in the rotation. That means the Lynx will have to have multiple players step up and fill that void left behind by the former MVP and All-Star center.
Two notable players who have already picked up the pace and taken over the team in Fowles’ absence has been the University of Connecticut duo of Collier and rookie point guard Crystal Dangerfield. In the team’s latest game on Saturday, a 94-64 blowout win over New York, Collier went off for a season-high 26 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks. Dangerfield followed Collier with 22 points and four assists of her own to lead the Lynx.
In 10 games, Collier is averaging 14.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.9 blocks and is shooting 49.1 percent from the field in 32.1 minutes per game in her sophomore season. Her point, rebounding and assist totals are currently career-high marks.
“It kind of kicked me into gear seeing Syl was out and I want to do this for her. It’s her team,” Collier said. “With her being out right now, we want to continue playing well and Syl is obviously a huge part of our team. We want to make her proud, so I’ve come in with that mindset of just being as aggressive as I can and do right by her.”
Dangerfield, on the other hand, has quickly stormed the scene as a starting point guard for the Lynx during her rookie campaign and has continued to exceeded expectations. In 10 games, she is averaging 13.6 points, 3.2 assists, 1.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals and is shooting 47.1 percent from the field in 28.4 minutes per game.
“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.”
That duo of Collier and Dangerfield will continue to be key in Minnesota remaining near the top of the WNBA standings for the rest of the regular season, but there are some other contributors who will not only see more time but also expanded roles with Fowles out.
When Fowles sat out the first game of the year on Aug. 5 against the Liberty, Bridget Carleton stepped into the starting lineup and had an outburst of 25 points and seven rebounds to give Minnesota a boost in her first career start.
Other players such as Lexie Brown, Damiris Dantas, Kayla Alexander, Erica McCall, rookie Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and others have also picked up some of the slack both in the starting lineup and coming off the bench. Reeve said recently we could continue to see a shift of personnel with different lineups in the coming weeks, with those lineups depending on matchups among other teams.
Regardless of who it is or where the contributions come from, Minnesota knows it will be a team effort to carry this team and keep it in the top half of the league standings until its star center can return to the floor.
“We’ll try different things. We did play a couple of games without Syl, so we’re sort of familiar what needs to happen and what our rotations will be,” Reeve said. “We’re going to be mindful of making sure we’re trying to make up for Syl’s absence statistically through a collective effort. … We did that before we got Sylvia Fowles and we’ll try and figure out creative ways to do that now.”