Last offseason, Aerial Powers was part of a three-player free-agent group along with Kayla McBride and Natalie Achonwa who signed with the Minnesota Lynx to try to help the team return to championship contention after last making a deep postseason run in 2017. In addition to the disappointment that arose for Minnesota itself out of the gate with an 0-4 start, it also surrounded Powers as she found herself on the sideline more often than not with her new team.
Powers played in the first three games for the Lynx until a hamstring injury held her off the court until mid-June. On June 12, Powers made her return against the Los Angeles Sparks, but injured herself once again in that game, a thumb injury that required surgery and returned her to the bench until the end of August.
“When I first hurt my hamstring, I was definitely disappointed. I was relentless in my rehab and my first game back was against L.A. … Then, I hurt myself again, my thumb,” Powers said. “In my head, I could say ‘OK, boo hoo,’ or ‘what is the rehab process? How do I get back to being me? I still want to be helpful and a part of this team.’ It was all about being persistent in my rehab and being resilient. That’s what I am and that’s what a preach.”
Since Aug. 21, Powers has gotten back to full strength and is playing stellar basketball lately for Minnesota. Powers’ production has been key, and it will continue to be as the Lynx prepare for the playoffs beginning Sept. 23.
“When we sat down and mapped out the (rehab) time, I knew I could get back in time for the end of the season. That still meant a lot to me and that’s what I worked towards,” Powers said. “I was like ‘when I get back out there, I’m going to give it everything I have.’ That’s what I’ve been doing.”
Stepping Up Since Returning
In her first few games back from her thumb injury at the end of August, Powers didn’t necessarily hit the ground running, not having played for roughly nine weeks. The 27-year-old averaged 7.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in her first three games back, shooting just 31.3% from the field.
In September, Powers has turned it leading up to the two final regular-season contests against Indiana on Friday and Washington on Sunday. In five games, Powers has been inserted into Minnesota’s starting lineup and has averaged 18.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.8 assists while shooting 52.6% from the field.
“AP gives us, as you’re watching you can see, such good balance in terms of perimeter play. … AP can shoot the three, she can play in the pick-and-roll, she can make plays in the pick-and-roll,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “The name of the game is efficiency. What I like is, we brought her along when she returned (from injury) for this reason.
“I thought at the start of the year, we had her playing out of position, she was not in great shape, she was not playing well or playing very efficiently. We were really focused on, when she did return, that she was in better shape and be able to be efficient.”
Last Sunday, Powers finished with a season-high 31 minutes after receiving a start once again in a win over Indiana, tallying 17 points, six rebounds, three assists, and a block while shooting 6-of-9 from the field. Her 17 points marked the seventh double-digit scoring effort in her last eight games.
“We know AP is going to be AP. … We’re really happy to have her with us in the starting lineup and she’s definitely given us that energy and that spark,” McBride said. “She opens up everything else for us. … When AP is able to bring that energy, that competitiveness and that fire, everybody kind of follows suit and it’s contagious. That’s what we get from her at practice and we had glimpses of it, but now to have her at full strength has been great.”
This summer hasn’t gone exactly how Powers had planned when she signed with Minnesota last offseason, but she is now finally back on the floor with her new team as they prepare for the playoffs to begin next week. And Powers’ production has picked up at just the right time now that she’s healthy, which will continue to be big for the Lynx during what they hope is a lengthy playoff run over the next month.
“I feel really good,” Powers said. “I know I’m kind of behind everybody because I had two big injuries and have been off for so long. … That was a lot of time without basketball, so I’m trying to catch up. Right now, I think where I’m at is I’m trying to continuously progress.
“I’m progressing at the right time, and that’s what you want to do. You want to continue to get better every time you step on the floor, and I feel like right now I’m getting better.”