Crystal Dangerfield Thriving in Role Coming Off Lynx Bench

Image courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx on Twitter

Minnesota Lynx point guard Crystal Dangerfield had high expectations in 2021 after she won Rookie of the Year. To kick off her second year as a pro, Dangerfield began the regular season as the starting point guard once again for Cheryl Reeve and Co. as she did in all but two games last summer.

The 22-year-old remained in that starting role on and off for the first few weeks of the season but was later moved to the bench for the first time of her career. It wasn’t necessarily a move that was made based on Dangerfield’s performance as a starter, but rather a move to help boost the second unit that was in dire need of an offensive spark at the time.

Going from a starter to coming off the bench could be a tough transition, especially for a young player. But that hasn’t been the case for Dangerfield. And the floor general has even thrived in that new role.

“Instead of starting out there where we have the opportunity to create the pace, I’ve been trying to jump into it and turn it around (coming off the bench). That’s been different,” said Dangerfield, who was named one of four nominees for the 2021 ESPYs Best Breakthrough Athlete award last week. “I’ve been trying to see what positions not to put myself or my teammates in and go out there and change that aspect.

“No matter if it’s starting or coming off the bench, my job stays the same, and that’s to bring energy and push the pace. That’s what I’m going to continue to do, whether it’s off the bench or starting.”

Dangerfield is averaging 11.1 points, a career-high 3.8 assists, a career-high 2.8 rebounds, and 0.8 steals in 24.2 minutes per game. She’s played in 12 games and only started three of them. She is also shooting 40.3% from the field while converting on a career-best 43.2% from three.

Some of her statistics are a bit lower than a year ago, but Dangerfield is arguably doing more in minutes played than she did as a rookie last season. According to Basketball-Reference, she is having an even better year when calculating her performance per 36 minutes.

Per 36 Minutes Statistics
2020 Season (22 games) 2021 Season (12 games)
Points Per Game 19.5 16.5
Assists Per Game 4.3 5.7
Rebounds Per Game 2.3 4.1
Field Goal Percentage 47.1% 40.3%
3-Point Percentage 33.3% 43.2%
Turnovers Per Game 3.1 2.7
Steals Per Game 1.0 1.1
Minutes Per Game 30.0 24.2

Dangerfield has been a much-needed presence and a spark for the second unit. Layshia Clarendon has taken over the starting role in Minnesota’s lineup since signing with the Lynx in late May.

Since her move to the bench, Dangerfield has recorded four 15-plus point games as a reserve player following Saturday’s loss against the Dallas Wings. The guard has also seen her assist percentage improve from 21% last season to 28.7% this year, while her turnover percentage decreased from 15.6% in 2020 to 14.4% in 2021.

“I’m just looking for more opportunities to create for my teammates,” Dangerfield said. “I’m just trying to make sure we’re on the same page.”

Although she has moved to the bench, it hasn’t limited Dangerfield from being on the floor in crunch time and at the end of games. In fact, she has been one of the key contributors for Minnesota late and has stepped up in meaningful situations.

In the second half of games, Dangerfield is averaging 6.8 points (second-best on the team), 2.3 assists (team-best), 1.7 rebounds, and has a plus/minus of plus-2.3 (fifth-best on the team) in 13.7 minutes per game. Dangerfield continues to turn her performance up in the fourth quarter, averaging 3.4 points (second-best on the team), 1.4 assists (second-best on the team), 1.3 rebounds, and a plus-minus of plus-3.6 (fifth-best on the team) in 7.6 minutes per game.

“She’s hard to play against. … I thought Crystal has shown a lot of confidence,” Reeve said. “We saw that last year in the bubble. She was the leading scorer in the league in the fourth quarter, so we know she likes the fourth quarter.”

It’s been an adjustment for Dangerfield. Being moved from the starting point guard spot to the leading guard coming off the bench can be tough for any player, let alone a young player. But she’s taken it in stride and continues to step up as she has since breaking into the league, just in a different role.

“Seeing Crystal, I see a lot of myself in her, and she’s a young point guard who is learning so much so quickly,” Clarendon said. “Seeing her out there be so resilient. … She has that never-phased mentality to her, and you can see that UConn-ness in her that she doesn’t really get rattled when she makes mistakes. I think that’s a really good trait to have in a point guard.”

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