The 2021 WNBA season is less than a week away. The Minnesota Lynx, who wrapped up their two-game preseason schedule last Saturday against the Washington Mystics, will begin their 32-game regular-season schedule this weekend in Minneapolis when they host the Phoenix Mercury at 8 p.m. CT on Friday.
Not only will it be the first game of the 2021 season for Minnesota, but it will also be the first regular-season contest played at Target Center since 2019. The Lynx spending the entirety of last season in the bubble location in Bradenton, Fla.
Following a busy offseason that was highlighted by signing three free agents and taking arguably the steal of the draft, the Lynx will be one of the early favorites to finish near the top of the league standings. They will be expected to vie for their first league championship since 2017.
Now that the regular season is finally here, let’s look at some predictions and expectations for Minnesota next year.
Where Will the Lynx Rank?
This summer, the Lynx have arguably their deepest and most complete roster since they claimed their fourth WNBA title in 2017. With the absences of Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride, who will be late arrivals due to playing overseas, as well as Rennia Davis, who will miss an extended period of time with a stress fracture in her foot, Minnesota could experience some bumps during the first few weeks of the year.
But when this roster is complete and everyone can finally get familiar with each other, the Lynx will be a top-three or top-four team.
First, let’s look at the rest of the WNBA in terms of the talent spread across the other 11 teams. The Las Vegas Aces will likely be viewed as one of the early-season favorites after reaching the WNBA Finals last year. Behind the Aces, the Chicago Sky will be an interesting team to watch, most notably with the addition of Candace Parker to the mix after she signed as a free agent this offseason.
There are still some questions surrounding the Storm and Mystics, so the Lynx could very well be right in the mix of those teams while floating around the No. 3 or No. 4 seed throughout the year. That’s not saying Minnesota couldn’t surpass those expectations and rise up the WNBA standings throughout the summer. But at this point, the Lynx should expect to be a top-three or -four team in the league, much like they were during the course of the 2020 campaign.
Most Important Player for Minnesota
As far as the most important player for the Lynx during the 2021 season, there are a few candidates.
You could look at Collier trying to step up and become an MVP-caliber star. You could look at Crystal Dangerfield aiming to follow up an impressive Rookie of the Year campaign last year. Or you could look at the free-agent additions of Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, and Natalie Achonwa.
But when it comes to the key to Minnesota’s success this summer, the most important player is someone who has been at the core of the team since she arrived in 2015. That’s veteran center Sylvia Fowles.
Fowles will again be the focal point on both ends of the floor for Minnesota this season, entering her 14th year in the WNBA and seventh season in a Lynx uniform. Her ability to open things up for everyone else on the floor will be key next year — that and her pure dominance on offense and defense changes the course of a game on any given night. The only rub will be keeping the star center healthy and on the floor throughout the year.
Last year, Fowles missed most of the season with injury issues, taking part in just seven of the 22 regular-season games in Florida. Even without the 6’6″ center on the floor, Minnesota still managed to finish the year as the 4-seed and reach the semifinal round of the postseason.
Fowles said during training camp that she’s nearly back to feeling fully healthy again. If she can return to the dominant form we’ve seen from her to this point in her career, the Lynx will be an awfully tough team to stop.
Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios in 2021
What is the ceiling for this team, and what is their floor?
Let’s start with the best-case scenario. If the Lynx can stay mostly healthy throughout the regular season schedule and this team can incorporate some of the new additions into significant roles on the roster, Minnesota will be one of the top teams in the WNBA.
The Lynx were already a top-four team last year. Now, with Fowles back and the offseason additions that Cheryl Reeve and Co. have installed, there’s no reason to believe Minnesota wouldn’t have another strong season this summer. Reaching the WNBA Finals should be a realistic possibility.
Now, the worst-case scenario. It would be shocking if the Lynx were to miss the playoffs this season, as they are hoping to extend their streak of reaching the postseason to 11-straight years. If Minnesota were to miss the playoffs, that would mean something catastrophic happened. It’s hard to imagine that happening, although injuries and other quirks of fate are always possible.
Regardless, the Lynx should be able to reach the postseason, at the very least. Assuming they do, you would think it would be a disappointing year for Minnesota if they were bounced in either the first or second round. This team has hopes of at least reaching the semifinal round as they did in 2020.
Whatever happens, the WNBA season is finally here. Enjoy, basketball fans.