Underappreciated and Underrated, Sylvia Fowles is Rising Above it All in Historic Year

(image credit: courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx on Twitter)

For a player in her 14th season in the WNBA who is set to turn 36 in October, Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles is certainly showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, she’s having arguably the best season of her legendary career.

Yet even while making a strong case for the Defensive Player of the Year Award and being in the Most Valuable Player conversations, the veteran center is still flying under the radar, relative to her talent.

“I do appreciate Sylvia Fowles. I know the sacrifices she has made to do what she’s doing for us. Syl just loves her teammates, loves this franchise, and loves the game,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “I don’t think there’s nothing she can’t do. … You guys are watching greatness. One of the best players ever, certainly at the center spot. There’s nobody close as far as what she does for her team.”

As the regular season rolls along and the Lynx hold a record of 15-9 to sit in the No. 4 seed with a few weeks remaining until the playoffs, Fowles is leading her team once again while recording historic performances along the way.

“She definitely never ceases to amaze me,” Napheesa Collier said. “I’ve never played with anyone like Syl before, and it’s so fun to do it. The things that she does, day-in and day-out, and breaking records every time we have a game. … It’s so cool to be a part of that and to see that first-hand.”

Making the Case for DPOY and MVP

With fewer than 10 games remaining, Fowles is viewed by many as the frontrunner for — if not already the winner of — the Defensive Player of the Year Award, which she has won three other times in her career (2011, 2013, 2016).

As she looks to add that honor to her resumé for the fourth time, Fowles could also end up making her way into MVP conversations. That might be more of a long shot right now, but it’s not unreasonable given the type of year she is having.

“It’s pretty simple, thank goodness for Sylvia Fowles. … She’s had to put the team on her back multiple times, on both ends of the floor,” Reeve said. “If she’s not Defensive Player of the Year, what a travesty that would be.

“Syl has dominated defensively in every game she’s played in this year. … To me, she’s running away with Defensive Player of the Year and she’s done that from the beginning.”

Through 24 games, Fowles is averaging 16.6 points, 10 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 1.8 blocks, and 1.5 assists in 31 minutes per game. She currently ranks second in the WNBA in steals, third in both rebounds and blocks, fifth in double-doubles (10), and 11th in scoring. She has been impressive all season long on both ends of the floor.

“I do know I will start giving myself more credit,” Fowles said. “I’m the type of player who doesn’t really try to think about it because I think this is my job and these are the things I’m supposed to be doing. At the end of the day, these things are not easy. Just enjoying the ride and making sure I understand the work I put in and understand these things aren’t easy.”

“Most Under-served Player in the League”

In a win over the Seattle Storm on Tuesday in Minneapolis, Fowles put together a game that very few others have ever recorded in the 25-year history of the WNBA.

The center led Minnesota to an impressive 76-70 win over the defending champions behind 29 points, 20 rebounds, four steals, and three blocks, becoming the first player in league history to collect at least 20 points, 20 rebounds, three steals, and three blocks in a game. That performance tied a franchise record for most rebounds in a game, also marking just the fourth time in WNBA history a player finished with more than 25 points and 20 rebounds.

After that performance, many were reminded just how dominant Fowles can still be, with her coach also pointing out Fowles is one of the more underappreciated players in the WNBA.

“I think our league has grossly underserved Sylvia Fowles’ career. … Sylvia Fowles is the most underserved player in the league, you never see the league pushing Sylvia Fowles,” Reeve said. “Let’s do our part to make sure Syl is getting the shine she deserves. … I just wish we could do better, not just when she has historic games. Understand she has carried this franchise. When all the other players left and retired and road off into the sunset, Syl stayed and has carried this franchise and has put us back in contention.”

Even though she’s not typically one of the first players people mention when talking about the top players in the league or the faces of the WNBA, Fowles doesn’t let that impact her and is focused on controlling what she can while letting her play on the court do the talking for her.

“I’m at a place where I’m content with who I am and what I do. I know that nobody can do the things quite like how I do,” Fowles said. “When you have that mindset, you can’t really think about what other people are talking about and what they’re not talking about.”

Fowles is having a historic season when many thought she should be slowing down at this point of her career, but the lack of recognition isn’t bothering her. She continues to fill the stat sheet, night-in and night-out. And either people will start appreciating that dominance now, or she feels they eventually will.

“It used to (bother me) a couple of years ago, probably when I was younger. At this rate, it don’t,” Fowles said. “Although I don’t get the recognition that I’m supposed to get, as coach would say, it still don’t stop me from doing the things that I do. Either you recognize it now or you’re going to recognize it later.”

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