Napheesa Collier Has Taken the Leap Into Superstardom

Photo Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

After the Minnesota Lynx beat the Seattle Storm 83-64 on June 9, a reporter asked Kayla McBride about her thoughts on Napheesa Collier’s scuffle with Nneka Ogwumike.

“Phee is not somebody who’s going to talk a lot… but she is always going to say things very timely, so when her actions back that up, you know she’s for real.”

According to FanDuel, Collier is currently third in MVP odds. The Lynx are off to an 8-3 start, the best in the Western Conference. Collier has been the driving force behind the Lynx’s surge to the top of the rankings. Her shooting and defensive improvements have made the Lynx a top-three offensive and defensive team.

Collier wasn’t a poor three-point shooter last season. She shot 29.8%, ranking 31st among forwards in 2023. Collier improved to 40.0% this season, 11th among all forwards. She ranks 20th overall in the WNBA, regardless of position or minutes played. Collier has improved vastly in her ability to float out to the three-point line and play off-ball to stay in the rhythm of the offense, with all of her threes coming off of assists.

All but one of her threes come from above the break, typically a lower-percentage three-point shot. The Lynx place Bridget Carlton and Kayla McBride in the corners, so Collier has had to continue to improve above the break. Her development there has resulted in a 12.8% increase in percentage.

Below is an example of that spacing as Collier knocks down the three:

Despite the improvement, Cheryl Reeve expects Collier to continue to increase her attempts from distance while staying elite in other places offensively.

“She’s a three-level scorer,” said Reeve after the June 9 win over Seattle. “She’s able to play the mid-range, she’s able to obviously play at the rim, and now the willingness (to shoot threes).… We’ve got a number for her that we’re trying to get her to as far as taking threes.”

Collier is only shooting 2.7 attempts per game. Theoretically, she could shoot fewer mid-range pull-ups and shoot those from behind the arc, creating more room for even more efficiency. However, this is strictly theoretical because Collier also has a dominant season shooting from mid-range, knocking down 52.8% of her shots.

She scores 16.2% of her points from mid-range. For context on how impressive shooting 52.8% is, 20.4% of fellow MVP candidate Aja Wilson’s points come from the mid-range. Although Collier and Wilson are focal points of their team’s offenses and score similar percentages of their total points from the mid-range, Collier shot 6.4% better than Wilson’s 46.4% from mid-range.

Collier’s blistering shooting from three and midrange has resulted in a career-high PER. She has also posted her best offensive rating since 2021 and her best true shooting since 2020. While that implies that Collier has had a slump, Collier’s usage percentage was 23.3% in 2021, whereas it’s at 28.7% this season. Even with the increased workload, Collier is posting the same efficiency as her first All-Star season. For reference, the 5.4% increase means 1 of 20 more plays ends in Collier shooting the ball or turning it over.

Below is a compilation that highlights her offensive dominance from Minnesota’s June 5 win over the Los Angeles Sparks:

Collier has taken a similar jump defensively. She was already a top-tier defensive player, making the All-Defense team twice in her career, in 2020 and 2023. Collier has a defensive rating of 89.5 this season. For context, her 2020 rating was 102.1 and 103.7 in 2023.

That means that per 100 possessions, Collier allows 12.6 points less per game than her all-defensive second-team-worthy number in 2020. While defensive rating somewhat depends on a player’s team, the Lynx made large roster adjustments to improve their defense. Therefore, we should look into Collier’s individual numbers.

Collier this season is averaging career highs in defensive rebounds (8.5), total rebounds (11.4), steals (2.2), and blocks (1.5). She is also on pace for 5.3 win shares, meaning she’s on track to pass nearly double her career high in defensive win shares. Collier’s counting stats speak for themselves; she’s having the best defensive season of her career. Her advanced statistics tell the same story. Collier has career highs in steal percentages, rebound percentages and opponent field goal percentages.

She shines defensively compared to her peers, though. Collier ranks 4th in defensive rebounds, 4th in total rebounds, 3rd in steals, and 11th in blocks per game. Among players who play 15-plus minutes, her defensive rating ranks 14th; that rank improves to 10th among starters (minimum 30 minutes).

“Sometimes I think she gets overlooked because she’s just so consistent in what she does,” McBride continued on June 9 regarding Collier. “She’s such a force on both ends, and she holds herself to a very, very high standard. I love playing with her, and we’re lucky to have her.”

Collier’s jump in offense to become an even better shooter by better understanding spacing has resulted in Collier continuing to be the focal point of the Lynx offense. That alone would be impressive. However, Collier has matched her offensive improvement with her defensive growth. Collier’s leap has put the Lynx on the map as WNBA contenders. McBride is right that Collier holds herself to a high standard. That standard has also helped to ensure Collier is no longer overlooked. She has earned the nickname MVPhee.

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