Featured: Rebekkah Brunson

Lynx guard Candice Wiggins was still a self-proclaimed “young pup” playing at Stanford when she first met Rebekkah Brunson in 2007. The two were part of the USA Women’s Senior National team and Wiggins, one of four collegiate players on the 27-woman preliminary roster, got to know Brunson as a teammate who reached out to her and made her feel part of an elite squad filled with WNBA talent.

Now in her third season with the Lynx, Brunson is every bit the warm, endearing teammate she was when Wiggins first met her— laid back, funny and personable as ever within Minnesota’s locker room. But when she is on the court, Brunson is a force. She brings an intensity and a presence to the heart of the Lynx defense that, even in practice, makes players on the offensive side of the ball second guess their next move.

“It’s just the presence she brings. It’s a complete advantage,” Wiggins said. “People don’t talk about that much; people talk about our guard play. But she’s the key to our team. Period.”

A nine-year WNBA veteran, Brunson is the type of player who knows exactly what she needs to do to help her team succeed. She knows the Lynx have ample offensive weapons, but she’s right there waiting for that next offensive rebound in case there’s a missed shot. Defensively, she’ll battle for every inch of the paint against opposing post players and never misses an opportunity to help when a guard tries to penetrate to the basket.

Coach Cheryl Reeve calls her a band-aid. Whenever things aren’t running as smoothly as she’d like on either end of the court, she can depend on Brunson finding a way cover up those shortcomings.

“She’s the one that I tell the younger players to watch,” Reeve said. “I’ll tell [Devereaux Peters] or Jess [Adair] and Amber [Harris], because they don’t quite have the same sense of urgency that Rebekkah has. So I need her. I really count on her. I can count on one hand since the time she’s been here that I’ve asked her to fight the post, because she does it every day of her life. She just gets it.”

Brunson’s “sense of urgency” in the paint is a trait the Lynx are using to separate themselves from the rest of the WNBA early in the season. Minnesota knows its perimeter players get a lot of attention on scouting reports and highlight reels. But with Brunson’s fierce approach inside, she’s helping the rest of her teammates gain a defensive mindset that has translated into opponents scoring 74.8 points per game this season—12.7 points fewer than the Lynx are averaging this year.

It’s an approach, a role, Brunson said she relishes.

“I just know that the key to us winning is trying to keep them out of the paint and trying to rebound, limit their second chance points,” Brunson said. “That’s what I try to do.”

So far this season she’s succeeding.

Brunson is third in the WNBA with 8.8 rebounds per game and hauls in 4.2 offensive boards a night. Offensively, she’s shooting 63.0 percent from the floor and contributes 13.7 points per game, which is second on the team.

That’s all in addition to the presence she brings to the game. Wiggins said even at practice she is an intimidating force, noting Brunson brings game-like intensity even to half-speed walk throughs during shootaround.

“She’s like terrifying for opposing players,” Wiggins said. “She’s terrifying because you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen. She’s not afraid to go hard. A lot of other players are like finesse. She’s totally not finesse. She’s very gifted—I’m not saying she’s like a brute—but she’s got this rawness about her. I appreciate it so much because I feel like she’s kind of a dying breed.”

Harris said Brunson has a gift for understanding when to get her rebounds and when to attack the basket. Reeve said it’s her quickness that gives Brunson the advantage. She’s determined to not let her defensive assignment catch the ball, and if that happens she’s not willing to let the opponent get an uncontested shot.

Simply put, Brunson is a major part of the Lynx’s defensive identity. There’s no sign of her slowing down, even for a second. Humble and revered in the locker room, she continues to pose problems for opposing WNBA teams on a nightly basis with her tenacious and gifted play.

“This year I’ve started out pretty consistent,” Brunson said. “So I’m just going to try to continue it and ride this through and continue to do the things I need to do defensively and continue to rebound.”