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2019 Season Preview: Minnesota Lynx

The 2019 WNBA season tips off on May 24. WNBA.com will be previewing every team in the league. See below for a breakdown of the Minnesota Lynx.

2018 Recap

Record: 18-16; 7th in league standings; Lost to Los Angeles in First Round (75-68)

Leaders: Points: Maya Moore (18.0), Rebounds: Sylvia Fowles (11.9), Assists: Danielle Robinson (3.3), Steals: Moore (1.7), Blocks: Fowles (1.2), 3-Point Pct: Tanisha Wright (39.6%)

Team Stats: Offensive Rating: 100.4 (9th), Defensive Rating: 99.5 (4th), Net Rating: 1.0 (8th), Rebound Percentage: 53.1 (3rd), True Shooting Percentage: 52.9 (8th), Pace: 78.6 (11th)

Offseason Moves

Free Agency: Re-signed free agents Seimone Augustus, Erlana Larkins and Maya Moore (will not play in 2019); Signed free agents Damiris Dantas and Karima Christmas-Kelly

Draft: Selected Napheesa Collier (No. 6), Jessica Shepard (No. 16), Natisha Hiedeman (No. 18), Cierra Dillard (No. 20) (waived during training camp) and Kenisha Bell (No. 30)

Trades: Acquired Odyssey Sims from Los Angeles in exchange for Alexis Jones; Acquired Lexie Brown from Connecticut in exchange for Natisha Hiedeman; Acquired a 2020 second round pick from New York for Tanisha Wright as part of a four-team trade

Losses: Lindsay Whalen retired; Maya Moore announced she will not play in 2019

Players To Watch

Danielle Robinson

The Lynx acquired Robinson in a trade with Phoenix last offseason, to serve as the backup point guard behind Lindsay Whalen and eventually take over the starting job as the Minnesota legend called it career. Whalen retired after last season (and will have her No. 13 retired this year), which put the floor general duties in the hands of Robinson. Entering her eighth WNBA season, she posted career lows in points (6.5), assists (3.3), rebounds (1.8) and minutes (18.6) last year before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in August. But now Robinson is healthy, and she responded with 13 points and five assists in Minnesota’s preseason opener last Friday.

Odyssey Sims

When the news broke that Minnesota and Los Angeles completed a traded sending Odyssey Sims to the Lynx in exchange for the Alexis Jones, it caused a few double takes. The on-court rivalry between Sims and Whalen is well documented, as things have gotten chippy between the two over the past few seasons. The rivalry between L.A. and Minnesota has intensified with every meeting, including two Finals matchups and the regular season games in between.

Putting the rivalry aside, Sims should be a solid addition to the Lynx backcourt. She can play and defend both guard spots and can knock down shots. During her two seasons in L.A., Sims averaged 8.9 points and 3.1 assists in 24.9 minutes per game. Prior to joining L.A., she averaged 15.5 points and 4.0 assists in 32.6 minutes during her first three seasons in the WNBA as part of the Tulsa/Dallas franchise.

Sylvia Fowles

With Maya Moore not suiting up, Lindsay Whalen retiring and Seimone Augustus in the twilight of her career, a heavier load will be placed on the shoulders of Sylvia Fowles this season. Fowles is coming off an All-WNBA Second Team after averaged 17.7 points (second to Moore, 12th in WNBA), 11.9 rebounds (a WNBA record), 2.2 assists (a career-high) and 1.2 blocks (9th in WNBA) per game. Fowles is just two years removed from her 2017 MVP season and will have to play like an MVP again in order for Minnesota to return to contender status after last season’s 18 wins (their first season without 20 wins since 2010) and first round playoff exit.

Napheesa Collier

The Lynx were the busiest team on draft night, with five selections out of the 36-player draft. Collier was the first of those picks and may prove to be an absolute steal at No. 6. The versatile All-American forward from UConn averaged 20.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.7 blocks while shooting 61.2% from the field during her senior season. While she played power forward for the Huskies, the plan is for her to play on the wing with the Lynx. So in addition to the making the adjustment from the college to the pro game, Collier is also switching positions. How fast she is able to get comfortable playing the three and competing against top-level WNBA talent will be the key to her success this early in the season.

Damiris Dantas and Karima Christmas-Kelly

In addition to their slew of draft picks this season, the Lynx also updated their roster in free agency with the additions of forwards Damiris Dantas and Karima Christmas-Kelly. Dantas began her WNBA career in Minnesota before being traded to Atlanta as part of a three-team deal that brought Sylvia Fowles to Minnesota. After two seasons with the Dream, the Lynx signed Dantas during the offseason to help bolster their frontline. The 6-3 forward can score from the block and stretch defenses with her outside shooting.

Christmas-Kelly is set to begin her ninth WNBA season after a season-ending knee surgery cut her 2018 campaign to just six games. The 6-foot forward has averaged double-figure points in three of the past four seasons, the only exception being last year’s injury-shortened campaign. She was part of the 2012 Indiana team that bested Minnesota in the WNBA Finals and has spent the past four seasons with the Tulsa/Dallas franchise.

Three Questions

What will be the impact of losing Moore, Whalen and (possibly) Brunson?

The Lynx owned this past decade of the WNBA, winning four titles and making six Finals appearances since 2011 — the year Maya Moore arrived to join the core group of Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson. Augustus is the only member of that quartet in uniform for the Lynx at the moment. Brunson’s status for this season is still up in the air. Moore has announced she is not playing this season, and Whalen retired to coach her alma mater. That era, with the aforementioned core four, is now over and it is time for the Lynx to begin working on establishing a new dynasty.

Fowles joined the Lynx in the middle of their run in 2015 and has been part of two championships. Having Fowles as the anchor and Augustus as the veteran leader of this team should help the new players understand the championship culture that has been established in Minnesota. But replacing Moore’s brilliance on the floor, Whalen’s leadership and determination and Brunson’s grit will be a near impossible task for this Lynx squad. It will take time for Cheryl Reeve and the rest of the coaching staff to find the right players and combinations that work best together on the court.

How big of an impact will Collier make as a rookie?

Coming out of college, it was clear that Napheesa Collier had all the tools necessary to contribute at the professional level. She’s shown the ability to score efficiently, rebound and defend on a high level against competition in college as well as in training with USA Basketball, where Reeve serves as an assistant coach. As discussed above, the Lynx are working with Collier to switch her from playing the four to the three. They believe she has the versatility and skill to make the transition and with Moore out, there are minutes to be had at that spot if the transition is a successful one.

Whether she gets minutes at the three or at the four, Collier will look to make an impact on the game whenever she’s on the court. How much time she gets will likely come down to how quickly she can learn her new position and how well she can adjust to the speed and style of the WNBA game while also facing stronger competition on a nightly basis.

How will the new faces fit into Minnesota’s system and culture?

After running out the same starting five for much of the past four seasons, this year’s Lynx squad will have new faces in the starting lineup and throughout the bench. The addition of so many new players – including Odyssey Sims, Karima Christmas-Kelly, Napheesa Collier, Jessica Shepard and Lexie Brown – means there is a lot to learn and not a lot of time to learn it before the season tips off on May 24.

“This is the most new-ness we’ve had since my first camp in 2010… There’s going to be a lot more teaching,” Reeve told LynxBasketball.com. “Things that were just a well-oiled machine, I could say something and people knew what I was talking about, this group has no clue.”

It will definitely take time for this group to gel and become another well-oiled machine for Reeve to work with. How long that takes will go a long way to determining the success of this season in Minnesota.