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Rookie Spotlight: Napheesa Collier

The Minnesota Lynx are 4-1 through the first five games of the season, tied with Connecticut for the top record in the WNBA. While the Lynx are getting off to a good start to open the season is nothing new, the lineup of players doing it is very much new, with Sylvia Fowles as the lone holdover from the Lynx dynasty.

Lynx Start of Season, Last 9 Years

YEAR W-L WIN%
2011 4-1 .800
2012 5-0 1.00 (won first 10 games)
2013 4-1 .800
2014 5-0 1.00 (won first 7 games)
2015 4-1 .800
2016 5-0 1.00 (won first 13 games)
2017 5-0 1.00 (won first 9 games)
2018 2-3 .400
2019 4-1 .800
TOTAL 38-7 .844

 

The new-look Lynx are getting contributions up and down their roster. While Fowles has been the constant in the middle (leading the team in points and rebounds), offseason additions like Odyssey Sims (leading team in assists with career-best 4.6), Damiras Dantas (7th in WNBA with 57.1 3P%) and Lexie Brown (T-1st in WNBA with 10 3PM, all off the bench) have stepped right into their roles seamlessly for coach Cheryl Reeve.

While that trio of newcomers all have professional experience and have found new and expanded roles with the Lynx, there is another addition to the roster that has been key to Minnesota’s early success – rookie forward Napheesa Collier.

The Lynx selected Collier with the sixth pick in the 2019 Draft and knew on draft night that they had one of the most pro-ready players in the draft.

“The little parts of her game, every time she plays, she does those things regardless of what level. I had a chance to see that from USA Basketball. This was a young player who was still in college playing with professional players. I just saw how easily she fit in and every single day she brought exactly the same thing,” said Reeve following the draft. “I can just envision Napheesa just, the first day, it being natural for her. This is a player who is going got be a pro for a long time. Consistent, steady, has to improve a bit offensively and she’ll see that, but I have a comfort level with her, that’s why we were so excited.”

Reeve’s evaluation was exactly right as Collier was ready to go on day one. In her professional debut, she had 27 points on 8-of-10 shooting (3-of-4 from three) go to with six rebounds, two steals and three blocks in a Minnesota win over Chicago. Her 27 points were the second most in a rookie debut in league history (topped only by Candace Parker in 2008); as far as first impressions go, its tough to beat what Collier did on opening day.

In the four games that have followed, her numbers have come back down to earth a bit; she has just one other double-digit scoring games (17 points vs. Seattle) and has had a couple of tough shooting performances along the way after her super efficient debut. That’s to be expected for any rookie making the transition to the pro game, but Collier has an added challenge in that she’s also changed positions from the four in college to the three with the Lynx.

Through five games, Collier leads all rookies in points (12.4), minutes (30.6) and field goal percentage (50.%, min. 10 FGA); she ranks second in blocks (1.2) and free throw percentage (81.0%, min. 5 FTA); she ranks third in rebounds (4.4 per game); she ranks fourth in steals (1.4) and 3-point percentage (38.5%, min. 5 3PA); and ranks eight in assists.

She is one of just eight WNBA players that have played in at least two games to average at least 10 points, four rebounds, one steal and one block per game. She’s joined on that list by: DeWanna Bonner, Natasha Howard, Jonquel Jones, Chiney Ogwumike, Brittney Griner, Dearica Hamby and Allisha Gray. Not bad company to keep just five games into your career.

Collier’s combination of versatility and efficiency make her stand out; as her shot chart shows below, she can score both inside and outside.

Shooting By Zone

Zone FGM-A (FG%)
Restricted Area 10-14 (71.4%)*
In The Paint, Non-RA 2-5 (40.0%)
Mid-Range 3-8 (37.5%)
Corner 3 0-1 (0%)
Above Break 3 5-12 (41.7%)**
*7th among players with 10+ FGA in Restricted Area
**8th among players with 10+ Above the Break 3PA (3rd on MIN)

 

As good as Collier has been in her first five games as a pro, she should only get better as time goes along and she continues to adjust to her new position and new level of competition. She already looks like a draft steal with Minnesota getting her with the sixth pick. The last WNBA player to win Rookie of the Year as the sixth pick or lower was Temeka Johnson back in 2005. After her first few weeks in the WNBA, Collier should be a mainstay in the ROY race all season long.

The Lynx host the Sparks on Saturday at 3:30 ET on ABC, giving a national audience of basketball fans a chance to see Collier in action as the Lynx look to improve to 5-1 on the season.