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2019 Season in Review: New-look Minnesota Lynx remain steady, competitive

When you think of the Minnesota Lynx, several big names likely come to mind.

Maya Moore. Lindsay Whalen. Rebekkah Brunson. Each of them unquestionably all-time WNBA greats and fixtures of the Lynx during the franchise’s dominant run, which included championships in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.

Of course, all good things must come to an end. After a noticeable drop-off in 2018, Whalen retired to coach the University of Minnesota’s women’s basketball program. Moore decided to take the season off, citing both faith and family as her primary focus. Longtime power forward Rebekkah Brunson, dealing with the effects of a concussion, never reported to the team.

With such a big chunk of the Lynx core not returning to the team, it would be understandable if head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve decided to blow things up and rebuild. Instead, she opted to roll with what was left of her crumbling dynasty, making a flurry of moves to surround center Sylvia Fowles with quality players and effectively overhaul the Lynx roster.

Bench guard Alexis Jones was flipped for Odyssey Sims. Lexie Brown was acquired from the Connecticut Sun for a second-round draft pick. Damiris Dantas was brought back to where she began her WNBA career after spending the last few seasons with the Atlanta Dream. Napheesa Collier was picked in the first round of the 2019 Draft, and Jessica Shepard was picked in the second.

By the time Reeve was done, the 2019 Lynx hardly resembled that of seasons past. As it would turn out, though, such a change was a welcome one.

Minnesota Lynx v Las Vegas Aces
Lead guard Odyssey Sims had a career year in her first season with the Lynx.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Each of Reeve’s newcomers brought something valuable to the table. Sims, in particular, was excellent: She led the team in both scoring (14.5 points per game) and distributing (5.4 assists per game), soaking up much of the usage that had evaporated with the departure of Whalen and Moore. Brown and Dantas, meanwhile, quickly became the team’s long-range specialists, combining to attempt over a third of the team’s total shots from three-point distance.

Then there was Collier. The UConn product turned out to be everything the Lynx could have asked for and then some. Collier’s length and activity on defense made a seamless transition to WNBA-level basketball, while her basketball IQ and scoring efficiency was assimilated by the Lynx offense just as easily. Collier ended up taking home Rookie of the Year honors, leaving fans and analysts alike wondering how so many teams could have passed on her in the draft.

the 2019 WNBA Rookie of the Year is the Lynx’s Napheesa Collier
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert presents Lynx forward Napheesa Collier with the 2019 Rookie of the Year award.
Photo by Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via Getty Images

That’s not to say the Lynx had a perfect season. Despite the wealth of contributions coming from the team’s newcomers, Minnesota did not stand out in any one statistical category (save defensive efficiency, in which the Lynx were excellent), and the sheer amount of roster transition resulted in quite a few ups and downs. What haunted the Lynx most frequently were turnovers — they ranked last in the WNBA in turnover percentage — as well as the lack of a true go-to superstar like Moore. Both of these factors came up large in the team’s first-round postseason loss to the Seattle Storm.

While the end result may have been disappointing, though, take this into account. At 18-16, the Lynx finished the 2019 season with the same record as they did last season. The difference lies in the circumstances: While the 2018 Lynx seemed fatigued and past their prime, the 2019 Lynx breathed new life into the franchise, maintaining Reeve’s high standards for success while giving the Minnesota faithful reason to believe it was more than just a mirage.

We still don’t know when — or if — Moore will return to play for Minnesota. As it stands, the Lynx are still a tier below “title contender” status, and it might be difficult for them to return to the heights they once enjoyed. But if there’s one thing 2019 proved, it’s that Minnesota’s front office is one of the sharpest in the business — culminating in Reeve being named Executive of the Year — and it has assembled a team that will remain competitive for years to come.