After sparring with the Los Angeles Sparks over the weekend, Minnesota Lynx announced rookie Jessica Shepard suffered an ACL tear and will be out for the remainder of the 2019 WNBA season. The injury occurred following an Odyssey Sims pass to Shepard and, as she finished her shooting form, she came down on a hyperextended leg. It’s obviously not good news for the 2019 Notre Dame grad. But how will this affect the Lynx as a whole going forward?
At 4-2 this season, the Lynx may be down a productive player, but that won’t take away from Damiris Dantas’ abilities, Minnesota’s first string at small forward. Only one-inch shorter than Shepard, Dantas has been in the WNBA since 2014. This year with the Lynx, she’s one of the team’s top rebounders alongside Sylvia Fowles. Points-wise, Dantas hasn’t been able to find her groove over the last two games. Nevertheless, the Brazilian remains a threat beyond the arc (8-of-18 from three-point range) and at grabbing boards.
Furthermore, Karima Christmas-Kelly (WNBA career 1,897 points, 897 rebounds, 300 assists, 254 steals), who the Lynx signed in the offseason, is expected back this week after missing the first few games. Once Olympic qualifiers are done, the Lynx will also snatch up two European centers, while the return of Seimone Augustus (knee surgery) is on the horizon.
As for Shepard’s rookie companion Napheesa Collier, she, according to coach Cheryl Reeve, will be moved to power forward — a position Phee mastered at UConn.
If anyone should “benefit” from Shepard’s absence, it’s Collier. The only downside is that Collier will be occasionally mismatched. As a power forward, she had a height advantage over her opponents, but with the likes of the Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne (6-foot-5) and the Mercury’s DeWanna Bonner (6-foot-4), things may get a little choppy for the rookie out of UConn.
During the week beginning Monday, June 10, Collier will have an opportunity to prepare for opponents of various sizes — from Bria Hartley (5-foot-8) to A’ja Wilson (6-foot-4). Either way, Phee knows how to manage obstacles, as she demonstrated during the 2018-19 season when then-teammate and enforcer Katie Lou Samuelson sat out for a string of games.
At the end of the day, the Lynx should be able to stay grounded without Shepard, through six games, recorded 34 rebounds, 29 points, 21 assists. In addition to Fowles, Dantas and Collier, there’s also help from Odyssey Sims and Lexie Brown. And one thing coach Reeve is exceptional at is filling the void, which was on display before the season tipped off. She was forced to find answers without Rebekah Brunson, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen. Now, she’ll just do that again.