At the end of the 2018 season, the Minnesota Lynx were on the opposite side of the fence, watching the WNBA Finals on their televisions at home. Prior to the 2018 season, the Lynx won the WNBA Championship four times in the last seven years.
In 2018, the Seattle Storm took the league by surprise as they finished the season with a 26-8 record and averaged 87.2 points per game. The Storm swept the Washington Mystics in the WNBA Finals (3-0).
In prior seasons, the Lynx and Sparks faced off in the WNBA Finals with Los Angeles winning the title in 2016 and Minnesota winning it in 2017. After the Lynx’s first-round exit in 2018, it’s clear Minnesota may be taking a step back as a franchise.
The Lynx got off to a slow start in the 2018 WNBA season, with a 2-5 record in their first seven games. The 2-5 start raised some red flags for fans and critics as the team’s chemistry seemed altered and appeared to lack a sense of urgency, ball movement and fluidity on offense.
Nonetheless, Minnesota’s defense allowed the team to remain in games down the stretch. But the team struggled on offense, averaging 78.9 points per game (ninth in the league).
By contrast, the Lynx finished the 2017 season third in points per game (85.4). Ultimately, the franchise struggled last season with generating points in a consistent fashion.
Although Minnesota’s nucleus is still intact, the Lynx will probably be one team that will not make the postseason in 2019, and here’s why:
The departure of Lindsay Whalen
Lindsay Whalen, 36, retired at the end of the 2018 season after being eliminated by the Sparks in the opening round of the playoffs. The departure of Whalen is going to affect this team in the immediate future.
Whalen averaged 5.7 points, 3.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game in 2018. Although her stat line decreased a bit from the previous season, the Minnesota product helped guide this team in a variety of ways.
Unlike the NBA, the WNBA values and cherishes the point guard position. Whalen was the classic point guard most teams dream of having. The 36-year-old helped the team run the fast break, set up the offense and push through in critical situations.
Over the years, Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus have helped carry the load by bringing the ball up the court. However, Whalen over the years has been an extension of head coach Cheryl Reeve on the floor.
Every franchise needs that veteran that can mentor younger players, guide and motivate their teammates to reach a new level. Think about the 2018 champion Seattle storm. If Sue Bird didn’t return for her 16th season the Storm may have not been hoisting the trophy in September.
Clearly, Minnesota still has most of its core intact but, without Whalen in the lineup, the Lynx are likely take a step back, given that they finished the 2018 regular season two games above .500 (18-16).
It was clear in the first round of the playoffs that the team struggled with Whalen on the floor because of her inability to stay in front of defenders. However, the team struggled with her off the floor as well, and the Lynx were not able to execute half-court sets. Oftentimes, the team seemed to lack urgency and struggled to make the right basketball play in crucial situations.
Of course, the franchise would still will be in the hunt with Maya Moore on the active roster (if she returns — see below), but she plays better off the ball versus on.
Strength of schedule
Minnesota could also miss the 2019 postseason because of its schedule. In 2018, the Lynx got off to a rocky start, which almost caused them to miss out on the postseason, and the 2019 WNBA schedule does not appear to be stacked in the Lynx’s favor either.
For starters, the franchise could possibly be at a 4-5 record after the first nine games because the Lynx face four teams that finished the 2018 season over .500.
The Lynx will also have to play the defending champion Storm twice within the first four weeks of the season. Granted, Minnesota can rise to the occasion, but the team’s ability to do so would be tested if the Lynx are going through a transition.
Within the first 10 games, the team will also face hungry competition in the Phoenix Mercury, who were one game away from advancing to the Finals. Not to mention the Mercury kept their nucleus together in Brittney Griner, Diana Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner and Briann January.
Coupled with the Mercury and Storm, the Lynx could run into problems against the Los Angeles Sparks, who they will play June 8 at home.
Another team that may defeat the Lynx could be the Connecticut Sun. Last season the Sun clinched a first-round bye after finishing the regular season at 21-13. Unfortunately, Connecticut would be knocked out by Phoenix in a second-round thriller.
Needless to say, Connecticut will be back with a vengeance as they have Chiney Ogwumike, Jasmine Thomas and Courtney Williams leading the team. Minnesota has been able to defeat these teams in the past but this year could be different due to the fact that Moore may not step on the court this season.
The uncertainty of Maya Moore
In addition to strength of schedule and the departure of Whalen, the Lynx may be at a disadvantage due to the uncertainty of Moore’s future. On Jan. 17, WCCO’s Mike Max reported that Moore may sit out the entire 2019 season.
After the news broke Swish Appeal’s Albert Lee wrote an in-depth analysis explaining that Moore is hesitant to rejoin the Lynx because of a possible rebuild, lack of rest and being cored.
The uncertainty of Moore is a huge problem for the Lynx at this particular moment that they are experiencing a decline as an organization. If the 29-year-old Moore sits out or retires (highly unlikely), Minnesota won’t make the postseason.
Moore is the face of the franchise and the best player on the roster. Obviously, the team still has Sylvia Fowles on the active roster. But Fowles needs a solid ball handler to execute the pick-and-roll and help feed her in the post.
Both players complement one another. So, if Moore leaves the Lynx, Fowles is susceptible to more double teams. Not to mention her game is elevated when she can dish it out to the wing to Moore, crash the offensive boards freely and post up in single coverage.
As of now, the Lynx may need to consider trading Moore because of her current stance toward the 2019 season and not wanting to play for a team rebuilding. Designating Moore to be a core player may affect her approach to the season and it may weigh on the team negatively.
Without Moore, the team will lose their leading scorer and most consistent playmaker. Moore finished the 2018 season averaging 18 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, while shooting 36.5 percent from three.
Obviously, the Lynx could make the playoffs, but the loss of Whalen and the uncertainty of Moore’s status may affect the team more than we think. Moore is clearly the face of the franchise and if she does not return this team may be near the bottom of the standings. The UConn product provides the team with playmaking, athleticism and defensive spurts.
As the 2019 WNBA season approaches, some teams will build off of last season’s success and others will depend on the draft. Sadly, some of these teams on the rise could leave Minnesota in the dust come postseason.