The news that Maya Moore would be sitting out the 2019 WNBA season was — and likely will be, of course — the biggest news to come out of this free agency period, for any team. But among the Lynx camp, it wasn’t the first piece of big news.
Between Lindsay Whalen’s retirement already meaning that a somewhat new-look Lynx team will emerge out of the 2018-19 offseason, and Moore’s decision not to play professional basketball in 2019, the signing of former Dallas Wings guard Karima Christmas-Kelly means the addition of a multitalented, experienced player with a proven ability to have an impact with a new team right away.
Though Christmas-Kelly sat out much of 2018 due to a knee injury that was addressed with season-ending surgery, her all-around experience should not only fill some holes left by Whalen’s and Moore’s departures, but also take a load off an aging Lynx team that might need help maintaining the team’s overall energy with two big pieces missing.
Production around the court
While the Lynx have plenty of solid three-point shooters still on the team, Moore and Whalen represented two of four starters to average over 30 percent from beyond the arc last season. In maintaining the team average of 34.6 percent, the Lynx will likely be doing some reshuffling of the starting five to maintain this output.
Enter Christmas-Kelly, who in her six games last season averaged 44.4 percent from three. Though 2018 provided a minuscule sample size, her 32.4 percent career three-point percentage, which includes two seasons in a row of 38.6 percent shooting in 2014 and 2015, will immediately help the Lynx fill the gap left by Whalen and Moore.
But outside isn’t the only place where Christmas-Kelly shines. She’s also a strong rebounder for a guard, averaging at or near five rebounds per game in her past four seasons. Though Sylvia Fowles had no trouble reaching 11.9 rebounds per game in 2018, it’ll be nice for the Lynx to have another significant presence on the glass.
Christmas-Kelly’s high-level consistency isn’t even limited to the run of play — her free-throw shooting has, on the whole, only improved year after year in the league. Across the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons, when Christmas-Kelly was a full-time starter for the Tulsa Shock-turned-Dallas Wings, she was an 81 percent free throw shooter.
Already averaging 79.1 percent from the line last season as a team, the Lynx can use another player who will not only play aggressively enough to get to the line — Christmas-Kelly took 4.4 free throws per game in 2017 — but also make the fouling team pay four out of five times.
Mental toughness through several moves
Throughout her career, Christmas-Kelly has proven herself to be a go-getter, the type of player that thrives on and off the court even in the face of adversity.
Take her origin story. Taken late in the second round of the 2011 draft, Christmas-Kelly was waived by the Washington Mystics and signed a day later by the Tulsa Shock. She was passed back around to the Indiana Fever in 2013, where she became a regular starter. In 2015, she returned to the Shock (which in 2016 moved and became the Dallas Wings), where she further established herself as a consistent, tough player — someone who’s a dream to play with, and a nightmare to play against.
Adapting to so many roles in such a short period of time and thriving illustrates that Christmas-Kelly doesn’t have just a strong will, but also the ability to mesh with a new team and have an immediate impact. As a player who can score from anywhere, crash the glass like a forward and force turnovers, her versatility — and her continued confidence in her own versatility — should make her a true asset to the Lynx.
Playoffs experience — and a championship
The beginning of Christmas-Kelly’s career with the Fever give her some early Finals experience — and not just any old Finals experience, but experience beating the Lynx, who had just begun their Maya Moore-led era of dominance. Christmas-Kelly played in games 2, 3 and 4 of the 2012 WNBA Finals, in which the Fever beat the Lynx by three games to one. The deciding Game 4 saw Christmas-Kelly sink all four of her free throw attempts en route to the victory.
Though Christmas-Kelly hasn’t been to the Finals since 2012, her teams since then have played in at least one postseason game every year but 2016. She’s played big minutes in nearly every game, put up double-digits in scoring in a handful of them and maintained her high free-throw shooting percentage — her career postseason average from the charity stripe is a whopping 89.7 percent.
If the Lynx can make it to the postseason after what’s sure to be a difficult 2019 season in the wake of their key departures, Christmas-Kelly — all healed from her surgery — will be a big reason why.