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5 things we learned from the Mystics-Lynx preseason opener

From Minnesota’s encouraging scoring performances to Washington’s continued excellence at the line, Friday night’s preseason game had a lot to offer fans of both teams.

Sylvia Fowles had no trouble returning to form in Friday night’s preseason opener, scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the Lynx win.
NBAE/Getty Images

Following Thursday’s win for the New York Liberty over China, the WNBA preseason began in earnest Friday night as the Minnesota Lynx held off the Washington Mystics at home, 86-79.

The first intra-league game of the season saw several uplifting signs for both squads. For the home team, rookies and veterans alike shone in their first game together, while the visitors welcomed back a star player and maintained their dominance in a key area from last season.

Here are five takeaways from last night’s Mystics-Lynx game:

Lynx showed scoring balance

Last season, Minnesota’s scoring trio of Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles and Seimone Augustus averaged 46.5 points per game. It was a modest total — compared to, say, the Mercury’s outrageous trio — yet an effective one.

But with Maya Moore not playing in 2019, the Lynx find themselves in need of more scorers. Luckily, they had four last night: Fowles, Odyssey Sims, Danielle Robinson and Jessica Shepard all scored in double figures.

While Sims and Shepard are new to the team — Sims via trade and Shepard via the draft — Robinson’s performance is especially heartening. As Robinson transitions into her role as starting point guard following Lindsay Whalen’s retirement, showing off early scoring chops comparable to her mid-career numbers is a good sign for a team that needs that kind of individual offense.

Emma Meesseman is definitely back

After missing last season, Meesseman made a statement in her return Friday night as she led the Mystics with 19 points and 6 rebounds. With Delle Donne out resting, Meesseman’s presence provided some missing star power — she was the only player to finish in double figures.

It’s unlikely she’ll be a regular starter at the beginning of the season, with all five starters from last year’s Finals squad returning to the Mystics and Meesseman slated to miss time midseason for EuroBasket Women. But if she keeps using her minutes this well as the season begins, a late-season shuffle of the starting five could give her that opportunity.

Jessica Shepard is ready to fight for playing time

Less than a minute into her first WNBA game, Shepard had her first assist. Less than a minute after that, she had her first points. And less than a minute after that, her first rebound.

Shepard fired off five quick points to give the Lynx some extra energy at the end of the first quarter, and finished the game with 10 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. For a rookie to get awfully close to her college numbers in her first professional game is a pretty remarkable feat, even though it’s the preseason and neither team was technically at full strength.

Despite those caveats, Shepard was far and away the strongest rookie on the floor Friday night. If she’s able to continue contributing like this, the 16th overall draft pick could carve out some real playing time for herself this season.

Washington remains solid at the line

Despite being only 7th in the league last season in free throw attempts, Washington is already demonstrating why fouling them can be so deadly — they take advantage of every opportunity at the line.

After leading the WNBA in free throw shooting percentage last season, the Mystics showed they’re ready to take back their spot at the top, going 19 of 20 from the stripe Friday night. The lone miss came from Tianna Hawkins — but as she made her other five free throws, it was far from the worst miss in the world.

Minnesota, meanwhile, was right about on par with their 2018 free throw performance, going 19-for-26. Only one player missed more than once, so this early disparity simply goes to show how stellar the Mystics are in this area.

Sylvia Fowles is still ... Sylvia Fowles

Fowles averaged a double-double last season — the sixth time she’s done so in her career — so perhaps the least surprising thing was seeing the veteran pick up right where she left off with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

For a team still very much defined by its age, it’s a good sign that Minnesota can still rely on players like Fowles (who is in her 11th season) to pace the team. Plus, the large pool of young talent looking to break into the league can use all the support they can get from some of the league’s longest-serving players.

The Lynx’s other longtime veterans didn’t have quite the same showing as Fowles last night, as 13-year veteran Seimone Augustus had two points in 10 minutes, eight-year veteran Karima Christmas-Kelly had five points in 16 minutes and nine-year veteran Erlana Larkins missed her one shot attempt in just under five minutes. But with the preseason just starting, the Lynx should be able to keep their most experienced players in their top rotation yet.