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WNBA 2019 Team Preview: The Minnesota Lynx (#7) aim to regroup without Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen

The biggest news coming out of the Minnesota Lynx’s offseason isn’t the 2019 WNBA Draft, but rather the loss of stars Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen.

WNBA: Finals-Los Angeles Sparks at Minnesota Lynx
Sylvia Fowles had 21 double-doubles last season, which will complement Napheesa Collier’s ole college try of 25 as a senior at UConn.
Photo By: Brad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports

Two years after winning a WNBA title, the Minnesota Lynx are in a very different position under GM/head coach Cheryl Reeve, who celebrates her tenth season with the Lynx in 2019. Because unfortunately, there’s some bad news to crash Reeve’s party, as she will have to learn to live without Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Alexis Jones and possibly Rebekkah Brunson.

After just five years with the Connecticut Sun, Lindsay Whalen went back to her roots in Minnesota, where she not only played college ball, but also led the Lynx to four WNBA titles (2011, 2013-15) before announcing her retirement this past season. Because of her contributions to the organization, the Lynx will honor her legacy by retiring No. 13 on Saturday, June 8.

In Maya Moore’s case, her Players’ Tribune piece in February can lead one to assume that she’s not stepping away because she’s questioning her love for basketball, but that something deeper and more spiritual is happening. Though born and bred in Missouri, Moore has spent her seven-year WNBA career in Minnesota, pausing with over 4,000 points, over 800 assists and over 400 steals.

On a separate course than Whalen and Moore is the Lynx’s new face of the franchise, Sylvia Fowles, who finished — among league leaders — eighth in points (602) behind teammate Moore, first in total rebounds (404) and second in field goal shooting percentage (61.9 percent).

Then there’s the 2019 WNBA Draft — a very busy time for the Lynx and Reeve, who snatched three players in the second round alone: Jessica Shepard, Natisha Hiedeman and Cierra Dillard.

Season outlook: The Minnesota Lynx in 2019

Familiar faces

By far, ex-LSU ballplayer Sylvia Fowles is the biggest treat for any Lynx fan entering the 2019 season. Since being drafted into the WNBA in 2008, Fowles has appeared in six playoffs and has collected over 20 awards. At age 32, she continues to struggle at the free-throw line, but that didn’t come in the way of a career-best 282 defensive rebounds in 2018.

Alongside Fowles is another one from Geaux Tigers nation, Seimone Augustus, who’s been in Minneapolis since 2006. Though she’s a long-serving member and has consistently scored in double figures since her rookie season, Augustus comes with yellow tape. It seems as though she injures a different part of her body every season, starting in 2009 when she tore her ACL.

Notable newbies

Napheesa Collier is a jack of all trades: She tallied over 20 double-doubles in her senior season at UConn, and she’s Minnesota’s future. She’s got a great mentor in Fowles and a better chance at developing and competing in the ferocious Western Conference, which features a platter of elite players.

Much like Collier’s rebounding game, Notre Dame alum Jessica Shepard is extremely helpful at finding the boards, even though the Lynx were good enough to finish third in defensive rebounds anyway in 2018. With a backlog in that category, Shepard (6-foot-4) would likely be used with Fowles (6-foot-6) on a team that has one of the shorter rosters (average Lynx player is 6-foot-1) in the WNBA.

Lastly, the addition of Odyssey Sims from Los Angeles may excite or anger people because of the rivalry between her and Lindsay Whalen. Either way, it was hard for Sims to make a difference and that might have remained the same if she stayed in L.A., since the Sparks added the second Ogwumike sister into the bunch. A guard from Baylor, Sims’ frontcourt presence is desperately needed in a depleted Lynx roster.

Biggest obstacles

Here are the biggest challenges the Minnesota Lynx will face this season:

  1. Will there be fallout post-Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen? The effect both of these departures will have may be more mental than physical. Meanwhile, Rebekkah Brunson’s comeback is questionable after she’s had her own ride in the offseason, from free agency to being a new mom. Altogether, those three averaged 29 games started, 26.2 minutes of play and a 40.7 field goal shooting percentage. It’ll sting to not see their names on opening day, but with absence comes vigilance, along with weeding out who will step up and who won’t.
  2. What should we expect from Napheesa Collier? It’s very possible that Collier could have the biggest impact of the entire 2019 rookie class. The purpose isn’t to sound like a broken record, but with the loss of Moore, Whalen and (maybe) Brunson, the Lynx need to somehow stop the hemorrhaging. In terms of Collier’s role, the paint is pretty much shot-caller Sylvia Fowles’ (6-foot-6) domain, but there’s no harm in adding a second cannon. Even if Collier isn’t used that way by Reeve, there are other options, such as allowing her to set up Fowles on the inside (Collier finished with a team second-best 134 assists last season at UConn).
  3. Will the Lynx-Sparks rivalry continue this postseason? Dating back a short time ago, the Minnesota Lynx defeated the Los Angeles Sparks in three games to win the 2017 championship. Then, one year later, the Sparks avenged themselves in the first round, robbing the No. 7 seed from the City of Lakes of any postseason hopes. But one of the most outstanding performances by a Lynx player against the Sparks came from the 2017 WNBA Finals, when Sylvia Fowles had 17 points topped off by 20 rebounds.

Game zone

Preseason opener

No. 3 Washington Mystics at No. 7 Minnesota Lynx

When: Friday, May 10, at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

How to watch: TBD

Notes: Over the last five years, the Lynx are 1-3 against the Mystics in the preseason, with a 2018 regular-season record of 2-1. A key component that will be missing this year, however, is Tanisha Wright, who was traded to New York. Through three games last year, Wright was responsible for 24 points, 13 assists and over 20 minutes of play per game.

Season home opener

No. 10 Chicago Sky at No. 7 Minnesota Lynx

When: Saturday, May 25, at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

How to watch: CBS Sports Network

Notes: Napheesa Collier (Lynx) and Katie Lou Samuelson (Sky) had four years to brew a bromance at UConn. They, of course, got along very well, but pleasure will give way to business when Chicago travels to the Target Center to open up their season. Other aspects of this game will be how Fowles and Collier shut down one of the WNBA’s best playmakers and three-point slingers, Allie Quigley.

Marquee matchup

No. 6 Los Angeles Sparks at No. 7 Minnesota Lynx

When: Saturday, June 8, at 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

How to watch: ABC

Notes: They may be familiar with each other in the postseason, but it’s all Sparks, all the way in the regular season. Last year, the Lynx went 1-3, including a one-point loss in the season opener. The lone win was a matter of third-quarter defense (where the Lynx outscored the Sparks, 28-18) and help from Rebekkah Brunson’s double-double (15 points, 12 rebounds). This particular matchup will also surround Lindsay Whalen and her jersey retirement ceremony.