Two weeks ago the Minnesota Lynx lost one of their picks from the 2019 WNBA Draft, Jessica Shepard, to an ACL tear. It’s no mere coincidence that the Lynx have experienced a drought without Shepard, losing to the New York Liberty (69-75), Connecticut Sun (81-85) and the Las Vegas Aces (75-80) since Shepard went down in the June 8 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks.
Luckily, the margin of defeat hasn’t been a foe of Minnesota’s, with the Lynx separated from opponents by an average of only five points.
Shepard happened to be one of the team’s leaders in assists through six games (21) and an even better rebounder — she’s still second on the team with 5.7 rebounds per game. Nonetheless, Lynx coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve finds a little bit of joy when it comes to randomness and her team. She’s well aware that — with Shepard gone — other players are being given an opportune time to exercise their place on the roster. Rookie Napheesa Collier, for example, needed to shift to small forward to let Damiris Dantas occupy the post.
Even with Jessica Shepard watching courtside, the timing of the Lynx’s recent woes is nothing short of appropriate — with some players stepping up, while others still having some homework to do.
Observations from the Lynx’s three-game skid
Danielle Robinson, Minnesota’s newest playmaker
In her first six games of the 2019 WNBA season, Robinson didn’t look like an eight-year WNBA veteran. Only then did she amass more assists (14) than points in a single-game performance, which — at the time — was 13 points in the Lynx’s season opener against the Chicago Sky. Within the last three games, fortune has turned around for the 30-year-old, as she has recorded 14 assists (leads team) and 38 points (third behind Sylvia Fowles and Odyssey Sims) in the same span.
Team leaders over last three games:
Points — 53 (Odyssey Sims), 41 (Sylvia Fowles), 38 (Danielle Robinson)
Rebounds — 29 (Fowles), 15 (Sims), 14 (Napheesa Collier)
Assists — 14 (Robinson), 13 (Damiris Dantas, Sims)
Damiris Dantas: A helper to Sylvia Fowles on defense?
Coach Reeve’s offense may be forming an identity, but her defense isn’t on the same page if it’s just Fowles writing the script. According to WNBA.com, the Lynx are allowing the eighth-highest field-goal percentage (43.1 percent) to opponents, while also being the third-worst team among defensive rating (94.2).
The mental obstacles accompanying that, though, are worse than the injury itself.
As of Monday, June 17, Fowles is the second-best defensive rebounder (64 on the season) behind Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones (76). Damiris Dantas, on the other hand, must battle harder on the boards. She is ranked 17th in the league with 31 defensive rebounds. It’s also important for Dantas, who’s been in the WNBA trenches since 2014, to take some pressure off Collier, who just had to relearn defensive strategy in relocating to the three spot.
Napheesa Collier’s fouls-to-defensive rebounds ratio
Of the 38 games during her senior year at UConn, Napheesa Collier had only nine games with three or more personal fouls. Nine games into the 2019 WNBA season, Phee’s discipline has been somewhat of an issue for a player averaging over 30 minutes per game. During a period of six games, the former UConn standout has been found guilty of 21 calls against her in comparison to her 23 defensive rebounds. Thankfully, that ratio has been shaved down as of late. In the past three games, Collier has racked up nine fouls to 14 defensive boards.
Following the personnel change, the small town Missouri native is finding out that, in order to make up for being on a referee’s radar, other parts of her game are just as important. Being the lone WNBA freshman on the court now for the Lynx, she has experienced a small, yet noticeable, increase in three-point shooting with 17 attempts in the first six games, then followed up with 11 more coming in the last three outings. She also has seen an uptick in assists, with 11 across the first six games followed by another seven assists in the last three.
Outside of foul trouble, other “bad news” to come out of the transition for Collier is point production. While she did score 80 points in her first six games as a WNBA rookie, she has only managed to put up 20 points in her last three.
All this said and done, the Lynx have what it takes to snap their losing streak on Saturday against the New York Liberty.
Up next for the Minnesota Lynx
No. 9 New York Liberty (3-5) at No. 8 Minnesota Lynx (4-5)
When: Saturday, June 22 at 8:00 p.m. ET
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
How to watch: NBA TV, Fox Sports North
Injury report: OUT — Liberty: G Rebecca Allen (hand); Lynx: F Jessica Shepard (knee), G Seimone Augustus (knee).