At 6-foot-6, age 35 and in her 14th WNBA season, Sylvia Fowles is supposed to be putting the final, finishing touches on her Hall of Fame career.
Instead, Fowles is reaching unprecedented heights, operating as an offensive threat and the defensive fulcrum for a Minnesota Lynx team that, after an uneven start, closed the first half of the 2021 WNBA season looking like the championship-caliber squad many expected to see.
she's just too. dang. tough. pic.twitter.com/1m39aeFO5Q— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) July 10, 2021
Limited to seven games last season due to a persistent calf injury, it was easy to think that Fowles had passed the tipping point of her career, when the combination of age and injury would relegate her to a reduced role. Not so fast!
In a WNBA season full of compelling storylines, Fowles’ bounce-back season has been a bit overlooked. Unassuming yet ever-dominant, Sweet Syl is still Sweet Syl, with her 2021 performance on par with her Hall of Fame expectations.
Here’s some additional context for Fowles’ under-the-radar excellence.
Sylvia Fowles’ superb 2021 season
Through 19 games, Fowles is averaging 15.9 points and 9.8 rebounds in 30.3 minutes per game, all of which are her highest marks since 2018. Impressively, she has snagged two steals per game, which would be a career high. She has nearly added just under two blocks to go with her pair of steals, giving her almost four “stocks” (steals + blocks) per game, which also would be a career high.
Over the Lynx’s still-active seven-game winning streak, Fowles’ numbers are even better. She has tallied 16.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and almost three blocks per game as Minnesota flashed its championship upside. During this stretch, she anchored a stingy Lynx defense, allowing Minnesota to post a defensive rating of 92.4 when she is on the court.
Her best performance of the season was the second win of this streak, when she dropped a 30-point masterpiece on the Las Vegas Aces. She complemented her season-high point total with 14 boards, four assists, four steals and four blocks.
A three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner, she very well could add a fourth trophy to her case, especially if the Lynx continue to creep up the standings and contend for a top two seed. However, even she does not earn additional individual hardware at season’s end, Fowles’ season still will be historic.
Who leads the league in defensive rating?— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) July 10, 2021
Who leads the league in steals per game?
Who’s a 3x WNBA DPOY? pic.twitter.com/CFi0hP3Gl9
Sweet Syl’s rare longevity
It is worth repeating that Fowles is 6-foot-6 and, in turn, we appropriately appreciate her longevity. Never in WNBA history has a player of her size survived this many seasons, much less at such a high level.
Fowles has played 11,131 career minutes, which is sixth among active players and 23rd all-time. Of the 22 players ahead of her, the tallest is 6-foot-4 Tina Charles, who has tallied 11,272 minutes and currently is compiling a pretty good season at age 32. Otherwise, there is no player over 6-foot-3. In terms of minutes played, Fowles has already reached uncharted territory for someone her size.
Her ability to maintain elite condition at 6-foot-6, even as she has reached an advanced basketball age, deserves more frequent celebration. Yes, that Sue Bird is still flitting around the court at age 40 is impressive. But at 5-foot-9, Bird’s physical burden pales in comparison to Fowles’. Her fitness and form suggest that, although her contract expires after this season, she has several more impactful seasons in store.
Evidence of Syl’s all-time excellence
Regardless of how Fowles and the Lynx finish this season, or any season beyond this one, her legendary status is already secure. Here are a few (of many) statistical highlights from Fowles’ WNBA career.
2x WNBA champion (2015, 2017)
2x WNBA Finals MVP (2015, 2017)
2017 WNBA MVP
3x Defensive Player of the Year (2011, 2013, 2016)
6x All-WNBA (2010-13, 2016-17)
1st all-time in rebounds (3,587)
1st all-time in rebounds per game (9.8)
1st all-time in field goal percentage (.594)
4th all-time in blocks (665)
10th all-time in PER (25.31)