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Beyond Sylvia Fowles, questions abound for the Minnesota Lynx

The 2022 Lynx might be the trickiest puzzle yet for Cheryl Reeve to figure out.

Los Angeles Sparks v Minnesota Lynx Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

A year ago, it seemed like the Minnesota Lynx were executing a star transition from Sylvia Fowles to Napheesa Collier. Collier, a 2019 All-Star and Rookie of the Year, was coming off a second-team all-WNBA season in the bubble when she led her team to a semifinal defeat against the eventual champion Seattle Storm. Meanwhile, Fowles was limited to eight total games that year and appeared to be on the other side of her prime at 35 years old.

But in 2021, Collier’s efficiency took a slight dip while Fowles firmly regained control of her superstar status, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors for the fourth time while also filling in as backup center on Team USA to win her fourth gold medal. The Lynx finished as the no. 3 seed in the regular season, and though Minnesota lost in single elimination, again to the eventual champs, Fowles was right back in the conversation for best big in the league.

And that is where Fowles and the Lynx stand at the start of 2022: she is the leader of this team and arguably the best center in the WNBA, an incredible feat considering this is her last season as a professional basketball player.

Minnesota Lynx 2022 Media Day
What can be expected in Sylvia Fowles’ last ride in the WNBA?
Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Nevertheless, though Minnesota has Fowles has an anchor, the rest of the roster is in flux. Fowles has a bigger load to carry in her last ride as Collier is set to miss the start of the season while pregnant. The Lynx brought in Angel McCoughtry for reinforcements, but McCoughtry missed last season with a torn ACL and was on a minutes restriction for all of 2020 as she continued to recover from an injury to her other knee that cost her the 2019 season.

Elsewhere in the Lynx frontcourt, Damiris Dantas is still dealing with a Lisfranc injury and Rennia Davis — not even a lock to make the final roster despite being the 2021 no. 9 pick —has yet to play in the WNBA after missing her rookie season with a stress fracture in her foot. Cheryl Reeve, still wearing the coach and GM hats, says that Natalie Achonwa has had a strong training camp, and Jessica Shepard remains in the mix, so there are some options at power forward despite the lengthy injury list.

The good news is that Minnesota has abundant perimeter talent. Layshia Clarendon manned the point effectively last year, averaging 10.4 points and 5.7 assists per game, almost instantly stepping into the starting role after being waived by the New York Liberty. Clarendon’s backup, 2020 rookie of the year Crystal Dangerfield, lost some of her mojo in year two, and her small stature looked to take a toll on her finishing. But Dangerfield can still shoot, and that has a role on a team with a dominant post hub.

On the wing is where the Lynx really shine. The aforementioned McCoughtry can toggle between both forward spots and showed in the bubble that she could still command an offense — her throwback performance in the WNBA semifinals was a key reason Las Vegas advanced past Connecticut. Kayla McBride was McCoughtry’s teammate on that Aces squad, providing the veteran space to work with her shooting gravity; McBride’s 3-point volume and accuracy improved in her first year in Minnesota, and her scorching shooting percentages with Fenerbache in 2021-22 suggest bigger and better things to come for the Irish grad. Aerial Powers rounds out the trio, and uses her strength to crash the offensive boards and get to the foul line.

The ingredients are there for a bully-ball team with size mismatches at every position that dominates the glass and overwhelms opponents with its physicality. That was the theory a year ago, but spacing was a concern throughout — Clarendon and Powers, among others, don’t exactly demand to be guarded outside the paint. And injuries ate at the Lynx all season.

Depth remains a concern for Minnesota. The frontcourt issues have been highlighted, McBride will arrive late from Europe, Powers was limited to 14 games a year ago, and the Lynx can only carry 11, including Collier. Some time remains for the team to execute a salary-clearing trade, similar to the deal last offseason to dump Odyssey Sims’ contract.

For now, under the current cap constraints, important shooters like Bridget Carleton and Rachel Banham will be fighting for a roster spot with Davis. Carleton has been invaluable to Minnesota with her size and shooting, a consummate role player who fits around everyone, yet it’s hard to see the Lynx cutting bait with Davis before she even plays a game.

Minnesota Lynx v Chicago Sky
The bill is coming due for the Lynx, and that means they’ll likely have to say goodbye to at least one of Rachel Banham and Bridget Carleton.
Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

Maybe Carleton and Davis each outperform a player like Dangerfield. However, we’ve seen how Minnesota’s offense can collapse without consistent point guard play, and it’s unfair to not give Clarendon a real backup, unless Reeve has extraordinary faith in the ballhandling ability of Powers.

There are reasons to be skeptical of the Lynx figuring out how to win with an injury-prone and potentially shallow roster, even with Fowles in the middle playing some of her best basketball. Then again, people have been counting out Minnesota ever since Maya Moore stepped away, and the Lynx simply continue to win. Reeve guided Collier to near-immediate stardom when her 2019 group was pegged as a lottery team; Minnesota opted out of the massive free agency spending spree of 2020 and still ended up in the WNBA semifinals; with Collier out for the foreseeable future, the Lynx are once again off the national radar, yet it’s hard to believe Reeve and Fowles won’t figure it out once more.