The Lynx will open the 2019 season Saturday against Chicago at Target Center with a roster that includes just three players who were on the team last season and just two — Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles — who were in the lineup in the playoff loss to Los Angeles that ended the season.
The team has a slew of new faces, including three rookies — Shao Ting, Napheesa Collier and Jessica Shepard — and the goal of retooling and rebuilding on the fly.
Here are five keys to a successful season:
This is true every year, of course. Key players — in this case Augustus, Fowles, Danielle Robinson and Odyssey Sims, for starters — have to stay healthy. There is not a lot of experience on this team and coach Cheryl Reeve needs those with it to stay on the court. By the time last season ended with an 18-16 record and a first-round playoff loss, guard Robinson and forward Rebekkah Brunson were out because of injuries and Fowles was playing with torn ligaments in her left elbow.
FOWLES, FOWLES, FOWLES
Simply put, the Lynx center needs to dominate. At this point she is the lone MVP candidate on the roster. And even though the Lynx have gotten more athletic, have found more pieces to play on the perimeter to provide spacing and intend to run more, the fact is Fowles — the 2017 regular season and WNBA finals MVP — averaged 17.7 points and a career-high 11.9 rebounds in 2018 while playing much of the season with a bad elbow.
By all accounts Robinson, who spent the offseason in Minnesota both rehabbing and reassessing the 2018 season one game film at a time, is a much-improved player. She’s shooting well and seeing the court better. Her play is key, as is that of Sims, who led the team in preseason scoring (22.5 while shooting 54.8% overall and 55.6% on three-pointers) and has had a fantastic camp. If Robinson, Sims and Augustus can play efficiently, things will be easier on Fowles, too. Fowles and Sims already have established a connection on the court; Sims’ skill at getting the ball into the post should help Fowles.
DEFENSE AND REBOUNDING
Without Brunson and with a roster that could lead to Reeve playing a lot of smaller lineups, rebounding will be a key. Fowles always is going to get hers, but others need to help, starting with Damiris Dantas and including whomever happens to be playing small forward. Last year a veteran lineup that was often challenged athletically still managed the fourth-best defensive rating in the league. The new lineup will have to learn to play defense together quickly to make up for an offense that, at least at the start, likely will not be as efficient as Lynx teams of the past.
Reeve is determined to shoot more threes and shoot them better than last season, when the Lynx were second-to-last in the league in three-point attempts per game (15.5) and made threes per game (5.4). There are players who can hit from deep on this team: Lexie Brown, the recently added Stephanie Talbot, for example. Sims, a career 27.4% three-point shooter, hit five of nine in the preseason, when the Lynx averaged 21.5 three-point shots.