Her speed is the first thing you notice.
Lynx star Seimone Augustus says Danielle Robinson is the fastest player in the WNBA. Coach Cheryl Reeve noted the other day how often it seems Augustus prefers to be on the sideline when Robinson starts running the offense and heads down the court in practice.
Sylvia Fowles has nicknamed Robinson “Lightning,’’ for her quickness and speed. (Fowles, of course, is “Thunder, baby,’’ she said, laughing. “I bring the boom.")
So, that’s what you see first with Robinson. The speed. Talk to Robinson for a few moments and you get the idea that she’s in a hurry to make up for lost time.
“Last year was a lost year for me, career-wise,’’ she said.
Robinson is half of the Lynx’s rebuilt backup backcourt. She and Tanisha Wright will take the place of Jia Perkins (retired) and Renee Montgomery (signed with Atlanta), a duo that was key to Minnesota’s drive for a fourth title last year.
Between them, Robinson and Wright have been named to 10 WNBA all-defensive teams. Robinson, the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft by San Antonio, has led the league in assists, made three consecutive All-Star Game appearances starting in 2013 and was picked to the all-WNBA second team in 2014.
That is a résumé. And she’s only 28.
So when Robinson talks about a higher WNBA profile, she has both the bona fides and the time.
And, she hopes, the team.
“This is the year for me to really prove that I haven’t gone anywhere,’’ Robinson said. “That I’m here to stay.’’
Mentored by San Antonio teammate Becky Hammon, Robinson hit the ground running. She was an All-Star by her third season. By 2014, Robinson averaged 12.9 points, 5.3 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.6 steals. She was second in the league in assists in 2015.
But, while playing that same year, Robinson started feeling pain in her right Achilles’ tendon. That fall, while playing overseas, it got worse. Finally, she had surgery in March of 2016 and had to sit out that summer’s WNBA season.
In 2017, San Antonio traded Robinson to Phoenix. She began the season as a starter, but it never really quite fit, and she finished the season coming off the bench. Her averages of 6.9 points and 3.4 assists were career lows.
“I don’t think she was herself,’’ Reeve said. “Everyone is attributing it to her Achilles’. But it’s not. When you have players like a Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, and Penny Taylor is still on the scene, it can be a hard group. Not because they’re not good people. But because you start thinking, ‘I don’t want to screw it up. I want to make sure Diana is happy, BG is happy.’ And then you don’t play like yourself.’’
Said Robinson: “It was a mental thing for me. I didn’t play like myself.’’
Robinson, 5-9 and 126 pounds, came to the Lynx in a pre-draft trade when they sent the 12th overall pick to Phoenix. But before she could even think “here we go again,’’ Reeve sat her down and made one thing clear: Be yourself.
“That’s all she told me,’’ Robinson said. “Don’t be anything but yourself. You appreciate that, as a player. Because I know this: My strengths can help this team. The way I run, the way I can push the tempo? I’m just excited to come here and play my game.’’
About the three ...
While winning four WNBA titles, the Lynx have often employed a second-unit backcourt that gives opponents a change of pace. In 2015 it was the combination of Montgomery and ball-hawking Anna Cruz that helped turn the tide in the Finals. Last season it was Montgomery and Perkins; Montgomery played 21.9 minutes, nearly the same as starter Lindsay Whalen’s 23.6. Montgomery was a strong defender at times, but capable of going off on offense on any given night, especially from behind the arc.
Robinson has never hit a WNBA three-pointer (she’s 0-for-33, though Reeve said she’d bet her house Robinson will hit one this year). Her strength is pushing a team on the break, getting into the paint, then either finishing at the rim or kicking the ball out to a teammate.
Robinson and Wright might give Reeve her best-defending backcourt. Determined to get the Lynx break going again, Robinson will be key. Just the dramatic difference from Whalen and Augustus to Robinson and Wright could give opponents problems.
In the pick-and-roll, against teams that try to go under when Robinson has the ball, she can be deadly.
“She can get through a very small space, in a hurry,’’ Reeve said. “We haven’t had many guards who do that.’’
Robinson will play both with reserves and starters. With depth at the position that includes second-year player Alexis Jones, Reeve said you could see more three-guard sets with Maya Moore at power forward.
Robinson, her hair dyed with Lynx colors, feels at home so far.
“Last year I wasn’t sure where I was fitting in,’’ she said. “This year everybody’s like, ‘We’re so excited to play with you.’ I know I can make an impact, be the player I was in San Antonio.’’