Sylvia Fowles jumped in, midstream, during the 2015 season. The star center, acquired by the Lynx at last season’s WNBA All-Star break, came to Minnesota, put on a uniform and played.
This year she is immersing herself in the Lynx way of doing things in a much more deliberate fashion.
Not that last year didn’t work out. Yes, the Lynx had to radically change their offense, going from a high-post system to one that allowed Fowles to play with her back to the basket. Yes, there were growing pains and problems, including an uncharacteristically uneven August, when the team went 6-6.
But with Fowles and fellow midseason additions Renee Montgomery and Anna Cruz getting comfortable, the Lynx were able to win their third championship in five years. Indeed, guard Lindsay Whalen said she thought everything didn’t totally click until Game 5 of the finals, when the Lynx beat Indiana 69-52 behind Fowles’ 20 points and 11 rebounds. Fowles was the finals MVP.
With a full training camp, coach Cheryl Reeve is convinced Fowles will be even more effective. Fowles averaged 15.3 points with the Lynx last season, near her 15.7-ppg career average. But she shot just 51 percent from the field, a career low. And her 8.3 rebounds per game was her lowest total since 2009.
Reeve is asking more of Fowles. Last year, on the run, the offense was kept simple, Fowles almost always in the low post. This year she’ll also be in the high post, setting more screens, expanding her range.
“We’re trying to do some more, as we learn about Syl,” Reeve said. “We’re doing more to highlight the center. We’ll get her the ball deep — which I feel we did a decent job of last year — but I think we’ll also integrate Syl into some of the things we do. Syl’s a Lynx now. And there are things about our basketball culture now that have been staples for us. So having Syl in training camp allows us to demonstrate those staples. Syl doesn’t get enough credit for her skills away from the basket.”
Camp also will allow Fowles to just get more comfortable with the team, even with Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson still missing because of European commitments.
The Lynx will put some of that work to use in Thursday’s preseason opener vs. the New York Liberty at Columbia University.
“Last year I came in and was thrown into the pit,” Fowles said. “This year I’m getting down to the core of the offense and defense, how things run. Last year they weren’t used to a back-to-the-rim player. I had to tell them how I want the ball, where I want the ball. And, for me, I had to figure out things like how does Seimone like to come off a screen. And where does Maya [Moore] like to shoot the most. Everywhere, it turns out. She shoots from everywhere.”
Now Fowles is learning the complexity of the Lynx offense, where every play has several options that have to be read.
But she is comfortable with her teammates, and the Lynx have a good idea what she can do.
“It’s us finding better ways to find her, putting her in spots to be successful,” Whalen said. “Now, having a full camp working together, you’ll see her confidence with us continue to grow.”