Generally happy about her team’s just-concluded three-game road trip but disappointed in the way it ended, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve will have some reinforcement in the four-game run heading to the WNBA All-Star Game break.
Forward/center Temi Fagbenle, her obligation to Great Britain in the EuroBasket tournament finished, will be in uniform when the Lynx host Phoenix on Sunday night at Target Center.
This is good timing.
Forwards Karima Christmas-Kelly and Jessica Shepard have been lost for the season after knee surgeries. Starting power forward Damiris Dantas will miss her sixth straight game against the Mercury because of a strained left calf. The return of Fagbenle — who comes back to the Lynx with some serious momentum — gives Reeve more depth and the opportunity to put rookie Napheesa Collier back at small forward.
“We have Temi back in the rotation,” Reeve said. “She’ll play a lot of minutes. We could have used her [Friday in a loss at Atlanta], for sure. And that will allow me to get Collier back to the three.”
There is a chance Fagbenle could start. But the most likely scenario is that she’ll play significant minutes off the bench. That means Collier will still play some power forward; Reeve suggested the split might be 65% of the time at the three.
This could have a big impact on Collier. “She struggled at the four,” Reeve said. “In five games playing at power forward her numbers are drastically down. It impacts her greatly. It’s been a real adjustment for her. She’s been having a hard time navigating that piece of it. If she stayed there for the long haul, she’d figure it out.”
But she won’t have to.
In the five games Dantas has missed, Collier has averaged 8.8 points per game, shooting 34% overall and 33.3% on three-pointers playing power forward. In the first 11 games, she shot 48.9% and averaged 12.3 points.
Fagbenle has appeared in 51 games the past two seasons, averaging just 7.3 minutes and 2.3 points. But her game continues to improve. She had a strong season in Europe over the winter, being named the Polish League MVP. And she led all scorers in the EuroBasket tournament (20.9 points per game).
“When you see a player gain confidence like that, you hope they carry that momentum [in the WNBA],” Reeve said. “Her confidence is sky-high.”
Fagbenle hasn’t played with the Lynx this year, but she did spend time with the team in training camp before going to Europe. So she should be comfortable with the players and the playbook.
Meanwhile, the Lynx are hoping to carry the momentum of having won five of seven games into the final four games before the All-Star break. At 9-7 Minnesota is just 1½ games out of first place in the WNBA but also just two games ahead of ninth-place New York.
The Lynx are coming off a difficult 60-53 loss Friday at Atlanta, one Reeve hopes is a one-game glitch for a team that had been steadily improving on offense.
It had better be. The four games before the break include a Mercury team that recently got star guard Diana Taurasi back, a home game against Seattle, a game at first-place Las Vegas and a home game vs. second-place Washington.
To make room for Fagbenle on the roster, the Lynx waived Shao Ting, who appeared in five games this season, averaging 5.4 minutes and 1.2 points.