Last October, the Lynx came within one defensive play of winning a fourth WNBA title in six seasons. Cheryl Reeve fumed, mourned, then changed.
Thursday night, the Lynx faced the Los Angeles Sparks in a rematch of the 2016 Finals and won 88-77 while making six of 14 three-point shots. This is a new trend for a mature team.
In 2016, Lindsay Whalen made 27 percent of her three-point attempts. In 2017, her 14th season in the WNBA, she’s made 48 percent.
Thursday, it was another Lynx point guard, Renee Montgomery, who excelled, hitting her first four three-point attempts.
Whalen credited her coach, then mentioned “Noah,” referring not to a two-by-two march but a procession of threes.
Noahbasketball.com devised a method of measuring the arc of a shot, with a goal of optimizing shooting. Yes, the company chose the name “Noah” as a reference to the word “Arc.”
For years, the Lynx relied on a half-court offense that produced mid-range jumpers and drives. Whalen excelled at maneuvering into the paint. Seimone Augustus featured an accurate midrange jumper and deft moves to the basket.
Last winter, Reeve decided her team should take more three-pointers. Thursday night, Montgomery said something you rarely heard from one of Reeve’s players: “I’m not going to play favorites with my threes.”
“It was a point of emphasis,” Reeve said. “I think any time you emphasize something, you get better at it. We’ve talked about it in prior years, but we didn’t emphasize it. It was like, if it happened, great, but we didn’t want to take away from someone like Seimone, who was great from two.”
The nastiest thing you could say about the Lynx in 2016 or 2017 is that it is one of the league’s two best teams. This was not a team in desperate need of strategic change. And yet Reeve changed, highlighting Sylvia Fowles’ powerhouse inside play and the three-point shot.
“I think we had some players we thought had the ability but need more work at it,” Reeve said. “And then I needed to let go of some shot selection restraints that I might have put on them. Now, if you’re open from three, shoot it. Because you worked hard at it.”
Last year, the Lynx took 12 three-pointers a game and made 34 percent of them. This year, they’re taking 17 and making 38 percent.
Whalen has been the most obvious beneficiary and justifier of the new approach, even though she wasn’t at her best Thursday, when she missed both of her three-pointers and finished with four points.
During a season in which Whalen became the winningest player in league history, she adapted like a rookie desperate for playing time.
“Coach came to us in the offseason,” Whalen said. “We had stuff we had to work on every year and one of the things we wanted to do this year was take more threes. Of course, we wanted to make more, but at first she just said she wanted us to take more.
“So we emphasized them in practice and in individual workouts and then we had some great tools to help us out.”
Whalen mentioned Noahbasketball.com, which offers a system that measures and provides audio feedback for every shot a player takes.
“We have some great tools that we use to help us out,” Whalen said. “Noah measures the arc on our shots. It’s something that the team invested in, to invest in us. Our organization does so much to help us stay at the top of our game. All the work we’ve done in the offseason, it’s helped in games.”
Whalen discovered she needed to shoot three-pointers with a higher arc, and that practicing from the NBA three-point range improved her form.
The three-point shot is one of many reasons the Lynx (13-1) are surging through another regular season.
And it doesn’t hurt the shooters to have the relentless Fowles attracting the eyes of five defenders every time she touches the ball in the paint.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org