Once every decade, the Lynx acquire a legendary former Gophers women’s basketball guard entering the prime of her career – and they get her from Connecticut a handful of years after the Sun made her the No. 4 overall pick in the WNBA Draft.
They did it in January of 2010 with Lindsay Whalen.
And now February of 2020 with Rachel Banham.
They are two players whose styles are so distinct from one another that it really doesn’t make much sense to compare them. But their paths make them inextricably linked to one another, with the latest uncanny twist coming Tuesday when Banham joined the Lynx via a sign-and-trade acquisition.
If you’re a cynical type who thinks this was just a ploy to sell tickets to fans eager to see another homegrown player with the Lynx, here are two attempts to dispel that:
First, for all of Whalen’s appeal and for as long as Lynx fans had hoped for her return to Minnesota, average attendance only increased by 85 fans per game from 2009 to 2010 after she arrived. The Lynx missed the playoffs again that year, then won the draft lottery for Maya Moore. The real boost in crowds came in 2011 and beyond, when the Lynx started winning championships. That’s generally what puts butts in seats on a consistent basis across all levels of sports.
Second, Banham can play. We know that from her time with the Gophers when she set the all-time program record with 3,093 points – including 28.6 ppg as a senior, a year that included a 60-point game.
We also know it from her 2018 WNBA season. She played just 12.8 minutes per game for Connecticut that season, but Banham made 37% of her three-pointers and put up huge advanced stats – including an offensive rating of 121.0 that was good for seventh in the entire league, just below Sue Bird and just above Diana Taurasi.
She followed that up with a disappointing 2019 season, which is likely part of the reason she was available – similar, again, to how Whalen had her best year with the Sun in 2008, dipped a little in 2009 and was traded that offseason to the Lynx.
The Lynx need the skills that Banham can provide, and she could use a fresh start with an increased role.
We shouldn’t expect Banham to have the same impact as Whalen since winning four WNBA titles and a pair of Olympic gold medals is an unfair standard for anyone.
Then again, Whalen hardly did all those things by herself. And Banham had as good a view as anyone of all that transpired with the Lynx while growing up in suburban Lakeville and later playing for the Gophers during the Lynx dynasty.
“I always wanted to play for the Lynx one day,’’ Banham said. “I always watched them. I watched them become a huge franchise. It has always been on my mind.’’
Maybe Banham, 26, can write a new chapter in her career and Lynx history.
Once a decade, it’s worth making a trade to find out.