With the WNBA – along with just about everyone else – in a holding pattern, let’s take some time to assess the Lynx and the team’s roster as we await news on whether basketball will find a way back onto the court this summer and fall. Here are my thoughts on some questions sent in by fans:
Q. One reader asks if reports about backup center Temi Fagbenle not playing this year were true, and how the Lynx will respond to this decision.
A. Temi Fagbenle, a former third-round draft pick who had become Sylvia Fowles’ backup the last three seasons, will not play in the WNBA in 2020. It appears the Lynx were anticipating such a decision.
“She’s not signed,’’ Lynx general manager and coach Cheryl Reeve said. “So she will remain a reserve player. She received a qualifying offer and didn’t sign. She’ll sit out 2020. We hold her rights. When January comes, we’ll send a qualifying offer again.’’
It doesn’t appear this is a decision based on the coronavirus pandemic that has put the league on hold. Fagbenle, a citizen of Great Britain, is apparently residing in the U.S. The Lynx knew Fagbenle would likely sit out the season if the British team had made the Olympics – and the Olympics hadn’t been canceled. But, even with no Olympics, Fagbenle decided to sit out the season, something the Lynx learned a while back.
That was a big reason why the Lynx signed veteran post player Kayla Alexander back in February.
Alexander’s addition gave the Lynx quite a bit of depth in the frontcourt. And, with the drafting of Mikiah Herbert Harrigan with the sixth pick in the WNBA draft, that depth got better.
There is flexibility here. In a league that is rapidly moving in the same direction the NBA – namely toward smaller lineups with more shooters and less of a dependence on a traditional post game – the Lynx have one of just a handful of true power centers in Sylvia Fowles. With the combination of Fowles and Alexander – who should make the team – the Lynx would appear set to defend against such teams.
But the Lynx will also be more able to defend against smaller, quicker post players. Damiris Dantas is the starting power forward, but can move inside if needed. Herbert Harrigan, a strong defender and rim protector, would seem ideally suited to defend a post player like Seattle’s Natasha Howard, who gave the Lynx fits the past two seasons. When Jessica Shepard is fully recovered from knee surgery – she may not be 100% if and when this season begins – there will be even more depth.
Meanwhile, at this point, the other international players on the Lynx roster – Dantas (Brazil), Cecilia Zandalasini (Italy) and Bridget Carleton (Canada) – are expected to be here if and when training camps open.
Q. A reader asks if, considering the relatively low profile the Lynx kept in free agency, if the team is being left behind by the league?
A. Cliched answer: Time will tell.
No, really. The Lynx took some early swings in free agency, but they weren’t able to land a big name. So Reeve and the Lynx took a different tack. The new CBA was affording teams more money to spend, and some did just that. The Lynx decided to add depth to the roster with solid, if unspectacular, additions while waiting for next year, when the free agent crop looks to be very talented and deep and the Lynx will have a good bit of money to spend.
So: The Lynx added depth in the backcourt in Shenise Johnson and Rachel Banham. They got post help with Alexander. Forward Karima Christmas-Kelly should be healthy after knee problems limited her the last two seasons and Zandalasini will be back after staying in Italy last year.
Q. So, if the season started today, what would be the starting five for the Lynx?
A. Here is my belief: Fowles and Dantas at center and power forward, respectively. Napheesa Collier at small forward. Zandalasini at off guard and Odyssey Sims as the primary ball-handler.
There has been a lot of talk about her not playing this year. But the Lynx remain convinced she will be on the team when things get going.
This is a pretty talented starting five. We all know about Fowles, the former league MVP. But Dantas showed real range with the three-pointer last year. Zandalasini adds another great shooter to the perimeter. And Sims was a first-time All Star last year.
And there is depth. The Lynx think the Johnson addition will be big, and she very well could start, especially in situations when the Lynx go a little smaller and use Zandalasini at the three. Banham will be given a big chance at good minutes and brings scoring. Herbert Harrigan brings good range, a very good mid-range shot and defensive flexibility. Lexi Brown is another ball-handling guard who can hit the three.
A big emphasis this season was to put players on the floor that would discourage opponents from collapsing on Fowles in the paint. They may have done so.
I think the Lynx did very well in the draft, taking Herbert Harrigan in the first round – when everyone expected they’d take a point guard – and getting Crystal Dangerfield in the second. I expect Dangerfield to make the team.
Q. Are the Lynx doing any sort of a virtual training program?
A. Well, there is a lot of teleconferencing going on, both among the coaches and between the players and coaches.
The problem is, in these stay-at-home times, not every player has great access to a court. I know the coaches are trying to get the players – especially the new players – up to speed on the team’s schemes on offense and defense, though.
Q. If the NBA and WNBA end up playing at the same time in the coming months, will that be a problem for the WNBA?
A. To be honest, I don’t know. It seems likely that any games that are played will be playing without fans. Even so, the WNBA – which still travels via commercial airlines – could see travel challenges. Will the teams be sent to so-called “safe cities’’ where games will take place?
I do think more WNBA games will be aired on TV. There has been talk of WNBA-NBA doubleheaders on TV.