The Minnesota Lynx finished the 2019 season at 18-16, tied with Seattle for sixth place in a 12-team league. This was both a shock to fans spoiled by constant championship play, and an act of overachievement for a team that had lost much of its star power.
That’s why Lynx coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve won the league’s executive of the year award. Instead of rebuilding or tanking, she fielded a competitive team while landing the rookie of the year with the sixth pick in the draft.
Since last season ended, the Lynx eschewed big-money free-agent signings, and on Friday night they again held the sixth pick in the draft.
They chose South Carolina power forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, a talented and competitive athlete who needs to improve as a rebounder and continue to develop offensively. In the second round, they chose 5-5 point guard Crystal Dangerfield, a polished ball handler and shooter. Then they traded veteran stretch forward Stephanie Talbot to New York for third-round draft pick Erica Ogwumike of the basketball royalty Ogwumikes.
Read between the picks, and what you see is a team that wants to remain competitive now but that is hoping to peak in two or three years.
The Lynx could have taken a more polished player than Herbert Harrigan. They could have taken a pure point guard at No. 6. Instead, they gambled on upside.
The Lynx have a roster filled with solid players, plus star center Sylvia Fowles. What they need is stars to replace Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson.
After deciding not to meet the outrageous prices in free agency or the trade market during this offseason, the Lynx are hoping to position themselves for next year’s free-agency class, and a chance to get back to taking swings at the title.
Friday night, they improved their shooting, three-point shooting, quickness and depth. That’s not bad when you’re picking sixth and 16th.
The Lynx began rebuilding on the fly last year, and landed two quality players in rookie of the year Napheesa Collier and forward Jess Shepard, who excelled before injuring her knee. If Herbert Harrigan — and perhaps Dangerfield and Ogwumike — can develop, the Lynx may have filled out their future rotation without spending big money in free agency or picking at the top of the draft.
“It’s a bit of a flier,’’ Reeve said. “But we think she has a pretty decent ceiling.”
Not many general managers would analyze the flaws of their first-round pick, but Reeve said that Herbert Harrigan has basketball “warts.’’ She’ll have to improve dramatically as a rebounder.
What Reeve likes is her competitive spirit and shot-blocking ability. Fowles needs help inside, and Herbert Harrigan’s athletic ability could provide that help, eventually.
This analysis comes with all of the usual disclaimers about drafts. Nobody expected Collier to be the WNBA rookie of the year — not even Reeve. Collier’s maturity and savvy elevated her value.
Herbert Harrigan may not be as polished as Collier, but she shot 44% from the three-point line and is joining a team that shot so poorly from outside last year that defenses collapsed on Fowles.
Reeve didn’t need to look far for an insider’s view of Herbert Harrigan. Reeve is an assistant coach on Team USA, working with head coach Dawn Staley, who coaches South Carolina.
The Lynx have a slew of wings and forwards on the current roster, including Collier, Damiras Dantas and Karima Christmas-Kelly.
Herbert Harrigan will have to fight for playing time. Reeve wouldn’t have it any other way.
Speaking to those who thought she needed to take a point guard in the first round, Reeve said, “Maybe it’s a catastrophe. But it will be a short-term catastrophe.”
Reeve plans to find her point guard next year, whether through the development of Dangerfield, the draft or free agency.
She’s hoping that by then Herbert Harrigan will have become her power forward.