There are a lot of reasons why the Lynx, 5-0, are the WNBA’s only undefeated team. The team’s defense has been very good. Minnesota’s net rating — taking into account offensive and defensive ratings — is best in the league.
Seimone Augustus has started strong, as has Rebekkah Brunson. Maya Moore is still trying to find her shot, but is at or near career bests in assists, rebounds and steals.
But here’s the main reason: Sylvia Fowles.
“Sylvia is not the only reason,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said of her center. “But she’s the No. 1 reason.”
Fowles has been named the WNBA’s defensive player of the year three times and a first- or second-team All-WNBA pick five times. She was challenged by Reeve before training camp to go from being a very good player to a dominant one.
Always a strong defender, Fowles’ defensive rating (88.6) is the best of her career. Her 21.2-point scoring average and 2.2 steals per game are also career highs. In Friday’s victory in Connecticut, Fowles had 20 points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes. She is in the top five in the league in scoring, rebounding, blocks, steals and shooting percentage.
Fowles appears to have listened.
“Both offensively and defensively,” Reeve said.
On defense, Reeve has never seen Fowles more active.
“She’s really alert on help-side defense,” Reeve said. “She is aware when her teammates need help. This league is fast, and the league has evolved so much offensively, we’re often put in situations where we need that rotation. She and Brunson have been tremendous.”
On offense Reeve said Fowles has improved her footwork and become a more patient player.
“She’s slowing down on entry passes,” Reeve said. “She’s taking what’s available. If the defense is taking something away, she goes the other way.”
But perhaps the most growth has come in Fowles’ composure. After Fowles dominated the Sun at home in Tuesday’s win, the Sun made it clear in Friday’s rematch that it was going to make things difficult for her.
“She became the target of some real physicality,” Reeve said. “Initially it frustrated her a bit. In years past, maybe, she would have gone the wrong direction. But she got herself grounded again, and continued to dominate.”
And Reeve things Fowles can get even better. Fifth in the league in shooting percentage (59.4), Reeve noted that Fowles has missed a number of makable shots around the basket. So her efficiency, already impressive — she is averaging 24.4 points and 11.3 rebounds per 36 minutes played — could get better.
While Fowles has been hot, Moore has not. After five games Moore is shooting 29.3 percent overall (22-for-75), 28.1 percent on three-pointers (9-32). Her 13.4-point scoring average is the lowest since her rookie season.
Reeve cautioned not to judge Moore simply on shooting.
“She impacted [Friday’s game] in so many ways,” Reeve said. “Her defense was so good, so active. Unfortunately, for someone like Maya, it’s how many shots does she make.”
In that regard, Reeve said she takes part of the blame.
“I have to do a better job of getting her opportunities that are in rhythm, get her going,” Reeve said. “I have to make it a greater emphasis.”
This will become even more important as teams scheme more and more to slow Fowles.