Saturday marked the third day on the court for the Minnesota Lynx, their second in full team practice. And while that might not be enough time to know exactly where the team is at, it is enough for coach Cheryl Reeve to have formed some early impressions:
--Sylvia Fowles, the team’s veteran center, mentor and co-captain, looks very good. Well, even better than that. “She looks amazing,’’ said Reeve.
--The team, overall, is in pretty good shape after a weeks-long moratorium due to the coronavirus pandemic. “They look to be in pretty good shape,’’ Reeve said. “It’s not basketball shape. They’re all feeling that. They’re using muscles they haven’t used in a long time. But, overall, I feel pretty good. We have a couple players who put some work in, but not the right work, so they have some catching up to do.’’
The realities of holding camp in the bubble of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. is dictating how the Lynx do their work. For one, they often have to share a facility with another team, with just a curtain separating the two teams. For a franchise used to top-notch facilities and privacy, this will take some getting used to; Reeve joked about how there should be a reality series made of the process, about how competitive teams will react when, working in such close quarters, the season begins.
Also, the short window for getting a team ready for the opener later this month has changed things.
Not so much defensively, though. Reeve said she and her staff were able to get across the team’s defensive philosophy and concept rather well via Zoom calls the last few weeks. Reeve wants her defense to be better than last year. The Lynx finished second in the league with a 95.8 defensive rating, but Reeve wants improvement on help defense, the second layer of defending on a possession. “If we didn’t turn people over, we weren’t very good defensively last year,’’ she said. “We have to be better. We’ve worked on it, and they’ve embraced it.’’
On offense, though, things have changed. Reeve has culled her playbook down. Teaching fewer plays, but making sure those that are installed are executed precisely. It is a requirement of a team with lots of new faces but not a lot of time. “Being forced into this is a good thing for me,’’ Reeve said. “I have a tendency to give ‘em too much.’’
So far Reeve said she’s trying to be mindful of how the team looks executing a play she has installed. If it isn’t working, she lets it go. And much of the installation is being done at the walk-through level. The idea is to walk through some plays one day, get them down, and then execute them at game-speed the next practice.
Going forward Reeve said she will likely go with two shorter practices rather than one long one.
Here are some other take-aways from the second day of full-team practices:
--Fowles said she is thrilled Reeve made second-year player Napheesa Collier one of the captains this year. Fowles, Collier and Karima Christmas-Kelly are the three captains this season. “It was a no-brainer,’’ Fowles said. “The work she put in last year, the way she stepped up and led the team, she’s going to make a difference. I can see her being more vocal. But, for the most part, she’s going out and leading by example.’’
--Collier is back with her old college teammate, Crystal Dangerfield, both on and off the court. Collier and the team’s rookie point guard – she was taken in the second round – played three years together at Connecticut. And now they’re roommates at the team’s training camp in Bradenton.
--Reeve said she and the team haven’t discussed the Kelly Loeffler situation with the team. Loeffler, a senator from Georgia and a part-owner of the Atlanta Dream, has been vocal in her criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement and the WNBA’s association with it. “That hasn’t been a conversation on the team,’’ Reeve said. “We know how they feel, but it’s not something we’ve addressed.”
--Guard Odyssey Sims, a new mother, is not yet with the team. Reeve said she and Sims would connect soon to get an idea of how and when Sims might consider joining the Lynx. “It’s something we’re going to be really cautious about,’’ Reeve said. “It’s not a decision that would be an easy one by any stretch. We’ll talk about what’s up with her, and what makes sense for her.’’