To Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve it is a luxury. A 6-2 security blanket capable of defending inside and out, against the WNBA’s biggest and best.
When the Lynx start preparing for an opponent, they start with Rebekkah Brunson. As in, who is the other team’s best player?
“We’ll say, ‘OK, they have this player,’ ” Reeve said. “But we have Brunson, so that’s not an issue.”
It hasn’t been, for years. Brunson has guarded Phoenix center Brittney Griner and speedy guards on the perimeter. Against Seattle last week, she scored 21 points while helping hold rising star Breanna Stewart to 5-for-16 shooting. Friday, when the 7-0 Lynx play at Washington (6-2), Brunson likely will see a whole lot of Mystics star Elena Delle Donne.
“You have to do what you can to help the team win,” Brunson said. “For me it’s a combination of playing defense and rebounding. I take pride in that. That is a way to fuel our team, and to take pressure off my teammates as well.”
Brunson is an unsung hero on a team filled to the brim with Olympians. She’s not being talked about as a potential MVP like center Sylvia Fowles. Unlike Lindsay Whalen, she’s not on the cusp of becoming the winningest player in league history, though she is in the top five. But she is Reeve’s not-so-secret weapon, one cherished by the whole team.
“We talk about a Band-Aid,” Reeve said. “Whether it’s her getting on the boards, taking the other team’s best player. Just all the little things she doesn’t always get credit for.”
Like Whalen — both entered the league in 2004 — Brunson went to seven WNBA Finals in her first 13 seasons and she could become the first to win five league titles. She won three with the Lynx and one in 2005 when her Sacramento team beat a Connecticut team led by Whalen.
And, at 35, Brunson is getting better, and her game more diverse.
A vegetarian for a couple of years, Brunson lost between 15 and 20 pounds before this season.
“You have to take care of your body,” she said. “You have to take care of the knees.”
Brunson doesn’t appear to have any limitations this season. She’s able to keep low and balanced, which enables her to stay with quick players on the perimeter. Inside, she uses leverage to battle bigger players.
“If I went back through the years, I can name playoff series we don’t win without her defense,” Reeve said. “What she does is beat you to your activity. You’re trying to make a catch, or whatever. And she’s just more active than you are. That’s the way she rebounds, too. She’s more relentless. It’s a hard quality to find, and it’s enabled her to have a phenomenal career.”
At Reeve’s request, Brunson has added to her offense, too. It used to be that she got her points at the elbow or off a rebound. Outside the paint, her job was to set picks. But, encouraged to shoot more threes, Brunson — who hit only two three-pointers in her first 13 seasons — is 4-for-9 this season.
Her 112.6 offensive rating, 86.6 defensive rating and 26.1 net rating are all career bests. Her true shooting percentage, which takes into account twos, threes and free throws, is a career-best 64.2. There is no question her ability to stretch the floor has helped the team, particularly Fowles inside.
But it took some prodding.
“When you’re a rebounder, your role is to stay close to the basket,” Brunson said. “I’m always willing to listen to Cheryl and the coaching staff on how I can be more helpful. Right now that’s where it is, spreading the floor. It’s a change, mentally. I’m used to being the one to set screens. I have to remind myself to take those shots.”