2017 WNBA Preview: Minnesota Lynx depth key to redemption

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 20: Seimone Augustus
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 20: Seimone Augustus /
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As other teams jostle with roster vacancies and staggered training camp arrivals, the Lynx hold a fortuitous grasp of their situation. Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen all stayed home for the winter, and Rebekkah Brunson reduced her overseas workload. There is also no Olympic tournament to worry about, so the Lynx can focus exclusively on taking the title back. Doing so would add another piece of history to this highly successful group, especially for Brunson. No WNBA player has ever won five titles, a fact Augustus would like to rewrite for her teammate.

“Brunson is a player that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention on this team with all the players that we have, but she’s the most important player on this team,” she said. “That’s bigger than me, and that’s what I’m playing for this year.”

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – OCTOBER 20: Seimone Augustus
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – OCTOBER 20: Seimone Augustus /

Another motivation for Augustus is defying speculation that Minnesota’s contingent is too old to compete effectively. The Lynx were the league’s oldest team last year, a prospect that is unlikely to change in 2017; seven players are 30 or older, including four of the starting five, but don’t offer them a rocking chair just yet.

“The way that you come and you speak to women about ‘Oh, you’re too old,’ it’s almost disrespectful at this point because we’ve been hearing this every year. Every year without fail, we hear about how much older we’re getting, but it’s funny how we’re still in the Finals every year. We lost by one rebound last year, one bucket. We have won three championships over the last six years. It just gets annoying after a while,” Augustus said.

Of course, with age comes maturity, and with the projected rotation bringing a combined 87 years of experience, the Lynx will be well-prepared. Last year, they led the league in offensive and defensive rating and finished second in scoring and field goal percentage. Younger teams might edge them in speed and agility, but the Lynx won’t forget the formula for proficiency.

“Everybody else can do what they need to do, but we all know what they’re trying to do…they’re trying to keep up with the Lynx,” Augustus said.

One way the Lynx are attempting to stay ahead of the field is their implementation of the Noah Basketball system. At Mayo Clinic Square, the team’s practice facility, the baskets have sensors that measure shot trajectory. For each shot, a computer voice communicates the angle of entry, giving players immediate feedback as they develop their shooting motion. Reeve is already seeing progress with at least one of her veterans.

“I’m watching Rebekkah Brunson shoot and I’m seeing a completely different shot,” she said. “We upped the ante with that and we put greater emphasis on it this off-season.”

However, shot trajectory isn’t necessary to understand how potent Minnesota is. They still have Moore, arguably the league’s top all-around threat. In each of the last four years, the 27-year-old has ranked seventh or higher in scoring, steals and player efficiency rating. Last year, Moore averaged a career-high 4.2 assists per game, giving the Lynx another floor leader in case things go awry with Whalen. Speaking of Whalen, she is coming off a career high of her own, shooting 51.3 percent from the floor in 2016.

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 14: Center Sylvia Fowles
LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 14: Center Sylvia Fowles /

Sylvia Fowles, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, leads a sturdy Lynx interior. She and Howard held the top two spots in defensive rating at 92.7 and 94.8, respectively. They were just as clutch on the offensive end, with both ranking in the top 10 in field goal percentage. With Brunson and Pierson adding a dose of range to the unit’s abilities down low, the Lynx could once again do a lot of damage inside.

Based on Minnesota’s transactions this year, they have placed an onus on improving their three-point shooting. Last season, with Moore being their only consistent perimeter option, they placed 11th in the league in three-point attempts and makes. Pierson’s arrival should help, and a pair of rookies could do the same. Jones, Minnesota’s first-round draft pick, shot above 40 percent from three-point range in her two seasons at Baylor. Osahor, who was acquired through a trade, also has a solid stroke.

Whether or not you consider age a concern, Minnesota’s flaws are few. Last year’s Finals with the Sparks revealed some difficulties adapting to a pressure defense, and a hot streak from an opposing three-point shooter can cause trouble, but there is no substitute for chemistry, and the Lynx are loaded with it. They’re primed for another run to the Finals, and perhaps a chance at reclaiming what was lost.