ST. PAUL – Wednesday afternoon’s match between the Minnesota Lynx and Dallas Wings offered another demonstration of what happens when opponents leave Sylvia Fowles in one-on-one coverage.
Fowles was virtually unstoppable, getting 24 points and 12 rebounds as the Lynx pummeled the Wings for a 100-74 win at Xcel Energy Center. She hit 10 of 11 shots, giving the Camp Day crowd of 17,834 a prelude of what to watch when she takes part in Saturday’s All-Star Game. The 31-year-old is part of the Lynx quartet who will make the trip to Seattle, and her team has passed several litmus tests on their way to a 16-2 record.
Fowles taking command
Fowles controlling the paint is a routine sight this season. As fellow writer Ben Dull pointed out earlier this week, partial attribution belongs to her teammates and their ability to locate Fowles with entry passes. Her knack for out-hustling single and double coverage is equally outstanding, and she utilized those talents against a Dallas team who struggles with protecting the paint. No matter how many double teams come her way, Fowles finds a solution around them, resulting in either a lay-up or a trip to the free throw line.
“That’s pretty much the story of my life. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been getting double-teamed. It’s just second-nature for me to just go through two people when I got it,” Fowles told reporters after Wednesday’s game.
With Fowles holding the tactical advantage, her statistics have followed accordingly. Through 18 games, she is averaging roughly 20 points and 10 rebounds per contest, one of only two players to flirt with such a threshold (Tina Charles is the other). Fowles has increased her scoring by about six points per game compared to last year, and she has hit the 20-point mark nine times.
“The name of the game, if you are playing at a MVP level, is just consistency and a dominance at what you do. That’s what she has brought for the first half of the season,” said Lynx forward Maya Moore.
Ranking in the league’s top five in both points and rebounds makes an MVP consideration easy to digest, but a deeper dive in the numbers shows that Fowles is in the midst of her best season ever. Until this year, Fowles never crossed the 70 percent mark in true shooting percentage, and her player efficiency rating of 32.4 would best her prior high of 27.8. Fowles could also break the league record for best field goal percentage in a season. Her current mark of .671 trails only Crystal Langhorne, but she’s ahead of the .668 benchmark set by Tamika Raymond in 2003.
Fowles is undoubtedly the front-runner for MVP, but she embodies the Lynx mantra of big-picture thinking. If she sustains her current level of production, MVP likely won’t be the only award she claims at the end of the year.
Maya steps forward
Remember the chatter about what was afflicting Maya Moore at the beginning of the year? You’d be forgiven if you didn’t, as the perennial All-Star and fan favorite has overcome her slow start to 2017.
Despite a few bumps in the process, Moore has seized the initiative when the situation requires it. Against Dallas on Wednesday, she tallied 23 points and nine rebounds. She ended the month of June with five straight 20-point games. Thanks to a 9-of-15 clip from the floor on Wednesday, Moore is back above the .400 mark in field goal percentage.
On another team, her recent trend might generate more publicity, but Moore has never been concerned about how many headlines she makes.
“We’re just focused on where we are as a team, step-by-step, and I think more so the last three games, we’ve moved forward as a unit,” she said. “We know what kind of team this is as far as wanting to score early in transition and being slippery to the rim.”
Moore’s shot selection can sometimes get her into a jam, but she can just as easily find a way out. With Minnesota’s multitude of threats, opportunities are plentiful.
“We’re such an effective team from all five positions that someone’s going to end up getting a good shot,” she said.
If Rebekkah Brunson had a stronger reputation for three-point shooting, she likely would be taking part in the upcoming three-point shootout. But, as the adage goes, there’s always next year.
Brunson’s embrace of the perimeter is the catalyst behind Minnesota’s potency on offense, and she is reaping the benefits. The 35-year-old is averaging 10.9 points per game in 2017. Last year, that figure was 7.4. The last time Brunson averaged double-digits in scoring for a season was 2013.
Little else has changed with Brunson in terms of stats, but Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve provided further explanation for her renewed success.
“Everybody’s talking the three ball…but she’s also been very effective on the inside for the first time in my time in having her. She was allergic to playing on the interior in the beginning,” Reeve said.
Never one to resist feedback, Brunson has worked with assistant coach James Wade to develop moves down low, a partnership Reeve admires. Some of the rebounds Brunson used to collect have gone to Fowles, but her higher degree of offensive versatility more than makes up for it. For her efforts, she earned her fourth career All-Star selection, and it could lead to a fifth career WNBA championship, an accolade that no player has reached.