Scenes from Cheryl Reeve’s first draft as Minnesota Lynx GM

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 04: Head coach Cheryl Reeve and Lindsay Whalen
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 04: Head coach Cheryl Reeve and Lindsay Whalen /

MINNEAPOLIS—Thursday night ended, appropriately enough, with another tie formed between the Minnesota Lynx and the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

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“Unreal. Honestly, I’ve been watching her since I was a little girl and she was playing at the University of Minnesota and obviously her career with the Lynx,” said new Minnesota Lynx guard Carlie Wagner when asked about becoming teammates with Lindsay Whalen. “It’s unreal right now and it’s just still soaking in. It’s the most amazing opportunity to call Lindsay Whalen a teammate.”

Wagner was drafted with the final pick in the final round of Thursday evening’s WNBA draft. While Whalen was the fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft, the two share some similarities in their journey to the league.

Both players are born Minnesotans and starred at the University of Minnesota. Whalen earned jersey retirement ceremony by claiming numerous team records, a Final Four appearance, and many other accolades. Wagner ended her Gopher career as one of the program’s most prolific 3-point shooters and the third-most points scored in program history.

Coach Cheryl Reeve, a Gophers season ticket holder herself, said in a press conference after the selection that she was impressed with her scoring ability as well as her coachability. Wagner’s numerous scoring records speak for themselves and Reeve mentioned how she has observed the growth in Wagner’s game and her response to coaching over the years.

Wagner and Reeve both acknowledged that the making the Lynx will be a challenge. Wagner said that she knows that the WNBA is a whole other level and will need to improve in every area of her game.

Reeve added that it’s no small feat to make their team. She’s not kidding. Minnesota’s backcourt is loaded. The Lynx traded the 12th overall pick to Phoenix for point guard Danielle Robinson. Alexis Jones was a first-round pick one year ago. Veterans Seimone Augustus, Tanisha Wright, and Whalen are still there as well.

This would be a daunting situation for just about any player, no less the last pick in the draft.

What Wagner brings is an essential basketball skill, the ability to score efficiently in a number of ways. She finished her college career second in games in double figures, 3-pointers made and attempted, and free throw percentage.

Her senior year proved to be her breakout season. Wagner averaged 18.7 points per game on 41.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc while adding 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Skills like shooting and rebounding tend to translate at any level, which is what Wagner has going for her. She’ll just need to show her newfound accuracy beyond the arc is a true talent she can bring to the next level.

She also proved to be a durable player, playing in 118 consecutive games to end her time at the University of Minnesota. Should she prove to be as coachable as Reeve believes, Wagner has the chance to be successful in this league, even if it’s not with the Lynx.

As for Whalen? Her next destination was revealed Thursday as well, when it was announced she’ll be the next head coach of… the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Deferring the pick

General Manager Reeve made two picks before Reeve. She made South Korea’s Ji-Su Park, a 6’5” center, the fifth pick of the second round. Seven picks later she selected Mercer’s Kahlia Lawrence.

However, neither player would be long for Minnesota.

The Lynx traded both Park and Lawrence to Las Vegas for third-round selection Jill Barta (SF, Gonzaga) and a 2019 second-round pick. Remember, one of the Lynx’s needs was a center and they just traded a center.

What gives?

Reeve said in her press conference after the game that there was a scenario in case the draft played out a certain way to make a move. She added the team had somethings lined up just in case and this deal made sense. With this trade, Reeve believes that the Lynx could potentially receive better value in the second in next year’s draft, which she said to be another deep one.

More or less, the Lynx chose to defer a second-round pick to next season. What this also tells you is that they may not have been in love with any of the remaining options. They may have liked Park or Lawrence but perhaps not enough to invest a lot of time into developing them.

Much like Wagner, Barta faces a tough road to making the final roster. The Lynx have six forwards currently listed on the roster. Of those, Barta has more size than five of them. The scouting report says she has length, is a good finisher and has range but defense at the next level will be a challenge.

Having size can go a long way in defensive proficiency but she will need to develop other necessary tools to be effective in the WNBA.

How did they do?

While the Lynx acquired two players on draft night at positions of strength, it’s hard to hold that against them. What does this team need? Sure, another center would have helped but Sylvia Fowles is going to spend most of the time on the court. Robinson was brought in as the veteran backup to Whalen but they also drafted a point guard last year.

What this draft seemed to do was to further prepare for the future. We know this will be Whalen’s final season. But Rebekkah Brunson has played 14 seasons and so have Augustus and Wright. You can’t ignore the reality that there are key players getting up there.

This is why low-risk investments in another guard and forward made sense for this team. A rookie wasn’t going to play much on this team anyway as contenders seldom do. Maybe they don’t pan out or maybe you find a late-round steal.

What Reeve did in her first draft as general manager may not have been exciting but it was sensible. And sometimes the wisest thing a new executive can do is to make the smart moves rather than the big splash.