LAS VEGAS—The Minnesota Lynx didn’t think they’d get a chance to draft Napheesa Collier.
She didn’t expect to be in Las Vegas as a 2019 WNBA All-Star.
Things don’t always work out as we expect. The 2019 Lynx have lived that to a tee and like their All-Star rookie, they’re rolling with the punches and continuing to perform at a high level.
The 2019 No. 6 overall pick has been the most impactful of this rookie crop, already a solid two-way player for a team just 1.5 games out of the No. 4 spot in the standings at the All-Star break.
When an injury replacement was needed for Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson, Collier got the call.
“I was in the airport,” she told High Post Hoops on Friday. “We had actually just landed. I was super, super excited. I’m so honored that they thought of me to do this.”
The 6’1” forward has transitioned nicely out to the wing after logging most of her minutes at the 4 or 5 at UConn. She only needed a few games to begin feeling comfortable in the new role.
“It was a transition during training camp and through preseason because I hadn’t done it before,” she said. “I’ve really embraced it. I like it a lot, playing on the wing. The only difference is guarding 3s is a lot different than guarding 4s. I’ve really enjoyed it; I’m glad that I’ve made that switch.”
That switch was briefly interrupted when starting power forward Damiris Dantas missed seven games due to injury. Collier didn’t have much trouble sliding back into a more familiar role.
“It’s actually a lot of the same shots,” she said. “Who you’re guarding is a lot different. It was easier for me to guard the post, especially with how our defense is set if we have a lot of help on the back side. It was kind of easier stepping back into that 4 role, something I’m more comfortable with that I’ve done for a long time.”
One of the few questions around her game—finding a position at the next level—appears to have already been answered. The wide-ranging skillset seen in college has already been on display in the WNBA for the 10-10 Lynx.
She’s a high-level finisher around the basket, and impacts plays all over the floor defensively with her quick feet, effort, instincts and length. She’s shooting north of 68 percent—well above the league average of 58.7—from the restricted area this season per WNBA.com
Collier has started all 20 games and is fourth in overall minutes played. She shot 16-of-50 from deep, on pace to set new highs in both 3-pointers made and attempted. (She shot 22-of-64 in her junior campaign at UConn.)
Headlined by Collier, Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve collected an impressive group of newcomers this past offseason at minimal cost to the franchise. Reeve drafted Collier and Jessica Shepard, inked Dantas as a restricted free agent, then turned two second-round picks and Alexis Jones into Lexie Brown, Stephanie Talbot and Odyssey Sims.
Many of those players are young enough to think they can grow together and each become a key contributor to the next great Lynx team.
“I personally don’t have anything to compare it to since I wasn’t here last year, but I know how hard it must be,” Collier said. “We had three returning players. Having so many new faces, I think we definitely made the best out of it.
“It’s not an easy thing to kinda start from new, but I think we juggled it early. And we still have a lot of things we wanna fix, and that’s what we’re gonna spend this break doing. I think we’ve made the best out of it. And we’re gonna continue on.”
The 2019 Lynx are led by All-Star center and 2017 MVP Sylvia Fowles, the team’s steadying presence inside and lone starter still standing from their most recent title in 2017. Collier has marveled at what Fowles does on the court and appreciates what she does for the team outside the lines, too.
“I’ve never seen anyone like [Fowles] before,” Collier said. “The way she can catch the ball, the way she finishes with five people fouling her, not getting the call and still gets the ball in the basket. I’ve never seen that before.
“Off the court, she’s kinda the person that takes everyone under her wing. If I ever have a question about anything, she’s the first person I go to. We call her ‘Mama Syl’ just because she has that presence about her. She’s been awesome.”
Seimone Augustus has also been one of the pillars of Minnesota’s success. But she has not played yet this season and is out indefinitely after undergoing knee surgery. She has been with and around the team, though, helping Fowles lead and nurture the young players.
“She’s definitely someone that you can go to if you have questions,” Collier said. “She’s super funny. One of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Since she’s been coming back, she’s kinda been the person on the bench—she sees things that maybe we don’t. Because she’s still playing, she can maybe see it from a different perspective than maybe the coaches do. She’s definitely someone that we listen to, and she’s kind of that voice pulling us together.”
Nothing broke as you’d expect as the start of the season approached for the Lynx.
Yet the impressive performances by Collier and Minnesota’s other newcomers give both the team and their fans every reason to talk more about who is playing than who isn’t as they take aim at a top-four seed and gear up for another postseason run.
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