How to lean on Minnesota’s meal ticket
Sylvia Fowles has done it all. She’s a six-time WNBA all-star and three-time champion. With Team USA, she’s won three gold medals and one FIBA World Championship gold as well. Fowles has also averaged a double-double in seven seasons during her career and is the WNBA’s all-time leader in field goal percentage. There have been few to ever do it better than Fowles.
Unfortunately, this level of productivity and success causes their opponents to focus a lot of attention on a player. In her 12th WNBA season, Fowles is averaging 13.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game on 59.1 percent shooting at age 33. She’s managed this while playing through double and triple teams, as well as physicality.
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With her team in the midst of a playoff race, Fowles needs to be at her best. While Fowles has played well, it’s hard not to notice her shot attempts dipping since the all-star break. Fowles is averaging 10 shots per game after Sunday’s loss in Seattle.
However, that number has fallen to seven shots per game in the since games since returning from Vegas. She actually entered Sunday’s game shooting just 6.6 shots per game after the break. There has been just one game in which Fowles has shot at or better her season average.
This is a problem for the Lynx because she is still one of their best and most important players. Fowles has gone against some challenging opposing frontcourts and reacts quickly to that pressure, be it by a kick out to an open teammate or rising up for a quick shot.
Fowles’ rebounding has also been down to 7.5 per game in this stretch but her assists per game are up to two per game. While Cheryl Reeve is happy that her center is getting others involved, she knows that Fowles often gets high-value shots at the basket but also understands the challenges Fowles faces each night.
“That’s great you’re sharing the ball, but you’re 60 percent. That’s not 60 percent out there,” said Reeve before Friday’s game. “Trying to find that balance because it is difficult being double-teamed and feeling uncomfortable.”
“I will say, she wasn’t very good in either New York or Washington in terms of demanding and that’s okay. People are gonna have tough stretches. I think that ways maybe Syl not feeling the best. Hopefully, this is a game she starts to work out of that too.”
Where have all the free throws gone?
One of the biggest unintended consequences of Fowles not shooting as often is that she is shooting fewer free throws on a nightly basis. Fowles has been a good-but-not-great foul shooter throughout her career, but she’ll hit 3-of-4. That’s good enough for a player who has averaged 4.8 free throws per game.
What we’ve seen this year are Fowles’ free throw attempts and free throw rate also plummet. Fowles has shot just 2.8 free throws per game and her free throw rate has fallen from 44.1 percent to 27.9 percent. The only other season Fowles has put up free throw numbers like these is her rookie season.
The question then becomes is she getting fewer calls or is she not getting to the line as much? It’s likely a mix of both because the drop in free throw production is too great to be that she isn’t getting enough friendly whistles.
Good things happen when Fowles shoots, even when she is heavily guarded. Either Fowles is going to get a high-percentage shot or draw the foul. Since the all-star break, Fowles is averaging just 3.2 free throws per game but hitting 84.2 percent of them. Taking a beating in the post probably isn’t a lot of fun but Fowles has done a great job making defenses pay for their physical play.
A new reality
It has been strange seeing Fowles go through this stretch of shooting just five or six times per game when we’ve been accustomed to seeing her be such a focal point throughout her career. Fowles hasn’t necessarily played poorly over the last half-dozen games, but it is jarring to see.
Another way to look at it is that Fowles has even more help than a season ago.
Fowles had two other all-stars in Odyssey Sims and Napheesa Collier this season. No, there’s no Maya Moore but Sims has shown to be a potent scoring option and Collier has shown early in her career that she can be a Swiss army knife on the floor.
There are a lot of reasons for Fowles to face a double-team and not feel like she has to do everything.
As Reeve said, there is a balance to be struck here. Fowles trusting her teammates is a great thing, but Fowles getting a shot at the rim or a pair of free throws is also a good team. Considering the low volume of 3-pointers the Lynx take, this is probably the most valuable shot that they create on a frequent basis.
For the Lynx to be at their best, they need Fowles to assert herself more than she has in the last six games but also continue to find ways to keep her teammates involved. Defenses give Fowles a lot of respect after her long and successful career, but the team needs her to keep shooting and getting to the line. The double teams aren’t going away and Fowles and the Lynx need to continue to make defenses react to them.
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