Lynx mostly silent to start free agency
For years, the Minnesota Lynx had a future hall of famer in Lindsay Whalen running their offense. No one had to question who would organize their on-court talent. Since Whalen’s retirement, the team has searched for her replacement.
Danielle Robinson was presumably groomed for the job but signed with Las Vegas on Sunday. Even before then, Robinson had lost her starting role at midseason until late-season injuries brought her back into the starting lineup.
A big reason for Robinson’s move to the bench was the emergence of all-star Odyssey Sims. Sims had a career season for the Lynx but is reportedly taking the 2020 season off from the WNBA.
Suddenly, the Lynx went from a strong backcourt group to one in need of a floor general. How will the Lynx fill this role? There are a few ways.
Treading the trade market
Cheryl Reeve has done it before: taken someone else’s spare parts, polished them up, and turned them into a vital part of the Lynx machine. I’ve affectionately dubbed this Cheryl Reeve’s Backcourt for Wayward guards after what she’s done lifting players like Robinson, Sims, and also Lexie Brown from souring situations. If there was a time to repeat this, it’s now.
Ideas like this have typified the Lynx’s trade market strategy. With teams like Las Vegas loading up on top-tier talent, they may struggle to retain their own free agents down the road. Rather than allow a valuable player like Plum walk for nothing, why not try to recoup a draft asset to select another player on a rookie deal?
The Lynx would be wise to scout other teams’ back up point guards. Last season showed there is an enormous amount of point guard talent in the WNBA. For example, Jordin Canada went from 16 minutes per game as a rookie to averaging 28 minutes and over five assists per game in Sue Bird‘s absence.
While the Lynx weren’t luring Courtney Vandersloot or Skylar Diggins-Smith away from their respective teams, it only goes to show that you don’t need to go big game hunting to find a capable point guard. WNBA teams showed this over and over again whether that player was 24 or 34 years old.
Falling through free agency
With their plethora of cap space, the Lynx figured to be in the mix for some of the top free agents but that never came to fruition. It seems likely they could’ve kept Robinson even if they missed on their big targets and then lost her anyway. It appears safe to say free agency hasn’t likely panned out as the team imagined.
It’s only mid-February and the free-agent market has dried up, especially at point guard. Forget Vandersloot or Diggins-Smith, even the Mitchells and Layshia Clarendon are off the market.
The Lynx must now ask themselves if it’s worthwhile to overpay for a short-term veteran fix or keep looking. Ultimately, the Lynx may find it best to keep their options open than go down that route.
Of course, an easy way to find a replacement for Robinson and Sims would be to look down their own bench. There is no shortage of wings and bigs on the Lynx roster, but guard depth is looking scarce with no obvious answers.
Asking Lexie Brown to step up could be an option. As the team considered last season Brown’s second rookie season after playing so sparingly in her actual rookie season in Connecticut, she could be due for an expanded role. In fact, she may not have a choice.
Brown has yet to start a WNBA game but that could change this season. While Brown has been utilized primarily as a shooter, she has posted updates this winter of her expanding her game to include more of a midrange attack and more. She doesn’t seem to want to be considered as just a shooter and this could be the opportunity to show everything she can do.
While the WNBA is a different league, Brown did average 4.5 assists per game at Duke and is averaging nearly three a night in Israel this winter. Brown averaged 1.4 assists per game last season while playing about 18 minutes each contest. She’s played about double those minutes this winter and her assists have risen at a similar rate.
If Brown could maintain that same rate in the WNBA, she could do well in the role of starting point guard. Otherwise, the draft is another avenue the team could explore since the team will need more than one point guard.
More than one answer likely exists
The thing about professional basketball in 2020 is that it’s geared more towards versatility than ever. You want players capable of handling the ball up and down the lineup, not just your guards. A team like the Mercury last year exemplified this, as did the Lynx.
In 2019, the Lynx were built as a multi-positional team that blurred traditional lines of thinking when it came to positions and positional roles. There were combo guards, combo forwards, wings and so on.
Last year’s team may give us a hint as to the team’s direction for 2020. Maybe there is no traditional Whalen-type point guard but a team of ball handlers with one player who consistently initiates the offense. This plays to the strengths of the Lynx’s young building blocks like Napheesa Collier and Jessica Shepard too. Teams today are building rosters with basketball players rather than remaining beholden to outdated roster construction ideals.
It would be neither surprising or terrible for the team to promote a player like Brown and draft or sign a point guard as her backup. This could allow them the flexibility to find a deal later when a team has to sacrifice a young lead guard for cap reasons.
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