Understanding the Minnesota Lynx’s 2020 WNBA draft

“We knew it was going to be a surprising pick to some people,” said Lynx boss Cheryl Reeve after Friday’s draft.

Hours before, the Lynx selected South Carolina forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan with the sixth-overall pick. Reeve spoke before the draft that her philosophy was to take the most talented player available instead of drafting for need. After five picks, UConn forward Megan was the consensus best player available while several point guards including Tyasha Harris, Te’a Cooper, and Crystal Dangerfield remained.

Make no mistake, Herbert Harrigan can play. She was a member of the 2018 SEC All-Tournament Team and set numerous conference blocked shot records while hitting 43.5 percent of her 3-pointers. At 6’2, with a high and quick release, contesting her shots is difficult and she moves well in a number of situations off the ball.

The reason Herbert Harrigan’s selection at sixth overall elicited a surprising response was most mock drafts had her chosen in the late first round and even into the second round. It seemed that the Lynx selected their best player available over the consensus best player available.

Reeve said that once Princeton forward Bella Alarie went off the board fifth overall, the Lynx were locked into Herbert Harrigan. The forward’s efficiency, shot-blocking, and competitive fire were among the traits the Lynx found desirable in her.

While we’re some time from real games, Reeve views Herbert Harrigan as a power forward on this team because of her size. There are many advantages to Harrigan Herbert playing at the four instead of the three, including freeing up the paint for Sylvia Fowles to work. It’s easy to see Herbert Harrigan playing well between Fowles and Napheesa Collier.

Addressing the warts

Yet, there’s a reason most experts didn’t feel Herbert Harrigan was a top-seven pick. Reeve cited Herbert Harrigan’s rebounding and passing as two areas she needs improvement in. Coach isn’t wrong here. If Herbert Harrigan is going to play power forward in the WNBA, she’s going to have to rebound.

At her height, with her physical tools, Herbert Harrigan should haul in far more than 5.5 rebounds in 26 minutes per game. Reeve told the media her conversations with Herbert Harrigan included the warning that she’s going to have to rebound to play.

When asked if she thought that she could hide Herbert Harrigan’s rebounding next to better rebounders like Fowles or Collier, Reeve said she wasn’t going to be happy if they weren’t a good rebounding team. There’s little chance that Reeve accepts paltry on-the-glass numbers from her first-round pick this season.

Fortunately, the Lynx are confident that assistant coaches Rebekkah Brunson and Plenette Pierson can work with her. All the team asks of Herbert Harrigan is that she listen. Between Dawn Staley at South Carolina and Brunson and Pierson, she’s going to have an incredible opportunity. With these mentors and competitive nature, it’s hard to see Herbert Harrigan not soaking up every word.

If Herbert Harrigan is showing improvement and she’s working to get better, she’ll play. Reeve may ask a lot of her players but her history also shows that she won’t ask them to do anything she thinks they’re incapable of. It won’t be easy. The WNBA is a physical league and fighting for rebounds every night isn’t always fun. Yet, we know that it can be done.

However, Reeve added that Herbert Harrigan was going to become a great passer or rebounder overnight. With time and effort, the Lynx are hoping Herbert Harrigan can improve over time.

Dangerfield falls to pick 16 and into the Lynx’s laps

During the time between the Lynx’s first and second-round picks, there was a lot of talk over who the team missed out on. Among those players was UConn point guard Crystal Dangerfield.

Despite standing 5’5’’ tall, Dangerfield averaged 14.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. She made nearly 45 percent of her 3-pointers on 3.9 attempts per game. It’s easy to understand why she racked up as many conference accolades.

It’s clear that Dangerfield can play but the road to a WNBA roster is more difficult as a second-round pick. Reeve said as much in the days leading up to the draft. However, she added that Dangerfield now being the only true point guard on the roster helps her chances.

Whether Dangerfield starts is another question. Reeve said starting a rookie point guard this season was unlikely before the draft and it doesn’t seem like that has changed. The team seems confident that Rachel Banham and Lexie Brown can handle ball-handling duties, too. It’s going to come down to how much Dangerfield can earn her coach’s trust.

Reeve admittedly asks a lot of her point guards, even the backups, but they would all run through a wall for her. She has to know that she can trust putting Dangerfield into a game with a seven-point lead and can substitute her out with an identical or greater lead. Dangerfield will have her growing pains but she will also have the chance to work through them.

This season is a unique situation for the Lynx. After Kristi Tolliver rejected the Lynx in free agency, the team decided they could survive one season without a true point guard because Odyssey Sims and Maya Moore will hopefully return next season. That’s two fewer roster spots and what happens this season could influence roster decisions for next season.

Landing Dangerfield where they did was fortunate because Reeve admitted they didn’t know she’d be there but were glad she was. Dangerfield may have gone sooner but Reeve said that Chicago liked Herbert Harrigan at eighth and may not have had another shot at her. Fortunately, the Lynx wound up with both.

Self-reflection

Towards the end of her availability, Reeve was asked how she thought her team did. Among the issues the team sought to address was address their 3-point shooting. Reeve noted that in 2018 when Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen were still on the roster that teams would still leave them to double Fowles. Looking back, she doesn’t feel her team did a good enough job of making teams pay from beyond the arc.

This is a reason we saw the Lynx draft two players who can hit shots from the outside. It’s also why they added Banham in the offseason.

The draft-night trade of Stephanie Talbot to New York for the rights to Erica Ogwumike seems to contradict this philosophy, But Reeve knows a 5’9’’ guard like Ogwumike who averaged 10 rebounds per game in college is going to rebound well anywhere on the planet. Just as there’s value in high-value or high-efficiency shots, creating second-chance opportunities through rebounding is also important.

Reeve also lauded the fact that Ogwumike has been around the WNBA thanks to her sisters and is more familiar with the league’s players than many prospects. Evidently fewer college players than we think are regularly following the league. Huh.

The Lynx may have begun the night with surprise but finished having seemingly addressed both talent and positional need on the same night. There may have been safer picks the team could have made at times but it’s easy to see why they’re intrigued with the players they chose.

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