The season is still young but there are a surprising couple names near the top of the WNBA standings. How have the Lynx and Fever gotten off to such good starts?
Take a quick glance at the WNBA standings and you might be surprised by what you see. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You’re back? Did you see that the Indiana Fever have one of the better records in the league and that a Minnesota Lynx team sans Maya Moore is leading the Western Conference?
The Lynx start is surprising but not entirely startling. Sylvia Fowles is still a dominant force, Cheryl Reeve is one of the best in the business and the acquisition of Odyssey Sims looks better and better with each game. Minnesota will be without Moore for the whole season and we don’t know when we will see Seimone Augustus next, but rookies Napheesa Collier and Jessica Shephard (before her ACL tear) have stepped up admirably for this team while Lexie Brown—who's finally getting a chance to show what she can do after getting limited minute with the Sun in her rookie season—is breaking out and doing things like this.
This isn’t the Lynx team we’re used to, with Lindsay Whalen running the offense, Fowles and Brunson dominating the middle and Moore lighting up the opposition. Fowles is still there, but in the rest of their places, we have a young, exciting team that isn’t afraid to take on—and beat—teams that seemingly have Minnesota outmatched. And they’ve been able to do it with a stout defense and balanced contributions from the team.
Take the Lynx's games this week, against the Mercury and the Sparks.
Every starter except Damiris Dantas had at least one steal Thursday and Phoenix was held to 36.8% shooting from the field and 23.1% from three. Minnesota really forced Phoenix to rely on DeWanna Bonner, who had 25 points on the night, but couldn’t carry the rest of the team. Fowles won the matchup against Brittney Griner by holding the big to four points and all but boarding up the paint for the opposition. This is when the Lynx are at their best, allowing their defense to thrive while getting big games and consistent play from their young players.
Saturday’s nationally televised game wasn’t the defensive masterclass that Thursday’s was, but it showed us again that despite its missing talent, Minnesota is more than capable of standing against some of the best teams in the league.
An afternoon that was highlighted by Whalen’s jersey retirement saw us revisit one of the greatest rivalries in WNBA history: the Sparks vs. the Lynx. Both these teams are vastly changed from the ones that butted heads in the 2016 and 2017 Finals, but it nonetheless provided an entertaining affair.
Shephard’s ACL tear put a damper on things and adds yet another sad turn to the Lynx’s 2019 season, but expect Reeve to recalibrate, run even more of the offense through Collier and for Minnesota to keep chugging along. This isn’t the team we expected this season but it should put a smile on every Minnesotan’s face to see it accomplish more with less. Speaking of …
Have you seen Indiana lately? The Fever have three wins already this year, which doesn’t sound that impressive until you remember that they ended last season with six. There wasn’t a ton expected from them this year, especially after it was announced that Victoria Vivians would miss the entire 2019 season after tearing her ACL while playing abroad in March.
Now we can chalk two of those wins up to playing the Liberty, who broke their winless streak on Sunday (!!)—more on that later, and the other coming against the hapless Wings, but let’s not act like the Fever aren’t vastly improved from last season.
This team clearly has talent. Kelsey Mitchell is a deadeye three-point shooter who’s capable of scoring in bunches, Tiffany Mitchell is leading the team in scoring despite not starting and the offensive responsibilities are shared among a large group of players, allowing one or more to step up when one of the main scoring options can’t get it going.
Take Sunday’s loss to the Mercury. Kelsey Mitchell scored 26 points on 10 of 16 shooting while Kennedy Burke, who’s not got much of a look this season, dropped 17 points in 23 minutes. It was Natalie Achonwa and Candice Dupree carrying much of the offense in Friday’s win over the Wings and it was the Mitchells and Erica Wheeler stepping up in the game before that.
Really, the Fever likely have the exact opposite problem that the Lynx do. Indiana doesn’t have a defined superstar but is one of the most explosive offenses in the league just because you don’t know who is going to go off from game to game. The defense isn’t going to win any awards but it’s been middle-of-the-pack this season, which is fine when either Mitchell, Wheeler or Dupree is liable to drop 16+ points on you.
Pokey Chatman has had to endure a couple lean years in Indiana, but this team is clearly looking up. Once Teaira McCowan establishes herself in the lineup, they’ll have a defensive lynchpin in the middle as well, making them a team to truly fear matching up against. Something’s cooking in Indianapolis and it’s time we start paying attention.
The streak is over! I knew as soon as I wrote my blurb on them last week that the Liberty were going to prove me wrong. Naturally they notched a win over the Aces on Sunday to end their winless streak at 17 games.
This team clearly has the talent to be competitive and, with the streak now firmly in the rearview mirror, let’s see if New York starts putting things together as the season gets into full swing.
If you haven’t watched this yet, take some time today and do so. It’s incredible work. Shoutout to the legend.
And finally, this.
Good to see you’re healthy and hope to see you on the sidelines soon, Coach Hughes.