Rebuilding Lynx taking it one step at a time

Sylvia Fowles shares a laugh with Danielle Robinson. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Lynx.
Sylvia Fowles shares a laugh with Danielle Robinson. They are the only two from last year’s squad who have played so far this year. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Lynx.

The past, present and future are converging in Minneapolis this season.

Remnants of the four-time WNBA Championship Minnesota Lynx remain, but the team isn’t the same without the likes of Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore, Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus on the court.

This year’s almost-completely revamped roster includes a balanced mix of veterans, mid-career athletes and newcomers who are tasked with not only coming together, but creating a foundation for a new dynasty.

Coach Cheryl Reeve credits the team, with eight new faces this season, for stepping up to the plate.

“They understand who’s not here and sort of what the legacy has been,” Reeve said. “I think that can be challenging for them, but they have really just embraced (it). In some cases, players are playing more than what they have in their career. They’re enjoying that part, (they’re) eager to learn.”

Rookie Napheesa Collier and second-year guard Lexie Brown celebrate after a play. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Lynx.
Rookie Napheesa Collier and second-year guard Lexie Brown celebrate after a play. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Lynx.

Whalen retired last year, and Moore is taking the season off. Brunson is still suffering from concussion-like symptoms incurred last summer, and isn’t even listed on the current roster. Just two of the four returners – Sylvia Fowles and Danielle Robinson – have suited up this season. Augustus is out indefinitely after having knee surgery in May, and reserve center Temi Fagbenle has been in Great Britain preparing for the Eurobasket competition.

That leaves a new crew to take care of business.

Minnesota traded for several players in the offseason: eight-year forward Karima Christmas-Kelly; five-year guard Odyssey Sims; four-year forward Damiris Dantas; two-year forward Stephanie Talbot; and sophomores Lexie Brown and Alaina Coates. On draft day they picked up two dynamic forwards: Napheesa Collier from Connecticut and Jessica Shepard of Notre Dame. Rookie forward Shao Ting also joined the team from China.

The Lynx huddle before tipoff. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Lynx.
Minnesota huddles before tipoff. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Lynx.

For a moment, it looked like the Lynx would hardly miss a beat, as they dashed out to a 3-0 start. Then they sputtered, and have lost their last four games – all by six points or less.

Fowles said her team has trouble sustaining momentum.

“We (have) our way in the game until the fourth quarter, about the last five minutes. We kind of lose our identity,” she said. “Taking care of the ball within that five-minute stretch, making sure we execute what the coach needs us to… and paying attention to detail (is important).”

It didn’t help that Shepard was lost for the season two weeks ago after tearing her ACL during a game. She had been filling up the points and rebounds columns in almost 19 minutes per game.

Stability is still a sought-after commodity for Minnesota, which averages a league-high 17.8 turnovers, but bright spots abound.

Fowles averages a near-double-double, with 14.3 points and 9.8 rebounds, while Sims has posted 13.6 points and 4.8 assists from the point. Collier (11.1 points) and Dantas (10.1) also average double figures.

Cheryl Reeve. AP stock photo.
Tenth-year Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. AP stock photo.

Collier, the No. 6 overall pick, has put up respectable numbers at the dawn of her professional career, torching Chicago for 27 points in her WNBA debut and averaging second among all rookies in scoring.

As the offense works out its kinks, Minnesota has leaned on defense. They surrender 74.2 points a night – second best in the league. Still, an ineffective offense has, at times, caused headaches when the team has needed to deliver in the clutch.

Going through the fire is the only way to grow in late-game situations, according to Reeve.

“That’s the unfortunate part, I told them,” she said. “It’s really hard. The only way you can learn is sometimes to go backwards, is to fail. We failed in 2010 before we had success, so you have to often times fail first, which is unfortunate.”

Part of the issue is that the team is still learning how to play together.

“We have a lot of new faces. We’re still getting everyone in their rhythm,” said Robinson, in her second season with the team. “Figuring each other out, that’s a process that takes teams sometimes years to figure out.”

As they navigate, the Lynx are trying to forge chemistry, as well.

“Sometimes we’re really good, and then sometimes you can see we struggle with it,” Collier said. “I think that just comes with that we have a young team and almost everyone on the team is new. Finding out where people want the ball, when they want the ball, it’s hard to learn that.”

With a lot of games still in front of them, Minnesota players are optimistic.

“We trust each other, we believe in each other, and so right now it’s just making sure we’re on the same page every possession,” Robinson said.

Collier feels some urgency.

“I think we’re going to get a lot better at it. And we are getting better as the season progresses, we just need to speed it up a little bit,” she said.

The groundwork for success, however, has already been laid.

“We play for each other, we trust each other,” Robinson said. “Right now, it’s just about finishing games.”

The 4-5 Lynx host the New York Liberty today.

Sue Favor contributed to this report