For a team that started the first few weeks of the 2021 WNBA season at the bottom of the standings while dealing with some injuries, you would think the Minnesota Lynx would be happy for the month-long Olympic break. But that’s not the case as the WNBA pauses until Aug. 15. Since their winless streak to start the year, Minnesota became one of the hottest teams in the league, quickly climbing up the standings to enter the break at 12-7 overall, the fourth-best record in the WNBA.
“You can feel the chemistry, you can feel the resiliency,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said. “I don’t think you have that without going through hard times first. For us coming out of the gate, we knew we weren’t a very good team. But out of necessity, we grew into it.”
Minnesota now has the rest of the break to get some players back from injury and prepare to make a run in the home stretch, and they’re confident they will get right back into the form they ended the first half with.
“It feels awesome to finish strong and it gives us a lot of confidence,” Napheesa Collier said. “When we come back, we just need to tweak things.”
What were some of the biggest reasons for Minnesota’s turnaround into one of the best teams in the WNBA? Let’s look back at some of the biggest takeaways from the first half of the season.
Hottest Team in the WNBA
The first two weeks of the regular season went just about as badly as Minnesota could have imagined.
The Lynx kicked off the year 0-4 and at the bottom of the WNBA standings, still searching for an identity while also dealing with injuries to some key players who joined the team in the off-season.
Since that 0-4 start, the Lynx went on to finish the first half of the season 12-3, improving to 12-7 overall and now sitting just three games back of the Seattle Storm (16-5) at the top of the standings. Minnesota holds a WNBA-best seven-game winning streak and are winners of eight of their last 10 contests.
A New Big Three Formed in Minnesota
One of the biggest reasons the Lynx have been so hot as of late has been their new Big Three. Sylvia Fowles and Collier have led the Lynx this season as they did — when healthy — a year ago, forming a dominant trio with free-agent addition Kayla McBride.
Fowles and Collier have been excellent as ever en route to earning All-Star and Olympic Team selections this summer. McBride appears to be finding her stride with her new squad. In all 19 games this season, Fowles is averaging 15.9 points (16th in WNBA), 9.8 rebounds (third in WNBA), 2.0 steals (second in WNBA), 1.9 blocks (second in WNBA), and 1.6 assists in 30.3 minutes a game. Fowles is also shooting 60.8% from the field.
Collier, who has played in 16 games this season, has turned her play up a notch in her third year, averaging a career-high 17.3 points per game (11th in WNBA), 6.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals (tied for ninth in WNBA), and 1.3 blocks (tied for 11th in WNBA) in 35.4 minutes per contest. She is also shooting 47.9% from the field and 89.7% from the free-throw line.
Much like Fowles, McBride has also played in all 19 Lynx games this season, averaging 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in 32.3 minutes a game. She has been a big boost to Minnesota’s three-point game, shooting 38.7% from deep to go along with 43.1% from the field and a career-high 96.3% from the free-throw line.
Clarendon a Key Midseason Addition
Guard Layshia Clarendon has been essential to the success of the Lynx since digging out of the 0-4 hole.
Dare we say Clarendon might have been the missing Lynx? (I’m really sorry.)
Clarendon joined Minnesota back on May 30th after surprisingly being cut by the New York Liberty after only playing in one game. Clarendon was initially signed to a hardship contract to fill a void on the roster left by an injured player but has since been signed for the rest of the season.
While taking over the starting point guard duties for the Lynx, Clarendon has helped Minnesota tally a 12-3 record over 15 games, averaging 10.6 points, 5.5 assists, and 3.4 rebounds in 25.5 minutes a game.
Not only has Clarendon been able to help the Lynx on the floor, but the guard is also a key veteran voice in the locker room.
Injuries Haunt Lynx in First Half
Although we are just under 20 games into the season, the Lynx have already dealt with their fair share of injuries. That has likely resulted in Reeve making more roster moves than she would have liked, but Minnesota has remained afloat and even thrived.
Right out of the gate, Minnesota found out they would be without rookie Rennia Davis (foot fracture), who has since been ruled out for the rest of the year.
Shortly after that, two-thirds of the Lynx’s impressive free-agent additions from the offseason — Aerial Powers and Natalie Achonwa — were ruled out for an extended period of time. Powers, currently out with an ailing thumb, has dealt with a few different injuries this season. Achonwa missed the final portion of the first half of the year with a knee injury but is expected to be fine out of the break. Other players such as Jessica Shepard, Crystal Dangerfield, and Damiris Dantas have missed some time this year as well.
Injuries have haunted the Lynx already this summer, but Minnesota has manage to maneuver through it for the most part. They hope this break in the season will help get those players back to full strength.
Lynx Becoming the Team We Thought We’d See
Following some offseason additions that beefed up their roster, many thought the Lynx would emerge as one of the top three or four teams in the WNBA. The team had the same expectations, hoping to return as bonafide title contenders for the first time since winning it all in 2017.
What Reeve has been able to do with the constant fluctuation of the roster and ongoing injuries spread throughout the team has been impressive, and what her team has been able to do on the fly has been equally outstanding.
When the WNBA resumes in mid-August for the second half of the regular season, the Lynx will take the floor as one of the top teams in the league. And not only are they one of the WNBA’s best halfway through the year, they have begun to generate talk of a return to title-contender status.