Jace Frederick: Lynx’s first half was a massive success

13 July 2023

The Lynx entered this week’s all-star break on a low note, losing consecutive games by an average of 32 points to dip two games below .500.

But that’s where the negatives stop for the WNBA team through the first half of the 2023 season. The broader picture reveals Minnesota has won nine of its past 14 games, has a two-game cushion for a playoff spot and is achieving a solid balance of development and competitiveness.

The Lynx (9-11) entered the season as a team some were thinking may tank for a top draft pick as a way to land another elite talent to press fast forward on their retool. That looked to be the case during the team’s 0-6 start this season.

But Minnesota’s season took a turn for the better over the past month and a half in all the best ways. The Lynx looked like a Cheryl Reeve-led team — one that was well-coached and won games on the margins and in crunch time.

They won because their best player — all-star Napheesa Collier — developed into an MVP candidate by proving she’s not afraid to take games over. Collier is scoring an efficient 22 points per game since the team’s 0-6 start while shooting 50 percent from the field, and she’s pulling down 8.7 rebounds a game.

Rookie guard Diamond Miller has found her footing at the pro level. Since returning from an early-season ankle injury, the No. 2 overall draft pick has thrice scored 18-plus points, and tallied nine-plus points in six of her past seven games. Fellow second-round pick Dorka Juhasz continues to log massive minute loads in the front court, particularly after Jessica Shepard went down with an injury, and is proving herself to be an apt rebounder and defender early in her career.

Playoff experience in any form this season would do wonders for both Juhasz and Miller as they continue to progress.

Reeve and Co. are currently threading the needle between development for the future and performance for the here and now, which is no easy feat. It’s something Minnesota both hasn’t mastered nor has needed to do in the past.

Certainly, the Lynx aren’t a championship contender this season. That’s a tier reserved for two or three teams, tops (and, frankly, it might just be Las Vegas). But what Minnesota is now is a middle-of-the-pack team that is accomplishing all that could have been asked of it coming into the season.

The Lynx are 1-8 against the six teams currently sitting above then in the WNBA standings — with the one win coming against Washington — and 8-3 against the five teams below them. All three of those losses came during the Lynx’s 1-7 start to the season.

Minnesota is 8-0 against “inferior” opponents since that point. That’s the sign of a growing team with a professional approach and is a rare achievement for an injury-riddled team heavily relying on a pair of rookies.

It’s clear the culture Reeve, Collier and others are trying to ingrain is indeed taking hold. This team already embodies so much more of what the Lynx hope to represent on the court than last year’s squad. A foundation seems to be in place.

Where Minnesota currently resides serves as a solid launching point from which the Lynx potentially could take off over the second half of the season to surprise teams currently occupying the top half of the league standings, just as many players thought they would at the season’s outset.

And even if they don’t, the team’s current pace represents a strong season amid the organization’s re-tooling, which may not take as long as some originally anticipated.

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