By Erik Beck
On Monday, April 22nd, the Minnesota Lynx made what will likely be their final roster change before training camp begins on May 5th by trading third-year reserve guard Alexis Jones to the Los Angeles Sparks in exchange for Odyssey Sims. Given the importance of quality point guard depth in the WNBA and with the Lynx needing to solidify the position in the wake of Lindsay Whalen’s retirement, it was always unlikely that Cheryl Reeve was going to retain multiple relatively unproven young point guards on the final roster. The draft night trade for Lexie Brown may have been the writing on the wall for a move like this.
Prior to the trade, Jones had been in Minneapolis for quite some time this offseason working with Reeve and Lynx staff. At the Lynx’s end-of-season press conference last year, Reeve made clear that since the team had drafted Jones on the basis of talent and not “need,” and since the team had essentially “signed over” Jones in favor of veterans for two straight years, that the team would either give Jones her shot on the team in 2019 or trade her to a situation with greater opportunity, “because continuing to play in that role is just not fair to her.” The latter situation appears to have come to pass.
Jones has shown some promise as a player during her tenure with the Lynx. In her first season, in limited minutes, Jones gave up just 0.556 defensive points per possession (98th percentile, 90 possessions) and shot 37.9 percent from three-point range. Jones was also a contributor off the bench for the Lynx in games 3 and 4 of the 2017 WNBA Finals, posting 9 points and 4 assists in 17 minutes in Game 3 and 3 points and 2 assists in 6 minutes in Game 4. However, in her second season, she backslid significantly on defense (1.062 defensive points per possession, 9th percentile, 81 possessions) and seemed to struggle to create offense against ball pressure from some of the league’s better guards.
The move to the Sparks will potentially give Jones the opportunity for minutes as a backup point guard as well as the chance to reunite with her former backcourt partner at Duke, Chelsea Gray. Still, Jones will have to earn her spot in training camp competing against guards such as the Sparks’ own draft pick Marina Mabrey and former Oklahoma State star Loryn Goodwin to make the Sparks roster, which is still in flux as the Sparks appear to be clearing cap space to sign (or re-sign) a few more big names.
Meanwhile, the trade for Odyssey Sims further signals that the Lynx have no intention of phoning it in for a better position in next year’s draft given Maya Moore’s absence from the team this season. They are instead doing everything in their power to maintain their winning culture by both building the most competitive roster that they can for this season and signing players that should be meaningful contributors to the team for years to come.
In terms of fit with the Lynx, one-time Lynx nemesis Sims could give the team a boost on both offense and defense as a solid, starting-caliber point guard likely playing as the primary backup point guard and occasional shooting guard this season.
With both Danielle Robinson and Sims the Lynx now appear to be more transition-oriented on offense than they were last season, and they should have multiple point guards that are able to apply serious full-court pressure to opposing guards, more reminiscent of the Lynx teams of 2016 and 2017.
Sims has not been a high-percentage shooter for her career, with career averages of 39 percent shooting from the floor overall and 27.4 percent from three-point range. However, she has proven adept at scoring by attacking the basket and drawing fouls, and the Lynx have confidence in their ability to improve players’ three-point shooting percentages. Still, with neither Robinson nor Sims historically being particularly dangerous three-point shooters, it may behoove the Lynx to stagger their minutes as much as possible to provide spacing for Sylvia Fowles.
Despite posting a career-low in three-point percentage (19.0 percent), Sims had a fantastic year overall with the Sparks in 2017, posting career highs in true shooting percentage (52.7), effective field goal percentage (46.8), steal percentage (3.1), and win shares per 40 minutes (0.153). However, in 2018 she regressed in several areas, posting career lows in true shooting percentage (46.2), assist percentage (17.3), and steal percentage (1.2). How well this move works out for the Lynx will depend a great deal on if Sims plays more like she did in 2017 than in 2018.
There is likely to be serious competition in the point guard rotation for the Lynx both in training camp and throughout the season. Both Robinson and Sims have been starters for most of their career and Lexie Brown is trying to get her career started and carve out a spot for herself in the league. It will be very interesting to see how this rotation changes and how the Lynx leverage the strengths of these three throughout the year, as quality play at this position will be essential for the Lynx’s success both this year and moving forward.