The Minnesota Lynx have been hit hard with the injury bug this season. But the team is persevering through them and making progress on the offensive end.
Seimone Augustus still has yet to play a game after having arthroscopic surgery on her knee. Jessica Shepard suffered an ACL tear late in a game against the Los Angeles Sparks and is out for the season. Damiris Dantas is sidelined indefinitely with a calf injury. Karima Christmas-Kelly, after working her way back into playing significant minutes, will undergo another surgery on her right knee and will miss the remainder of the season.
To stem the injury tide, the Lynx have brought in Asia Taylor and Kenisha Bell on roster exemptions after falling to just eight available players. Taylor played for the team in 2014 and Bell was a late cut in this season’s Lynx training camp. Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve explained that familiarity with the Lynx’s system was important for deciding who to bring in to fill out the roster.
“Number one thing is they’ve been there. Obviously Kenisha very recently. That was an easy call. And we like what she gave us when she was here. It’s not that all of a sudden you’re going to see Kenisha Bell on the floor. It’s obviously you want to have some depth in case [you need it],” remarked Reeve.
“Asia Taylor is [also] someone we’re familiar with. So when you’re in these situations, you don’t really want to bring an unknown into the mix. While she hasn’t been with this group and maybe some of the recent time for the Lynx, we know what she’s about, and we thought she’d be a good fit.”
With the completion of the EuroBasket tournament, the Lynx are expecting to have two players return, so Taylor and Bell’s tenure with the team may be short-lived. Temi Fagbenle, who made the All-Star Five of the tournament and led the tournament in scoring, should return to the team soon. Cecilia Zandalasini is dealing with an ankle injury, and it will likely be at least one week before she comes back. Zandalasini’s situation is still murky though because the team has yet to sign her to a contract this season.
Offense coming together
Despite the rash of injuries to several key players, the Lynx have steadily improved their offense in recent games. Over their last eight games, the Lynx have the second best offensive rating in the league (100.8). For the season as a whole, they have brought their offensive rating up to fourth overall (97.9).
One key factor to their improved offense has been limiting turnovers. The Lynx still have the highest turnover percentage in the league at 20.6 percent on the season. However, in their last eight games the Lynx have only turned the ball over 13.6 times per game.
This is a significant drop from their first seven games, where they turned the ball over more than 19 times on average. After the Lynx’s win against the Atlanta Dream, Reeve attributed this trend to the team’s growing understanding of how to play together.
“You look at that [most recent] stretch of five games that number [of turnovers per game] is coming down. I think our understanding of what we’re running, why we’re running it [is improving]. I thought Danielle’s playcalling was really good. I told her her floor game was exceptional,” said Reeve.
“Odyssey [Sims] recognized taking one on three wasn’t the best thing for our team. She made the recognition that we had opportunities to pass out to really good players and she started finding them. Odyssey’s really hard to play against [on] both ends. So she was able to collapse the defense quite a bit. Some of the horns action we were running for Syl got Steph open because you’ve got to worry about Syl. So we just had really good recognition on offense. So I’m pleased with the last five or six games and what we’re doing offensively.”
Another important development for the Lynx offense has been an increase in fast break scoring. Reeve wryly noted that, “If you look at the first seven or eight games, maybe more than that, we were holding teams below forty percent a fair amount of times and we were scoring like six points in fast break situations, which is just ludicrous. My team last year—that was old, used canes to get around—they fast breaked more than this team was fast breaking.”
Through the first seven games of the 2019 season, the Lynx were in fact dead last in fast break points per game with just 5.4 points per contest. As Reeve mentioned, this is remarkable because the Lynx had the second best defensive rating (91.8) and were tied for the second best defensive rebounding percentage (71.2 percent) in the league over that timeframe.
The Lynx have finally started to capitalize on getting stops and securing rebounds with more transition opportunities in recent games. They are averaging 9.9 fast break points per game over their last eight games, good for fourth in the league since June 13th.
“When you play your butt off and you get a rebound you should go enjoy playing in transition,” said Reeve after the win against the Dream. “This team has done that and obviously this [win] is our sixth straight double figure fast break points game after only averaging six for much of the way prior to those six games. And we’re 76-4 when we have a plus-ten differential in rebounding. These are things we share with the team all the time. Those are darn impressive—that’s since 2011—those are really, really impressive numbers.”
Defense slipping a bit
While the improvements on offense are a welcome sight, there has been some slippage on the defensive end. The Lynx’s defensive rating dropped from second in the league (91.8) over their first seven games to sixth during the following eight games (97.1). Reeve mentioned that defense will continue to be a point of emphasis for the team.
“The focus in the shootaround was talking about how we want to be a great defensive team. The last five games when your offense is good enough for second over those five games—in that you have effective field goal percentage that’s number two, and you’re putting the ball in the hole, and you’re getting fast break points—and you lose? We should’ve been 5-0 if we defend in those games.”
Great play on both sides of the ball defined the Lynx identity and success in the past. This Lynx team is still building chemistry and is still getting healthy. However, with reinforcements on the way, Minnesota has a chance to re-establish themselves as one of the league’s best teams if they continue improving on both ends of the floor.
“If you marry the two…as we told them in the locker room that when you do both, you have a chance to have a special team,” said Coach Reeve. “And we’re working towards trying to climb the charts. The defensive fall is just unacceptable. It doesn’t take a lot of talent to play defense. It’s effort, it’s focus on tendencies, it’s playing your schemes. And then get a rebound. We’re going to continue to harp on that because if we do that, and our offense keeps growing, then we have a chance to do maybe something special.”