Crystal Dangerfield and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan have been crucial to the Lynx’s success

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The Minnesota Lynx have struck gold in the draft yet again.

Drafting high-impact players can be difficult outside of the lottery. However, like Napheesa Collier and Jessica Shepard last year, the Lynx have found two players in Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Crystal Dangerfield who look like major contributors for years to come with the 6th and 16th overall picks.

Neither Herbert Harrigan nor Dangerfield were originally slated to play a lot of minutes for the Lynx this season. However, like last season with Collier, early injuries to key players forced head coach Cheryl Reeve’s hand. Both Dangerfield and Herbert Harrigan have taken those opportunities and run with them, playing critical roles in Minnesota’s success this year.

Dangerfield Has Become a Go-To Player for Minnesota

The Lynx were extremely fortunate to be able to select Dangerfield in the second round, as she had often been tabbed in mock drafts as a first-round pick. Minnesota’s initial plan that she would not play many minutes this year did not last long once she got out on the court. Dangerfield got her first start three games into the season when Lexie Brown suffered a concussion. Dangerfield has started every game since. 

Dangerfield is currently second on the team in minutes per game and has only played less than 20 minutes in a game once. In a year where the Lynx were fully prepared to run the show by committee with combo guards, Dangerfield has provided a steady point guard presence and is second on the team in total assists behind Collier.

In addition to running the offense, Dangerfield has proven to be a deadly three-level scorer. While she may be the shortest player in the league, Dangerfield has elite handles and speed. She has found success attacking the rim both in transition and in the halfcourt. When opponents cut off driving lanes to the rim, Dangerfield has proven extremely proficient at getting to her spots to hit mid-range jump shots. On the season, Dangerfield is shooting 60.5 percent in the restricted area, 57.5 percent in the paint, and 44.8 percent on mid-range shots.

Dangerfield is also a threat from deep, shooting 34.5 percent on 5.3 three point attempts per game. Many of her threes come from far behind the three point line. In fact, this is her most efficient three point shooting zone, as she has shot 40.5 percent on long shots in the 25-29 foot range and just 30.8 percent on ones closer than 25 feet.

Dangerfield has become one of the Lynx’s best go-to scoring options, often rising to the occasion when Minnesota is slumping and in need of a bucket. She is the team’s second-leading scorer on the season and is 11th in the league in scoring (among qualifying players) at 15.9 points per game. She has scored in double figures in all but two games and has scored 20+ points six times this season. Dangerfield has been very efficient shooting the ball with a true shooting percentage of 59.1 percent and ranks third on the team in points per possession, per Synergy.

Dangerfield has done this all while dealing with several nagging injuries.  Reeve has occasionally referred to her as one of her “more banged up players.”

“There’s a level of toughness there, that [University of Connecticut head coach]  Geno [Auriemma]  and I didn’t talk about,” said Reeve about Dangerfield’s tenacity and high level of play. “I didn’t necessarily know how mentally and physically tough she is. She’s got a lot of dog in her, and that’s the highest compliment you can pay a player.”

Herbert Harrigan’s Offense is a Work in Progress

Herbert Harrigan didn’t have as quick of a transition to the WNBA. Reeve described her as looking “lost” at the start of training camp. She did not play in Minnesota’s first game of the season and had a couple of shaky outings in her first few appearances. However, following Karima Christmas-Kelly’s season-ending Achilles injury, Herbert Harrigan has worked her way into the rotation and both her minutes and role have increased.

Herbert Harrigan’s offensive numbers may not pop off the page, as she is only scoring 3.9 points per game on 37.3 percent shooting from the field. However, she has been an excellent floor spacer for Minnesota. She has a butter-smooth jumper both on mid-range pull up jump shots and three pointers. Those jump shots have been her most potent offense thus far. Herbert Harrigan is currently shooting 47.6 percent on 1.4 three point attempts per game and is 16-35 on shots from 16 feet or greater. She is also 3-5 on shots in the restricted area. The problem for her has been on non-restricted area shots in the paint, where she is 0-10 on the year and has been blocked five times.

“We’ve been talking to her about hunting three balls,” said Reeve on Herbert Harrigan’s offense after Minnesota’s win against the Dallas Wings on August 19. “We told her the same shots Damiris Dantas gets, she should get, and we were trying to get her to understand that wasn’t happening and showing her why it wasn’t happening. Now she’s kind of seeing those spaces where she’s free for the three ball and then she showed what we know that she can do to [if opposing players]  close out long to her—she got to the rim and got a three point play.”

Minnesota’s Defense at its Best with Herbert Harrigan on the Floor

While there is some promise to Herbert Harrigan’s offense, it is her defensive ability that has been most valuable for the Lynx this season. Herbert Harrigan was an adept shot-blocker in college and that has carried over to the pros, though she does have a habit of fouling when trying to block shots from behind after her opponent gets by her. Even more valuable than her rim protection is her length and mobility, which allows the Lynx to more effectively use switching concepts on defense.

Herbert Harrigan’s defensive impact can be seen in a variety of metrics. Per Synergy, she has the best defensive points per possession numbers on the team at 0.702 defensive points per possession (88th percentile among WNBA players). She also has the best on court defensive rating on the team at 84.8.

There is a significant effect on the Lynx opponents’ effective field goal percentage when Herbert Harrigan is playing. As a team, Minnesota has held their opponents’ effective field goal percentage to 48.7. However, in the 179 minutes that Herbert Harrigan has been on the floor, Lynx opponents’ effective field goal percentage has been just 41.0. This mark is a team-best.

Lineup statistics show even more of what Herbert Harrigan does for Minnesota’s team defense. Each of the top five two-player pairings for the Lynx that have played at least 30 minutes together this season include Mikiah Herbert Harrigan. All of these pairings have massively positive net ratings, ranging from the top overall pairing with Sylvia Fowles (+39.7 in 30 minutes) to Lexie Brown (+25.9 in 81 minutes). Herbert Harrigan’s highest minute totals are with Collier (+26.2 in 114 minutes) and Dangerfield (+27.9 in 107 minutes). Notably, of the eight players who have started for the Lynx this season, five of them (Fowles, Dangerfield, Collier, Brown, and Carleton) have their best individual pairing with Herbert Harrigan.

These net ratings have primarily been the result of Herbert Harrigan’s defensive impact. Eight of the top 12 two-player defensive ratings for the Lynx are pairings with Herbert Harrigan. The highest defensive rating of these eight pairings is Herbert Harrigan’s pairing with Odyssey Sims at 88.9 in 44 minutes and the lowest (or best) defensive rating is with her and Sylvia Fowles at 71.4 in 30 minutes (!!!). All of these ratings represent absolutely elite level defense.

Reeve praised Herbert Harrigan for being “even keel” during her rookie season and for her willingness to listen to coaches.

“There’s not been a time that we have coached or held Kiki accountable that there was an adverse reaction,” said Reeve. “A lot of times [with]  players, you don’t know whether they’re going to handle that information [well], or receive it in the way that you hope. Kiki has been tremendous. There’s not a time that she’s blaming somebody else, she’s just doing what’s asked.”

 

The Lynx are Building a Talented Young Core

There are a number of parallels between this year’s Lynx draft picks and the players selected last year. Dangerfield and Shepard were both players who were thought to be first-round talents taken with the 16th pick. Both Dangerfield and Collier wound up as top candidates for Rookie of the Year as players drafted outside of the lottery (with Collier winning the award last season). Both Herbert Harrigan and Shepard had great on-court chemistry and net ratings with other players on their team. Along with Lexie Brown and Bridget Carleton, the Lynx have suddenly amassed a large number of talented players still on their rookie contracts.

After Minnesota’s win against the Wings, The Next’s Katie Davidson asked Collier how this year’s Lynx rookies’ mental toughness compared to what she went through in her own rookie season. Collier replied, “I think you see them pushing through adversity. This is a weird season, something that no rookie before them has ever had to go through and it’s really short so it’s hard to really get better with one day in between each game.”

Collier followed up with praise for both Herbert Harrigan and Dangerfield’s performances.

“I think they played really well. ‘Kiki McBuckets [Herbert Harrigan]  makes everything that she takes and Crystal is up for Rookie of the Year right now. She’s playing unbelievably.”

Without question, the Lynx are better off with these rookies. Dangerfield is third in on-off net rating differential for Minnesota, with the Lynx scoring 9.5 more points per hundred possessions with her on the floor. Herbert Harrigan is even better in this metric and in fact leads the team in on-off net rating differential at 14.1, even ahead of Collier’s 13.2.

Reeve told the Pioneer Press that young players like Herbert Harrigan and Dangerfield playing as well as they have for the team and showing resilience is a reflection of who they are as people.

“You know the quality of the individual, you know that when you’re making your selection they’ve got to have intangibles,” said Reeve on selecting players that fit with the Lynx.

“They’re great people that are selfless and we just do well with players who have a level of toughness or an edginess. Kiki certainly fits that bill, and then obviously Crystal has shown us that she does as well.”

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