After missing the majority of the first half of the 2021 season due to injuries to her hamstring and thumb, Aerial Powers has risen from the ashes completely and utterly on fire. Since returning to Minnesota’s rotation on Aug. 21, Powers has been a source of limitless energy and passion for this Lynx team, becoming a driving force on the court and in the locker room down the back half of the regular season. Powers’ aggressive scoring mentality and ability to create her own shot have given the Lynx a renewed vitality on offense and a new dynamic to play with heading into the postseason. However, Aerial Powers’ efforts in her unofficial role as the Lynx’s number one hype woman may be just as important as her role on offense in lifting the Lynx to title contention.
Aerial Powers the Hype
While coaches undoubtedly look for ability in a player, they also know that a player’s personality and mentality can have a huge impact on the team. “Her energy is something I really enjoy. We absolutely need it,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said of Powers, otherwise known as “AP” to her teammates, friends and fans. “The things she says on the bench or going into the games—she’s a hype player. That’s her identity,” Reeve continued. “Her will to win—that’s her job. That’s her skill set: She wants it more. And you know, that wins games.”
Whether she’s in practice, on the court, in the locker room at half or screaming her head off on the bench, Aerial Powers works hard to serve as a source of confidence, hype and fire for her teammates. In many ways, AP has taken on an emotional, or morale-based, leadership position within the Minnesota Lynx, spurred by her high-energy personality and zeal for winning.
The spark Powers brings to the Lynx is not lost on her teammates. “AP’s energy is infectious,” teammate Layshia Clarendon said back in August. “She’s a fighter. She’s the person who says ‘Fuck that. We’re not gonna lose.’” Over and over during the back half of the season, Powers’ teammates and coaches have expressed an admiration for her strong will to win. “AP has an incredible competitive energy. She competes every single play, wants to win every single play,” Kayla McBride told media. “It’s contagious when you have someone like that.” When their opponents go on a run or take a lead into half, it’s Aerial Powers that lights a fire under the Lynx’s asses and spurs them on to fight for the win until the last buzzer, preventing them from getting in their own heads and taking on a defeated mentality. “Her hype really keeps us going,” said Natalie Achonwa. “We have players who can really get internal, but [AP] really drags it out of us and pushes us to be outside of ourselves.”
Powers’ stubborn refusal to lose is one of the most admirable aspects of her personality. She is seemingly able to tap into an infinite reserve of energy and effort, pushing herself and her teammates when the game hangs in the balance. After the Lynx’s recent win over the Mystics (AP’s former team), Powers addressed her ability to keep her mind focused on winning even after the other team hits hard: “Basketball’s a game of runs,” she said. “It’s how you react. Do you say, ‘Woe is me,’ or do you come out on top?”
Aerial Powers’ Offensive Prowess
Of course, you can’t “come out on top” through sheer grit and confidence alone. Luckily for the Lynx, Aerial Powers has the offensive aggressiveness and versatile three-level scoring ability to back up her mentality. Aerial Powers’ return to Minnesota’s rotation in late August made an immediate offensive impact on the Lynx. Coming off the bench as she worked her way back from injury, Powers brought a new dynamic to a Lynx offense that had begun to feel overly reliant on contributions from stars Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier. “[Aerial Powers is] a dynamic, multifaceted scorer. She can get into the paint, shoots the three, plays well in the pick and roll,” Cheryl Reeve said after Powers’ first game back, during which she scored 10 points in 14 minutes against the Chicago Sky.
Powers has kept up this scoring output, notching double digits in eight of her 10 games since returning from her thumb injury. And AP has continued to step up her offensive productionas she’s found her flow within the Lynx’s offensive system, averaging 18.0 points per game on 49.4 percent shooting over seven games in the month of September. AP had four 20+ point performances during that same stretch of games, including a career-high tying 27 points against the Washington Mystics to close the regular season. “That scoring mentality is huge for us,” Rachel Banham said after the win against the Mystics, praising Powers’ confidence and aggression on the offensive end. “[AP] comes in, gets shots up, always looks to score, tries to get a bucket. It’s something she does every game, consistently.”
One of the pieces of AP’s game that has had a significant impact on the dynamic of the Lynx’s offense has been her ability to attack north/south, which means that she can create offense off dribble penetration in isolation. Drawing off her confident and aggressive scorer’s mentality, Powers makes her way through the opposing perimeter defense, forcing them to collapse their defense and move out of position in order to compensate for her drive. Per Synergy Sports, Powers is one of the league’s leaders in isolation-derived offense, finding herself in the 98th percentile in this category (though in limited sample size).
The threat of Powers’ abilities off the dribble drive is huge for this Minnesota offense, taking pressure off Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier in the post and opening up space for shooters like Kayla McBride and Rachel Banham as the defense breaks down. “You have to have somebody who can make the defense worry on the close out off the drive,” Cheryl Reeve told media, discussing the value of this aspect of Powers’ offense. “She came in wanting to help us get the penetration we needed,” Reeve continued. “Often when we’re going north/south, we don’t get the call we want. AP forces that issue better.” Powers has been quite effective at drawing fouls down the stretch, averaging 4.3 free throws made per game during the month of September, which was fifth in the league during that stretch.
Powers is also proficient in creating her own offense in clutch situations with the shot clock ticking down. Powers is towards the top (80th percentile) of the league in offensive efficiency when the shot clock is at four seconds or below, scoring 17 points on 19 such possessions this season. “It’s something we had been missing,” said Layshia Clarendon after Powers hung her career high on the Mystics. “It’s amazing when you can just give her the ball and have her go make a play at times … When it’s low shot clock and you don’t have time to run a ball screen or run an action to get a back cut, you can just give the ball to AP and she’ll miraculously make something happen.” Just take a look at this play from that Mystics game in which Powers takes 2020 All-Defensive Second Team member Ariel Atkins off the dribble in a north/south action for an easy layup with the shot clock ticking down:
Between her energy, fight and ability to create her own offense, Aerial Powers has become a fulcrum of this Lynx squad both on and off the court. The Lynx begin their postseason today (Sunday, Sep. 26), squaring off against the Chicago Sky in a second-round, single-elimination matchup. As the Lynx set their sights on a would-be WNBA record fifth championship, they’ll look to Powers to push them with her hype and aggressive scoring mentality. The good news?
“I’m always in that scoring mentality,” says Powers.