New Year, Same Story: After Another Winless Start, Can the Lynx Recapture The Magic?

One year ago, the Minnesota Lynx started the season 0-4, quickly dropping down the WNBA standings as the final team unable to crack the win column.

Fast forward a year, and Minnesota’s start to the 2022 campaign has surprisingly replicated that of last summer’s. After another 0-4 start (the final winless team in the WNBA once again), and a flurry of transactions meant to shake up the roster, the Lynx finally got into the win column on May 17. Behind an impressive season debut from Kayla McBride, who tallied 24 points just two days removed from completing overseas play in Turkey, the Lynx clinched the 87-84 late-game victory over the Los Angeles Sparks. 

We know the Lynx can dig themselves out of an early-season hole—can they do it again in 2022?

 

Looking Back at 2021

Leading up to last season, the Lynx, led by Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier, were trying to build off a somewhat surprising performance in the bubble in 2020, which saw the team advance to the semifinal round of the postseason. Riding the momentum of that performance, Minnesota dipped into free agency and brought in an All-Star in McBride, a WNBA Champion in Aerial Powers, and a veteran post in Natalie Achonwa to bolster the roster and attempt an even deeper run in 2021.

Initially viewed as a top team in the league, the Lynx struggled to find their footing out of the gate. McBride arrived from overseas at the start of the W season and had little time to acclimate to her new team; Powers struggled with injury issues; and, Achonwa didn’t quite live up to expectations, later dropping to a bench role.

Things weren’t going as planned. Shortly after the winless start, though, Minnesota figured it out, rattling off 20 wins over the final 26 games to finish 20-11 overall, good for third in the WNBA.

After the slow start, the Lynx put together an impressive stretch that included winning four or more consecutive games on three separate occasions, earning a first-round bye in the playoffs. Minnesota featured a new starting point guard after signing Layshia Clarendon, as well as the core of Collier, McBride, Powers, Fowles, and Damiris Dantas gelling together as envisioned.

If a new-look team worked in 2021, could lightning strike again in 2022?

 

Turning Things Around in 2022

With not much going right on both ends of the floor, and a few key players absent from the team right out of the gate, Minnesota’s 2022 season has started off rocky.

The Lynx began this season without three-fourths of their core, a nearly insurmountable challenge for any team. Without Clarendon (waived), Collier (pregnancy), Dantas (injury), and McBride (overseas), Minnesota was hoping to get key contributions from players like veteran Angel McCoughtry—who signed with the team as a free agent during the offseason—and other role players to surround Fowles and Powers leading the charge. Unfortunately, that didn’t occur as envisioned, with McCoughtry agreeing to a contract buyout a week into the season, and other Lynx players not quite living up to expectations out of the gate.

“I’ve wanted to see a different outcome, but it’s beyond our control,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said at the start of the year. “We just didn’t feel like, to start the season, we were in a good place physically.”

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After a flurry of roster moves to once again bring in new facesnotably a new-look point guard group featuring Moriah Jefferson and Evina Westbrook—as well as seeing McBride return from overseas, the Lynx have started to turn things around and could be on the cusp of a repeat bounce-back performance.

“We definitely didn’t want to go down that road [like in 2021],” Fowles said. “We just have to figure out what works and be really good at what works… making sure we can be better for each other. […] Hopefully, we can really lock in with what we have to take care of.”

The duo of Jefferson and McBride have injected life back into Minnesota, finally bringing that elusive first win. The Lynx still have issues to work out—notably ranking seventh in offensive rating (98.0), last in the league in defensive rating (108.7), and eighth in turnovers (16.3) through the first seven games—but they are taking steps to address those concerns with additional players entering the rotation.

“It’s going to be a grind, but we can still take steps forward. It’s a long season,” McBride said after Minnesota’s first win. “I believe in this group and this culture. […] We were in the same position last year, but I don’t give a shit. I believe in our team, our culture, and our coaching staff.”

The first seven games of the season have been an eventful and disappointing stretch for the Lynx, complete with unusual roster shakeups and a winless start for the second straight year. But the regular season schedule is a marathon, not a sprint, and although the Lynx have work to do to climb out of this hole, they’ve been here before and know what it takes to finish the summer strong.

Unless otherwise noted, stats appear courtesy of WNBA Stats.

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