The Minnesota Lynx came into the 2022 WNBA season with hopes of putting together a strong campaign to ultimately send Sylvia Fowles out on top before she retired.
Now, a little over a month into the regular season, the Lynx have yet to field the team or have the success they were hoping to, sitting at 3-11 and last in the standings as of June 13, while also ranking near the bottom in multiple statistical categories.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for Minnesota’s early struggles, and there’s certainly still plenty of room for improvement. But perhaps the biggest reason for the slow start is the seemingly endless injuries and absences, causing roster shakeups and a constantly changing floor rotation.
Injuries and Absences
Although the season is only a month old, the list of Lynx players who have been absent due to injuries or other reasons has been longer than the amount of games actually played to this point. Minnesota has dealt with these absences with a mix of starting lineup combinations and hardship contract additions.
The waiving of 2021 starting point guard Layshia Clarendon during training camp resulted in a complete overhaul of the point guard position, which has continued to see various players filling spots. Minnesota also had core players Napheesa Collier (pregnancy/maternity leave) and Damiris Dantas (foot) away from the team to start the year, with unknown timeframes for their return. Collier could end up playing at some point this season after giving birth to her first child on May 25, while Dantas made her debut on June 10 after recovering from a Lisfranc injury suffered at the end of the 2021 season.
To make matters worse, in-season injuries have already piled up for the Lynx. They are currently dealing with the absences of Fowles (knee), who was ruled out indefinitely on June 9 with an unknown timeline for her return, and Natalie Achonwa (hamstring), who has missed all but two games. Newly-signed Moriah Jefferson has also missed time with injuries, though she returned to the team on June 10. Both Aerial Powers and Jessica Shepard suffered broken noses in back-to-back games at the end of May, and Kayla McBride has dealt with a quad contusion and currently a foot injury.
Although every team in the league deals with injuries, and players coming in and out of the rotation while trying to get healthy, Minnesota has been ravaged by injuries and the subsequent roster shuffling.
Heavy Amount of Transactions
So far this young season, no team has made as many transactions as Minnesota.
As of the second week of June, a little over a month after opening night on May 6, the Lynx have had 17 different players take the court in a game. Only 20 teams have ever played more than 15 players in WNBA history, according to Across the Timeline, and only five teams have played more than Minnesota’s 17 in a single year, with the Phoenix Mercury holding the record of 21 players in 2003.
2022 Opening Day roster announced May 6
Roster as of June 1
Whether it was the surprising wave of transactions made in the first week of the regular season, or the hardship contract signings that followed, the list of incoming and outgoing players has continued to grow in Minnesota. Not only does that make things difficult for a team struggling early in the summer, but players, too, are struggling to find a groove in this ever-changing rotation.
“It’s hard [to adjust quickly and on the fly],” said Evina Westbrook, who signed with the Lynx on May 13 and was inserted into the mix immediately. “It’s hard when I have a hundred million things going through my mind; I’m new to this, and I’m trying to figure it out. At the same time, [my teammates]know what I’m going through, they know what I’m thinking, they know what I’m feeling. They just don’t want me to think as much, and just go play. As the games have gone by, I’ve felt more comfortable. […] It’s been a long learning process, but I’m taking it day-by-day.”
As of their 13th game of the season—a June 12 loss to the Washington Mystics—the Lynx have sent out 10 different starting lineups. The most common starting five for Minnesota has been the group of Jefferson, Powers, McBride, Shepard, and Fowles, who have started just four games together. No Lynx player has started in every game this season.
“That’s something we are still trying to figure out,” Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said earlier this season, regarding Minnesota’s attempts to succeed without key players. “That’s not going to be an easy challenge for us, but we’ve been working on those things and this team’s identity on offense.”
The Lynx have made nearly a season’s worth of transactions and roster changes, and we’re only in June. Eventually, though, when it comes to player health and roster consistency, things will start to shift in Minnesota’s favor. This perfect storm of injuries and circumstance has fed into the Lynx’s early season struggles, and has certainly put a damper on their quest to make a deep postseason run in 2022.
“We’re taking steps,” Reeve said earlier this season. “We will keep tweaking until we have the team we want. We will do what we have to do to get where we want to go.”