MVPhee: Lynx Leader Making a Case To Enter the MVP Conversation

In 2022, Napheesa Collier appeared in four regular season games for the Minnesota Lynx only three months after giving birth to her daughter, Mila. The main reason she wanted to return to the court so soon was to play with fellow teammate Sylvia Fowles before she stepped away from the game in retirement.

During her short stint on the court in 2022, Collier understandably wasn’t the same player we saw over her previous three seasons in the WNBA, and she would be the first person to tell you she likely returned too soon. She was still working to get her body back into game shape, but she wanted to play with Fowles, and she doesn’t regret making that happen. 

Since last season ended, Collier worked tirelessly over the offseason to make sure she was ready for the new season ahead. Now with Mila a little over a year old, Collier is in her fifth WNBA season in 2023, and she’s back to the “2021 Phee” that we know and enjoy watching.

“I rushed back last year, so I didn’t feel my best, and it takes a long time for your body to get back,” Collier said at the start of the season. “But I feel great, and I’m really excited to just feel like my old self again.”

And how good Collier is feeling this season is certainly evidenced by her performance on the court. She is the new centerpiece and leader of the Lynx as the franchise enters a new era, and her play has shown that she is more than ready for this role. She’s already proved she’s having an All-Star season, the third of her career. But with half of the year in the books, Collier is having an MVP-caliber season as well. 


Key to Minnesota’s Success

Over the first half of the regular season, no player has been more important to the Lynx than Collier. And perhaps there has been no single player in the league more important to their team than the 26-year-old forward.

Head coach Cheryl Reeve is well aware of what Collier offers on the court. “She is a matchup nightmare. … Phee is so active at both ends. The stuff that she can do offensively you can’t teach,” Reeve said of Collier earlier this season. “Her instincts and her movement … And then defensively, you know her length and her instincts for movement and her rebounding.”

As is the case with most teams when it comes to their best player, Minnesota has thrived or come up short largely based on how Collier performs on any given night. With the Lynx finishing the first half of the season at 9-11 overall and floating around the .500 mark since, the difference between Collier’s performance in Minnesota’s wins compared to its losses in the first half of the year shows how integral she is to the team’s success. 

In nine wins over the first 20 games leading up to the All-Star break, Collier averaged 24.0 points per game (PPG), 9.4 rebounds per game (RPG), 3.0 assists per game (APG), 2.0 steals per game (SPG), and 1.3 blocks per game (BPG) while shooting 50.6 percent from the field with a plus/minus of +7.2. On the other hand, in 11 losses in the first half of the year, Collier averaged 19.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.4 SPG, and 0.9 BPG while shooting 46.4 percent from the field with a plus/minus of -11.1.

The differences between Collier’s stats in wins compared to losses during the first half of the year are significant, especially when considering that games tend to come down to only a few possessions. 

Of course, other Lynx players have contributed to the team starting to turn things around after a tough start to the year. But Collier has been at the center of it all, and she has elevated her game as the season has progressed. 

The latest example of that is in the first game following the All-Star break when Collier built off her strong first half of the season by dropping a career-high 35 points in a loss to the Atlanta Dream. She has stepped up for the Lynx time and again this season, and her team needs her as they attempt to fight their way back from their shaky start. 


Phee-nomenal Year So Far

In addition to being integral to the Lynx capturing wins this year, Collier has put on an impressive individual performance over the course of the first half of the regular season. 

Through Minnesota’s game against Los Angeles on July 20, Collier is averaging 21.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.5 SPG, and 1.1 BPG while shooting 48.6 percent from the field, 32.1 percent from three, and 84.3 percent from the free-throw line in a team-high 33.2 minutes over 22 games this season. She ranks first on her team in scoring, steals, and blocks, and she is second on the squad in rebounds and third in assists. Additionally, she has a team-best five double-doubles and the highest usage percentage (28.0 percent) among active Lynx players.

“She’s an All-Star, and we know that. … That’s what the greatest players do. Whenever the team needs them, they show up, and Phee’s definitely that person for us,” Dorka Juhász said of Collier. “Our game plan is to get the ball to Phee because she’s gonna make something happen. And I think she did a great job of scoring whenever it matters, and that’s what we need from her as a leader, and I think she’s doing an amazing job. It’s not always easy to put the team on her back every single time.

“She’s been playing like an MVP, and—especially as rookies—we’re grateful to learn from her because she’s an overall player and she can do a lot of things. … It’s awesome to have her as a leader.”

As for her place on the league leaderboards among all WNBA players this season, Collier currently ranks third in scoring, sixth (tie) in steals, ninth in blocks, and ninth (tie) in rebounding. 

Collier has unlocked a new level of play for herself this season, and she can also see the change. “I think I’m just trying to be really aggressive. … Just having that mindset that I need to stay aggressive throughout the game because I feel like earlier in my career, I’d have spurts where I was really aggressive for like a quarter or a five-minute spurt, and then I felt myself kind of going into the background a little bit,” Collier said. “Just staying aggressive throughout the game has been something that I really wanted to do going into the season.”


Taking Strides Forward

Collier’s shift in approach has shown itself on the court this season, especially as of late. Collier has been a leader for the Lynx and near the top of the WNBA leaderboards throughout most of the season, but in the two weeks leading up to the All-Star break, she took her game to another level. From late June to mid July, Collier averaged 24.8 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.8 BPG, and 1.6 SPG during Minnesota’s five-game winning streak that pushed the Lynx back into the playoff picture.

During the team’s winning streak, Collier was the key to Minnesota’s success throughout the entirety of each game, but she also stepped up in key moments to help push the Lynx to victory. One memorable example of that was when Collier hit a game winner in the final seconds against the Seattle Storm on June 29, a game after posting a then career-high 33 points against the same Storm squad on June 27.

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“She got off to a slow start. … She didn’t take enough initiative,” Reeve said of Collier’s development this season. “She needed to be a little more selfish in what she was doing. She needed to get to her spots a little more assertively. And so she’s gotten there. You know, there was a stretch there at the end where, you know, the shot clock would be running down with six seconds, and I expected Napheesa Collier to take the shot. And whatever happens with it, happens with it. Instead, she passed up a little bit. That’s what she was doing more regularly in the beginning of the season.”

Regardless of how the season finishes out for Collier, seeing her back to her old form is a welcomed sight for basketball fans and the Lynx organization. She is back to the dominant player we’ve seen ever since she first stepped foot in the WNBA in 2019, but now she seems even stronger as she leads Minnesota through this season and into the future. Collier’s developing role with her team as well as her burgeoning performance as an individual suggest that it is time to start talking about Collier as a 2023 MVP candidate. 

“It wasn’t clear at the beginning of the season who our best player was,” Reeve said. “It needs to be clear every time we play that Napheesa Collier is our best player. And it is clear now.”


All stats as of 7/21 and courtesy of

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