After a June 27 victory over the Seattle Storm, the Minnesota Lynx players assembled on the court to continue a tradition of doing the electric slide in front of their fans at Target Center. This time around, they had more than just the win to celebrate.
The Lynx were feeling good after the W 💃 pic.twitter.com/HrBhq4Vt4R
— espnW (@espnW) June 28, 2023
For starters, forward Napheesa Collier had a double-double, scoring 33 points and grabbing 10 boards in another dominant performance. In addition to that, the Lynx saw the return of rookie forward Diamond Miller, who played 30 minutes and scored an impressive 18 points while dishing out five assists and collecting four rebounds.
The vibes were right, and the Lynx would go on to defeat Seattle again on June 29 in an overtime thriller that saw Collier hit a game winner to conclude a game-long battle between her and Storm guard Jewell Loyd. The contest also capped off a winning month of ball for Minnesota, which felt hard to predict considering how its season began.
While the Lynx now boast a 9-11 record, good for seventh in the league overall, they had a rough start to the year offensively. Collier has been a vision for the Lynx and rightfully earned a spot as an All-Star reserve, but she was the only player that seemed to have anything going for Minnesota at the beginning of the season. The Lynx had a six-game losing streak to open their 2023 campaign, with their first win coming in early June. They shot 41.3 percent from the field over that stretch and scored an average of 78.3 points per game (PPG).
Minnesota’s defense, however, was showing signs of life early on. Despite the Lynx’s scoring troubles, they were still rebounding at a decent clip, grabbing 32 defensive boards in their loss to the Las Vegas Aces on May 28. The glass has yet to be their Achilles heel, but as they have begun to collect themselves on offense, their ability to maintain control on the defensive end of the floor has become even more paramount.
Collier’s star ascension and Miller’s return have aided in the Lynx’s recent success, including their four-game winning streak between June 27 and July 5. Beyond the impact of those two players, the Lynx’s rebounding, paint defense, and depth have ensured that—even with injury woes and getting off to a slow start—the Lynx are set up to be a sneaky postseason team if they stay on their current trajectory.
Rebounding and Astounding
The Lynx have an exceptional frontcourt that is often headed by forward Jessica Shepard. While Shepard has been out since June 11 with a non-Covid illness, she leads the Lynx in rebounding this season with 9.2 rebounds per game (RPG). Her prowess around the rim, paired with Collier’s rebounding, has helped Minnesota stay out of the doldrums of the league on the glass. Currently, the Lynx sit at seventh overall in the league in RPG.
Other bigs have gotten in on the action along with Shepard and Collier, though, and the ability to count on players like Nikolina Milić and Dorka Juhász to defend and rebound at a decent level has helped the team focus on sealing out opponents in the post and rebounding efficiently.
Here we see forward Nikolina Milić sealing off the paint with Shepard, keeping Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson from getting a quick rebound off an Aces miss. Wilson is a tough player to defend, and she is adept at getting back under the rim for an easy layup. Both Milić and Shepard are needed to completely box Wilson out, but in this case, it worked out in the Lynx’s favor, as most of the Aces had already started to get back in transition on defense.
Guard Kayla McBride has been another key part of the Lynx’s rebounding this season. McBride is sitting at 3.2 RPG, and while that is only good enough for 14th in the league among guards in rebounding, McBride and Collier average the most rebounds per game on the team when on the floor together at 25.3 RPG. McBride’s ability to read the floor, especially on the defensive end, has opened up more rebounding opportunities for the Lynx and kept them afloat on defense.
As an extension of their rebounding, the Lynx’s paint defense has been consistent this season. The Lynx lead the league in percentage of rebounds being on the defensive glass, with 72.4 percent of their boards coming off their opponents’ scoring attempts. Additionally, they are currently fifth in the league in opponent points in the paint per game, allowing just 36.0 PPG. Considering that their offense is only eighth in the league, it’s a good sign that they are still managing to keep opponents to so few points in the paint.
Shepard, Collier, Juhász, and McBride all work to make sure that opponents are very bothered by their coverage down low, and they are good at keeping on their feet in the process of pestering in the post.
Collier is particularly adept at defending in the paint. In the clip above, Collier is able to stay with Wilson throughout this possession, blocking the two-time MVP and then grabbing the rebound in the process. Collier is averaging 1.1 blocks per game (BPG), a team best so far this season. She is most known for her scoring, but her defense in the post against other bigs cannot be underestimated.
Rookie Help at the Four and Five
Of course, the positives brought to the floor by Shepard and Miller have unfortunately been stunted by injury and illness, and the Lynx’s bench has had to step up in their place and replicate their production.
Enter rookie Dorka Juhász. Juhász, the 16th pick in the 2023 WNBA draft and former UConn Husky, was given the large task of starting in place of Miller after she went down with an ankle injury on May 30. Juhász’ minutes jumped from nine minutes in the contest on May 30 all the way up to 37 minutes on June 1 when she was inserted into the starting lineup.
Juhász’ production went up along with her playing time, averaging 5.6 RPG along with 0.9 BPG and 6.0 PPG since June 1. Her ability to produce at such a high level in her rookie season has been huge for Minnesota in terms of the Lynx still being able to piece together wins despite the injury bug coming for Miller and Shepard.
Here Juhász does her best Collier and Shepard impression. She stays on her feet and keeps pressure on Wilson in the post, forcing her to take a quick turnaround jumper and miss.
Juhász has been solid at using her size as a deterrent for opponents trying to score in the post. She was especially great with this in Minnesota’s overtime game against the Storm on June 29.
It was no easy task to contain Storm center Ezi Magbegor, but Juhász was able to seal her off multiple times during the Lynx’s win. During this sequence in crunch time, Juhász does not appear to be doing much, but if Magbegor had been able to grab that offensive board and get the Storm another shot at the rim, an extra five minutes of game time may not have happened. Juhász read the floor well and was exactly where she needed to be to corral the defensive board for Minnesota.
Areas of Improvement Moving Forward
While the aforementioned areas of Minnesota’s game have flourished this season, the Lynx’s offense is still a work in progress. It has been the Collier show for a majority of the year, but the Lynx’s ability to unlock their offense outside of her will be important for their longevity. Their three-point shooting is still poor, sitting at 31.6 percent which is good for ninth overall in that metric. They are also still only shooting 42.6 percent from the field, which places them at ninth in the league. The Lynx get good looks at the rim thanks to Collier, Juhász, and Miller, but outside of the post, they have struggled to find consistent shooting.
The Lynx have a tough road ahead of them, but the Minnesota home floor—and the potential for more electric slides—should be on their side.
Stats as of 7/13. Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of WNBA.com.