When Sylvia Fowles announced her retirement from the WNBA following the 2022 season, the Minnesota Lynx knew it was officially time to turn the page on what once was a dynasty era, shifting focus to building a new era of Lynx basketball.
Though they knew the future would be centered around Napheesa Collier, the Lynx still needed to find pieces to surround her with, building blocks for the future, in the hopes of transforming in quick fashion. Their 2023 Draft position was a spot of good news for the Lynx, moving up in the lottery to hold the second overall pick, adding to a total of five picks in the draft.
The Lynx selected Diamond Miller with that No. 2 pick, later taking 19-year-old Maïa Hirsch—who never planned to play in the WNBA in 2023—with the 12th pick, followed by Dorka Juhász at 16th overall, Brea Beal at 24th, and Taylor Soule at 28th.
Two of those selections, Miller and Juhász, made the final roster, and they have quickly become starters, playing big roles right of the gate. The rookie duo has been what Minnesota hoped they would be and more, while proving to be building blocks and potentially foundational pieces for many years to come.
“I really like playing with both of them,” Collier said of the Lynx rookies earlier this season. “I think they both bring a lot of energy, a lot of new blood to the team. They’re willing to learn. They’re really coachable and they work hard, which is all you can ask for. I’ve been really happy with them so far. I think they’ve been great.”
Miller Living Up to No. 2 Hype
As the second overall pick, you expect to step on the court as a pro and immediately make an impact. For Miller, who was selected out of Maryland behind only Aliyah Boston, she has done just that for Minnesota.
Over her first five games as a Lynx, Miller had the type of up-and-down start to the season we sometimes see from rookies, but she quickly showed flashes of what could be as she continues to develop. Then, an ankle injury sidelined her for nearly a month, which was tough to go through right away as a pro, but allowed Miller the opportunity to learn and see the game through a different lens.
“My growth has been a journey,” said Miller, who was named WNBA Rookie of the Month in July. I’m still not where I want to be, especially on the defensive side. My teammates and coaching staff keep pushing me in that area. I’m trying to be a better player. I’m trying to play for 40 minutes. I don’t think, right now, I’m able to play a complete game…I’m still just trying to get my feet wet. I’m excited to continue to see my development and stack days.”
🏀 @Kia Rookie of the Month 🏀
Diamond Miller takes home, Rookie of the Month honors for July
— WNBA (@WNBA) August 2, 2023
From the moment the rookie stepped back on the court on June 27, her evolution and growth began before our eyes. In her first three games back, Miller averaged 20.7 points (PPG), 4.7 rebounds (RPG), 2.3 assists (APG), and 2.3 steals per game (SPG), while showing everyone why she was viewed as one of the top rookies in her draft class.
After her injury, not only was Miller back to being an offensive threat, but her overall game has improved dramatically. Three quarters of the way into her rookie season, Miller has displayed stronger rebounding and distributing skills to go along with utilizing her size, athleticism, and aggressiveness at all three levels of the game.
Pull up a plate because Diamond Miller was COOKIN' 👩🍳@lovediamond01 was relentless in @minnesotalynx's win, racking up a career-high 25 PTS and 5 STLs in just the fifth game of her rookie szn ‼#MoreThanGame pic.twitter.com/JmZhlEtwW3
— WNBA (@WNBA) July 2, 2023
“If you watched us throughout the season, the stuff that Diamond would maybe do, she had to kind of learn that it wasn’t going to be easy to do in our league,” Lynx head coach and president of basketball operations Cheryl Reeve said earlier this season. “Things that you could get away with when you played in college—I’m sure her college coaches told her it was going to be different at the next level. You have to experience it… She just keeps learning. If you look at Diamond, it’s so refreshing that no matter the moment, she just wants to do well.”
As the season continues, Miller has expanded her game and turned flashes of brilliant play into consistent performances. She still has some ups and downs, and that’s normal with any rookie. But, her teammates have been impressed by her willingness to put in the work and learn on a daily basis.
“I’ve been really impressed with Diamond,” Kayla McBride said. “The thing I’ve been most impressed with is her competitive nature. When you have a rookie coming in, number one, you just want to be competitive. She’s going to compete no matter what. She’s going to go in there, she’s going to have hype and energy because she wants to win that battle. When you have that, the development part is kind of easy, because she already has that competitive nature where she wants to work and is eager to learn, eager to listen. I’ve been really impressed with her competitive nature and her ability to adjust. That’s really hard for rookies.”
Lynx rookie Diamond Miller had the defenders running into each other 😳
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 6, 2023
Though her rookie season isn’t over yet, Miller has become exactly the kind of player the Lynx hoped they were selecting second overall. And she’s on the path to one day be a star alongside Collier in Minnesota.
“As a basketball player, people have different types of mentalities, but mine is to play freely and to play aggressively,” Miller said. “I always tell myself to attack, and you have to put yourself in a positive mindset. Sometimes, I have to realize—you’re okay, and you’re here for a reason. Just do what you do. It puts the pressure off me when I tell myself certain things like that. Just have the mentality that you can do this. You’re a dog. This league is tough, but so are you. That helps me every day. When you fall, just get back up. And I’m going to continue to do that throughout my career.”
Steal of the Draft
Entering the 2023 draft, many projections had Juhász coming out of UConn as either a late first-round pick or an early second-round selection. Ironically, some predicted the 23-year-old would land with the Lynx with the final pick in the first round. Juhász finally heard her name called 16th overall, and the Lynx hoped they found another draft steal (like, say, picking Collier sixth overall in 2019). Now, three quarters of the way through the year, Juhász has proven to be a gem for Minnesota.
“She’s a very steady, mature player. Never too high, never too low. She’s the definition of that,” Reeve said. “You rarely see her get rattled. I don’t know if she’s been nervous yet. She might be really nervous, I have no idea. She doesn’t show it. She’s big, still learning. Learning about personnel, learning about schemes. These players just played for years in college a certain way. Dorka has been really receptive to the information and able to apply it.”
To start her rookie campaign, Juhász primarily came off the bench behind starting center Jessica Shepard. That was until she was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time June 1, later stepping into that role full-time while Shepard missed extended time due to a non-COVID illness.
Dorka Juhasz is making a name for herself in her rookie season! @twin1532 sat down with Dorka in the 𝙑𝙞𝙙𝙚𝙤 𝙍𝙤𝙤𝙢 📽
— Bally Sports North (@BallySportsNOR) July 26, 2023
Stepping into that role at any stage of your career isn’t an easy task, let alone for a rookie still trying to learn the league. But Juhász has passed the test with flying colors while being a steady and consistent player in the paint, something that could be credited to her professional experience internationally and her time in college at Ohio State and UConn.
“She has a way about her—she just understands the game of basketball, and she’s adapted very quickly,” Lynx forward Bridget Carleton said. “You don’t have to tell her a lot. She understands already where she needs to be and what decisions she needs to make. She just has an instinct, and I think that’s a credit to her UConn experience. The Europeans, I think, have learned a lot at a young age because they played against professionals all throughout their high school careers. And I think that helped her especially in this rookie season.”
Juhász is the type of player who will do the little things, things that sometimes go unnoticed or underappreciated on a nightly basis. She has become a stronger defender and has taken her rebounding ability to another level; pairing that with her offensive prowess, she brings a consistency Minnesota badly needed.
“Dorka Juhász is so good off the bounce,” Reeve said. “For a 6’5” player, she’s so good in her decision-making. She recognizes her role. Dorka is a very good passing big, we have yet to talk about that. Good reads, good angles. She was that in college. It’s really valuable to have a big that can do that.”
Double-Double Dorka 👏 pic.twitter.com/0bGYKOv36B
— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) June 28, 2023
The Lynx always had their eye on Juhász, and if there was any doubt earlier in the year, there isn’t now: Juhász has been the steal of the 2023 draft. And she’s just getting started.
“I’m getting more confident and also just putting a lot of more work in. But I definitely want to keep working on being a triple threat,” Juhász said. “I want to make sure that you know I shoot from outside, I drive, but also if I have mismatches or something, post up. And whenever the shots are not falling from outside, I have to be able to drive and maybe make passes or finish.
“But it’s a learning process, and I’m definitely getting more comfortable. It’s good that I have teammates around me that trust me, and they’re always hyping me up. It’s good to learn through my mistakes, and Coach Cheryl obviously lets me do that, which is awesome as a rookie.”
Coming into the season not quite knowing what Minnesota would look like, we have a much clearer picture of the future of the franchise as the year inches closer to a conclusion. With rookies Miller and Juhász, the Lynx have found perhaps the second- and third-best players in the 2023 draft class. More importantly, they have themselves two foundational pieces to build around Collier and company for years to come.
Stats as of 8/21/23 and courtesy of basketball-reference.com and WNBA.com.