This past offseason, Napheesa Collier put in the work. Entering her fifth year in the league, Collier came off a 2022 season that saw her play in four regular season games only months after giving birth to her daughter, Mila.
Though she wanted to take the court with Sylvia Fowles one last time before the legendary center retired, Collier admitted she wasn’t fully ready to return last season. This pushed her, though, to return to form, while also embracing her role as the centerpiece and leader of the Lynx franchise.
During this 2023 regular season, Collier did just that, elevating her game to MVP-levels, putting the team on her back and guiding the Lynx into the postseason. But perhaps the most impressive part—which should scare other teams—is that she continues to grow and expand her game in the process.
“Phee had a busy summer with Mila,” Kayla McBride said of her teammate, “and I think her coming back and being able to find her way [has been key to the success of the team]. Obviously, Phee is having an MVP-type season.”
Putting the Lynx on Her Back
Collier, like other star players, sets the tone for the Lynx on a nightly basis. This was especially true during the 2023 regular season, further solidifying the importance of the three-time All-Star in Minnesota.
Collier had the highest usage rating on the team (28.1 percent) while playing in a team-high 1,238 minutes over 37 regular season games. The only other Lynx player to log over 1,000 minutes this season was McBride (1,208 minutes); Diamond Miller had the next highest usage percentage (24.3 percent) among players who played 200 minutes or more.
Collier’s impact on the court has been enormous for Minnesota in 2023, resulting in her playing 33.5 minutes per game, which was the sixth-highest average in the WNBA. Her heavy workload was due largely to the fact that the Lynx were a markedly different (see: worse) team with her off the court.
Napheesa Collier On/Off Totals (2023 Regular Season)
|Minutes||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Rating|
Not only has Collier statistically been the most important player on the Lynx this season, but she has stepped up repeatedly in crunch time. In clutch minutes—the last five minutes of the game with the point differential five or less—Collier ranked sixth in the WNBA with 2.9 points, helping the Lynx to a record of 12-7 in such games.
“I’m trying to be really aggressive[…], having that mindset to stay aggressive throughout the game,” Collier said earlier this season. “I feel like, earlier in my career, I’d have spurts where I was really aggressive for a quarter or a five-minute spurt, then I felt myself going into the background a little bit. Staying aggressive throughout the game has been something that I really wanted to do going into the season.”
Collier has put the team on her back in 2023—statistically, as a leader, in key moments in games, and beyond. The success of the Lynx, after a potentially disastrous 0-6 start, has depended almost entirely on Collier.
“She’s an All-Star, and we know that,” Dorka Juhász said of Collier earlier this season. “That’s what the greatest players do—whenever the team needs them, they show up, and Phee’s definitely that person for us. Our game plan is to get the ball to Phee because she’s going to make something happen. She did a great job scoring when it mattered, and that’s what we need from her as a leader. 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 just an overall player. It’s awesome to have her as a leader.”
Career Year in 2023
The 2023 season hasn’t simply been an impressive one for Collier; as the official face of the franchise and MVP-contender, Collier has had a career year, en route to earning her third All-Star appearance, the Co-Comeback Player of the Year award, and a spot on the All-WNBA Second Team.
In 37 games, Collier averaged a career-high 21.5 points (fourth in the WNBA) to go along with 8.5 rebounds (seventh), 2.5 assists, 1.6 steals (sixth), and 1.2 blocks (tied for sixth) per contest. She also attempted a career-high 16.6 shots per game, tallying a 48.5 field goal percentage and her highest three-point percentage (29.8 percent) since posting a career-high 40.8 percent in 2020.
Head coach Cheryl Reeve made it clear what Collier means to this team.
“The mindset we’ve had all year is about growth, just getting better. We haven’t focused on results. And now we’re in a situation where Phee, in her young career, took a huge step to be an MVP candidate for much of the season. Phee has an opportunity to put our team in position to win her first playoff series. We won single-elimination games in her young career, but not yet a playoff series. That’s the next evolution, and I’m thrilled that we put ourselves in this position, to have a chance for Phee…to take that next step.”
Collier’s comeback, by her own admission, hasn’t been an easy one. However, the Napheesa Collier we saw earlier in her career has returned, and then some. She has become even more important to her team, ultimately leading the Lynx back to the postseason and, potentially, to a deep playoff run.
All stats as of September 20, 2023 and courtesy of WNBA.com.