There’s no question the 2023 WNBA season didn’t start the way the Minnesota Lynx hoped it would. Beginning the year at the bottom of the league standings after six straight losses, the Lynx finally cracked into the win column for the first time on June 3—a road win over the Washington Mystics. But that winless start—and the attempt to battle back from it—is familiar territory for Minnesota.
In 2021, the Lynx began the regular season 0-4, only to bounce back and finish the 32-game regular season 22-10, good for the third seed in the playoffs. In 2022, they once again started 0-4, and although they wrapped up the 36-game regular season 14-22 and without a postseason appearance, the Lynx nearly stole a playoff spot.
In 2023, with an expanded 40-game schedule, Minnesota once again replicated that slow start. And like we’ve seen occur the previous two years, the Lynx have battled their way out of that early-season hole, shooting up the standings—sitting at 19-19, a top-five team with two regular season games remaining—while officially making their return to the postseason.
“When you’re not winning, it can do different things to you,” Lynx head coach and president of basketball operations Cheryl Reeve said earlier this season. “And this is why I’ve said I liked this group so much. While we were 0-6, if you were around our team, you didn’t walk into the gym and go, they haven’t won a game. How they respond to that and how they treat each other—that’s how you learn about a team, when you’re going through your worst of times. They believed in themselves; they believed that it would turn, as we got a little more familiar as coaches, working through rotations and play calling.
“We’ve found a little bit more of a groove now, and they’re buying into what it’s going to take to be successful.”
A New Look Team…Again
Coming into the 2023 campaign, Minnesota knew it had some growing pains to go through, adjusting to the departure of Sylvia Fowles in 2022 and Napheesa Collier taking over as the centerpiece of the franchise.
Like we’ve seen in past years, the Lynx also dealt with some new faces, and the learning curve as they took over key roles in the rotation. Minnesota brought in a wave of youth with rookies Diamond Miller and Dorka Juhász, who have stepped into the starting lineup or played key minutes off the bench right out of the gate. The Lynx had uncertainty at the point guard position following the departure of Moriah Jefferson in free agency, resulting in Lindsay Allen taking over as the starter, with Tiffany Mitchell learning how to play more at the point guard spot than she ever has in her career. They also had Jessica Shepard and Juhász try to fill the gaping hole in the paint left by Fowles absence.
Minnesota still had to figure out what the team would look like, how to mesh all of those players together, and how to quickly build chemistry throughout the roster, which is hard to pack into a two-week training camp. That all takes time, as other teams have experienced this season, and that learning process played a role in the slow start to the year.
“I think we had a lot of young and new people in the beginning,” Collier noted. “It just comes with experience. We have more games under our belt, and I think we really try to learn from what wasn’t working for us in those first six games. We have a really coachable team, honestly. We want to get better. We want to do everything the coaches are asking from us. I think learning from that [experience], then finally clicking, just comes with time and experience, as well as building that chemistry on the court because we have so much off the court. We’re really fighting for each other, and we want each other to do well.”
Fast-forward to the end of the regular season, and the Lynx have figured things out. We’ve seen that chemistry, that cohesion, turn up a notch over the second half of the year, resulting in a rise up the standings and into the playoff picture.
“It’s not so much that at the beginning of the season we weren’t playing hard or not trying—it’s just cohesion and chemistry,” Reeve said. “That’s something that’s developed through shortcomings. Sometimes you have to fail before you succeed. That’s the unfortunate part of life, but that’s what we needed.”
Turning Things Around
Since the start of June, shrugging off that slow start, Minnesota has been an under-the-radar team, reaching as high as the fifth seed in the final weeks of the regular season. Once viewed as a potential Draft Lottery participant for a second straight year, the Lynx have certainly turned things around.
“I think it just shows how we’ve grown,” Collier said. “That’s how you want a season to be; you want to see growth in a team. You’re seeing that in us for sure, that toughness. You really see that coming through. Just doing what needs to get done…I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
Over the first six games of the season, the Lynx ranked 11th in net rating—11th in defensive rating and eighth in offensive rating. That alone was a recipe for disaster.
To go along with that, Minnesota’s offense wasn’t performing like it hoped, scoring just 78.3 points per game, while giving up 87.8 points to opponents (second-most in the WNBA at that time) and failing to control the battle on the boards; in addition, the Lynx turned the ball over the fourth-most in the WNBA.
Since that 0-6 start, the Lynx have cut their overall net rating in half, slowed things down a bit in terms of offensive pace, and have improved in most statistical categories—including improving their scoring, having better control on the boards, and turning the ball over less—compared to their winless start.
“I think we’re in about as good of a space as you could be,” Reeve said. “[Our chemistry] is why we’ve found success; it is why we got off to a rough start but found our way back. You can’t do that without connectedness as a group. They’ve felt the idea—if we found success [together as a group]—of what it could do for us and our goals. I’m really proud of them.”
Starting a season off slow is a trend the Lynx didn’t want to carry into 2023, but they have become used to clawing their way back into a season (and into the playoffs).
“When things are going bad,” Kayla McBride said, “it’s so easy to internalize. I caught myself doing that a lot last year. Obviously, we had a great season back in 2021 and fell short. The next year, no [Collier], injuries, Syl’s last year. You could feel the stress and the tightness of it. I think even being down 0-6…you want to take that and learn from it. Understanding that you still have control and, in every possession, every play, being able to be in the present is something that I’ve really been able to do, and I’m trying to give that to others.
“We’re going along our journey and figuring it out, and we’re okay with that. We’re okay being exactly who we are,” McBride continued. “I think that that’s been a testament, and I’ve really enjoyed that. You enjoy going to work every day with your teammates, your sisters, and then obviously winning on top of that. We’re just enjoying the process, and we never get down on ourselves. We’re like, okay, next one, next one, next one. I think that’s who we are right now.”
All stats as of September 6, 2023 and courtesy of WNBA.com.