2021 Reflections and 2022 Forecasts: Minnesota Lynx
The Lynx fought through injuries to earn the No. 3 seed, but lost in the first round of the playoffs in an up and down season.
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Now that the Chicago Sky have won the 2021 WNBA championship over the Phoenix Mercury, it’s time for the next installment of our series reflecting on the 2021 season for each WNBA team and looking ahead to 2022. Here is our analysis of the Minnesota Lynx.
By the numbers
22-10 (.688), 3-seed in the playoffs, eliminated in Round 2 by the Chicago Sky
Points Scored: 82.7 (4th), Points Allowed: 78.7 (3rd), Margin Per Game: +4.0 (4th)
Offensive Rating: 100.8 (5th), Defensive Rating: 95.4 (4th), Net Rating: +5.3 (4th)
Pace: 81.7 (4th)
The Lynx were very active in free agency in the offseason acquiring Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, and Natalie Achonwa. They also used the sixth pick in the draft to select Rennia Davis. Adding these players to a mix that already included former WNBA Champion and MVP Sylvia Fowles and the previous two Rookie of the Year winners Crystal Dangerfield and Napheesa Collier seemed like a good recipe for depth and a run at a championship.
The first issue the Lynx had was getting all their big-name players on the court at the same time, and it began immediately:
Both McBride and Collier had overseas commitments that ran into the WNBA season. McBride returned from Turkey as that league’s championship MVP and played in her first Lynx game before she had even practiced with the team.
Collier missed the first three games, all losses.
Powers played in one game between May 20 and August 21, and only 14 games overall due to separate hamstring and thumb injuries.
Achonwa did not play any games between June 12 and August 15 due to a knee injury.
Davis was declared out indefinitely on May 1 with a foot injury and did not appear in any games this season.
Fortunately for the Lynx, Layshia Clarendon became available via free agency and had a tremendous impact on the team as an injury hardship signing after Powers went down. After losing their first four games, the Lynx won their next three and went 12-3, including seven wins in a row, heading into the All-Star/Olympic break.
Sylvia Fowles made a fantastic return after only playing seven games the previous season and averaged a double-double (16.0 points/10.1 rebounds). Fowles also took her defense to a completely different level this season with a career-high 1.8 steals per game to go with 1.8 blocks. She was no slouch on offense either, with her second-highest career field goal percentage (64.0), which was tops in the WNBA this season. Fowles was rewarded with the Defensive Player of the Year award (her fourth) and a spot on the All-WNBA Second Team (seventh overall All-WNBA selection).
Kayla McBride played all 32 games and averaged 13.7 points per game, made nearly 38% of 3-point shots and 91% of free throws while also receiving praise for strong defense.
As players like Powers and Achonwa returned, the Lynx won nine of their last 10 games and looked to be really putting something special together. Powers finished strong, scoring over 20 points in five of her last seven games.
Unfortunately Layshia Clarendon suffered a stress reaction in her lower leg and missed seven of the last eight games. They played limited minutes in the season finale and only 11 minutes in the playoff loss to the Chicago Sky. Damiris Dantas suffered a Lisfranc injury on August 31 and did not play the rest of the season.
Coach Reeve said at the end of the season it was unfortunate that the team that was assembled before the season did not get to finish the season.
Last year, the Lynx had lots of room to do whatever they wanted. Cheryl Reeve went spending with that space, and those contracts are now making things look a little tighter this year. Sylvia Fowles is the major element in any 2022 calculations. Coming off a contract from the previous Collective Bargaining Agreement that left her significantly underpaid in 2021, Fowles would be due a big raise if re-signed. However, she didn't sound certain about her future in interviews after the Lynx's playoff exit. If she walks off into the sunset, the Lynx will obviously have a lot more money to spend, but also a huge hole to fill.
If the Lynx keep the eight currently under contract for 2022, and Bridget Carleton (reserved) returns on the vet minimum ($72,141), the Lynx would have nine players signed for $1,019,143. That leaves $360,057 in cap space for two or three spots. If Fowles returns, she'd have every right to ask for the supermax ($228,094), although given her relationship with the franchise, there's a chance she'd give them a discount. If they gave Fowles every cent, that would leave $131,963. Technically, that's enough for two players (one of them presumably the #8 pick they own in the 2022 draft). However, we haven't yet accounted for Layshia Clarendon, who spent most of the 2021 season as Minnesota's starting point guard. Clarendon could potentially cost most of that 132k to retain and leave the Lynx going into 2022 with an 11-player roster (and that first-rounder needing to beat someone out to make the team).
Also, none of that accounted for the possibility of Cecilia Zandalasini returning, or any efforts to retain local favorite Rachel Banham. Assuming Fowles comes back - which obviously the Lynx will be hoping is the case - it's all become a bit of a tight squeeze in Minnesota.
Looking to 2022
All that said, the Lynx do not expect as many changes to the roster next season. Sylvia Fowles did not fully commit to returning for a 15th season in 2022 during the team’s final media event, but Coach Reeve indicated in her podcast, The Cheryl Reeve Show, that she expected Fowles to return.
Clarendon has expressed a desire to return, and Reeve and her teammates have given her high praise for their play and leadership all season. Clarendon’s possible return would make the 2022 outlook much rosier.
Coach Reeve mentioned throughout the season that the Lynx did not have a good training camp, and that player conditioning was an issue. At the final media event, Reeve said a priority for the offseason is a conditioning program for each player so the 2022 season can get off to a better start and hopefully, a better finish.
While they were eliminated early this season, they earned the 3rd seed, and with many key, talented players returning next season there's every reason to expect they'll be in the top echelon going forward with a stable roster.