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Minnesota Lynx Inch Closer To WNBA Title Contention With Free Agency Acquisitions

Jan 29, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - JUNE 08: Napheesa Collier #24 exchanges a low five with Odyssey Sims #1 of ... [+] the Minnesota Lynx during their game against the Los Angeles Sparks at Target Center on June 08, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images) Getty Images The Minnesota Lynx, the franchise with the most titles in WNBA history, this week sneakily retooled its roster with high-level young talent at positions of need, bringing closer to competing for a championship once again in 2021. New additions Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers have the chance to bolster the Lynx’s depth and star power while also putting their star, Napheesa Collier, in position to become the championship-caliber nightly No. 1 option she has the chance to be. The moves were first reported by WSLAM and The Next , respectively, amid another flurry of player movement resulting in large part from the WNBA’s new collective bargaining agreement. With only about half its salary sheet spent, Minnesota entered 2021 free agency with a strong chance to improve its roster. After finishing the season as the second-best offense in the league but losing in the semifinals to Seattle, the Lynx targeted what they did not have: wings. During another season without former MVP Maya Moore and after injuries to Shenise Johnson and Karima Christmas-Kelly, the team was forced to rely on less experienced players like Bridget Carleton and Kiki Herbert-Harrigan. In their place in 2021, McBride and Powers will be the best two wings Collier has ever played with. Both are in their primes, can shoot the ball, and bring the smart play-making and defensive ability that head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve demands of all her players. MORE FOR YOU They each will be able to unlock Minnesota’s offense, which largely runs through dribble handoffs from its bigs at the elbow and off-ball movement, in different ways. During their most recent seasons, McBride and Powers both were in the 75th percentile or higher in spot-up situations (per Synergy Sports), which they should see a lot of due to the attention Collier and All-Star point guard Odyssey Sims get in Minnesota. Both new acquisitions also are less efficient in the pick and roll, making the Lynx, which runs pick and roll mostly as an offshoot of its initial elbow action, a snug fit that will not force the signees to do too much. Most importantly, both All-Star wings add to the Lynx’s two biggest strengths. In a league based on space and versatility, Minnesota had the third-highest three-point percentage in the league last season, while both new acquisitions shot at least 36 percent in their last full season (Powers missed most of 2020 with a strained hamstring). Moreover, they are each 5-9 or taller, and should be able to check players up and down opposing lineups. In addition to the signing of backup big Natalie Achonwa, the roster brings Minnesota closer to the type of unit that succeeded last decade, winning four championships led by Moore and Reeve. Those teams had size at every position, a balanced offense, a dominant defense, and a star player around which they orbited. Sure, a four-time championship roster is a high bar the 2021 team won’t clear, but 2016 WNBA MVP Sylvia Fowles is still the anchor down low, and she will be flanked by Sims, Powers, McBride and Collier, plus a bench with the likes of Achonwa and Damiris Dantas that can mirror the strengths of the first group. Aside from inconsistent defense once Fowles was sidelined with a calf injury (which should be aided by Achonwa’s presence as her backup), where the Lynx fell short in the playoffs was finding ways to consistently create great offense, and often could not even get the ball into Collier’s hands. That and Sims’ delayed entry to the Florida Bubble left Minnesota less than the sum of its parts come the postseason. By adding McBride and Powers, the team now should be able to spread the floor for Collier without sacrificing defense or ball-handling. It’s not hard to imagine a two-player game with Collier and Powers with both able to attack mismatches, or intricate off-ball screen actions to free up McBride behind the line. And because both players were signees, the Lynx gave up nothing to get them, meaning the do-it-all big Achonwa, scoring forward Dantas and 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield become merely bench weapons rather than needed contributors. Of course, until Collier proves she is a premiere and consistent superstar in the WNBA, Minnesota remains a tier below the top championship contenders. But that all changes if Moore, who last played in 2018 and has since been working for prison reform, returns. At age 31, the 2014 MVP is still in her prime and is among the best scorers and winners in basketball history. Will this roster, newly improved and ripe for a leader, coax Moore back to the hardwood? After focusing on the case of a man named Jonathan Irons for most of her time away from the game, Moore helped overturn his wrongful conviction and free him from prison last year. She and Irons married last September and while it would be difficult physical adjustment to return to the court, Moore has maintained throughout her absence that she continued to work out and stay in shape. At the same time, Seattle still has the best player in the league in Breanna Stewart, Washington has yet to debut Tina Charles in a Mystics uniform or officially defend their 2019 title, and last year’s runners up, the Aces, will stay in the picture. The WNBA is ludicrously deep and it’s hard to crack the elite of the elite without a player like Moore. That doesn’t mean the Lynx shouldn’t try, or that they didn’t do the best with what they had. This week’s moves heighten Minnesota’s ceiling and should make them a better playoff team, but as things stand, they remain a few hard-to-predict steps away from championship status. Follow me on  Twitter .

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