The era of Lynx basketball with Lindsay Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus at the nucleus is over.
Whalen retired and will become the University of Minnesota head coach. Brunson and Augustus will likely return, but at ages 36 and 34, respectively, they aren’t what they used to be. And that’s expected. That’s what happens. With the increase of age comes the decline of production. Father Time is undefeated for a reason.
But just because the Lynx won’t be built the same moving forward doesn’t necessarily mean their run for championships is over.
The Lynx are still very well-positioned with Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles as the franchise cornerstones. Either one of those players could win MVP next season and nobody would be surprised. Both players made the All-WNBA Second Team last season for a reason and are still very much in the primes of their careers. They are two players you can build around. This is something you know.
With that being said, the Lynx will need some more help in 2019 with the WNBA’s talent pool at an all-time high.
Lynx GM and coach Cheryl Reeve hinted at her end-of-the-season press conference that we shouldn’t be surprised if moves are made. That’s who she is. Reeve’s aggressiveness as a coach will translate over to her as a GM. Look at what she did last season acquiring Danielle Robinson, a three-time All-Star. She’ll be proactive, knowing a championship window is still there with Moore and Fowles.
But the Lynx have young talent on the team that can help now and in the future.
The first, and most obvious, is Italian assassin Cecilia Zandalasini. Zandalasini is a sharp shooter who emerged in her first full season with the Lynx, averaging 5.7 points per game while shooting 38.3 percent from the 3-point line. We saw her get more opportunity down the stretch, and that should only improve in 2019.
“It was a process,” Zandalasini said on getting more of an opportunity. “Because I really wasn’t playing, then I started playing and then I ended up being the first five. I was talking with coach. She said that the team was trusting me, that she was trusting me. So I think that at that moment, I was more confident in myself.”
For a foreign player, confidence is huge. And we saw her gain that throughout the season.
Zandalasini needs to play more consistent, but she had six games in double digits in what she considered her rookie season, including the final two games.
She has a real shot to be a starting wing on this team in 2018. Per 36 minutes, she averaged 12.5 points. With the league, much like the NBA, popularizing the 3-point ball, Zandalasini should fit right in.
It’s interesting that Zandalasini didn’t consider herself a three-point shooter before coming to Minnesota. Now with the Lynx, she’s the best on the team and should only get better.
The real kicker here is that Zandalasini is only 22 years old. What we’ve seen so far from her is likely so far away from what she’ll become in five or six years from now when she hits the prime of her basketball career, especially with more minutes. If she’s already playing this well, it’s not a stretch to say that she’ll be a future All-Star for the Lynx.
“In the case of Zandalasini, we identified that this was a young player who wasn’t getting opportunity,” Reeve said. ” . . . Sometimes when you’re a reserve player, you don’t get the reps in practice . . . We created more opportunities to observe her more and through that she earned time.”
There is also guard Alexis Jones and center Temi Fagbenle. Jones will be 24 when next season starts, while Fagbenle will be 26.
Jones is a combo guard who has the ability to shoot from deep. Her 2018 season was probably considered a bit of a disappointment for her own expectations. She started the season playing 10 or more minutes in seven of the first 10 games. In the last 10, however, she saw 10 or more minutes just three times.
Things didn’t go as plan for Jones in her second season, but that doesn’t mean things can’t change. There’s a huge opportunity for her with Whalen’s retirement to see some time in the backcourt. The question is whether or not she’ll take advantage of it.
“In the case of AJ, it’s two things. She played a lot early on. As we navigated our new situation at the point guard spot when Lindsay was not going to be in position to do a lot of the things that she did physically, that was uncharted for us,” Reeve said. “I didn’t love what that looked like. AJ was getting opportunities through that and we were 3-6. PER wise, and things that we look at, Lindsay was higher . . . A Tanisha Wright, the competitor and the willful player that she is, is something that AJ just doesn’t have yet. For some players there’s a disconnect on who’s fault it is on not playing. . . It’s now her time as we transition. She’s get the opportunities to show us who she is.”
And then there’s Fagbenle.
Fagbenle has shown us signs of why she’s made the team’s roster the last two seasons. Her size and length is dangerous when she plays under control. We saw that on display more than ever in the team’s first-round playoff loss against Los Angeles when Fagbenle played 24 minutes and finished with 15 points and four rebounds, shooting 7-for-8 from the field. When Fagbenle is aggressive, she definitely belongs in the rotation. We don’t always see that from her, though. That should be her biggest goal heading in the 2018 season. Be assertive. Trust yourself and trust the system.
“What I saw from Temi was a player who plays with a sense of urgency that absorbs information and applies it quickly and frankly, Temi was the beneficiary of a not-so-deep post group,” Reeve said.
The Lynx also have the sixth pick in the draft, which could be a trade piece, or hopefully a rotational player. It’s the team’s highest pick since 2012.
It will be an interesting offseason. It’s probably a little scary for Lynx fans to trust young players, but as teams transition, this is what happens. The baton has to be passed at some point. It’s up to these players to grab it and sprint with it.