Column: Assessing The Lynx’s Draft Options And Areas Of Need

It’s never too early to start thinking ahead.

We’re still a few months out from the WNBA draft, which will happen sometime in April, but the draft picture is starting to get a little clearer as the NCAA women’s college basketball season begins conference play. The Lynx will have plenty of opportunity to bring in talent this April, be it with trades or picks, as they occupy a league-high five slots in the 2019 draft, including the No. 6 selection.

Because there are only 12 teams in the WNBA, competition for roster spots is fierce. Being drafted does not guarantee a roster spot and because of the amount of talent in the league right now there are fewer stories of later draft picks carving out roles on teams than there are in the NBA. The WNBA’s active rosters are made up almost entirely of players taken in the first round of the draft—it is very important to hit your first-round picks in this league.

On Thursday, the AP put together a 2019 WNBA mock draft based on a poll of WNBA GMs and coaches. Their mock has the Lynx selecting Arike Ogunbowale out of Notre Dame—this is not the first mock draft that has connected Ogunbowale to Minnesota. There’s no question that Ogunbowale is talented. Her propensity to hit big shots was on display in last year’s NCAA tournament, and as a scoring guard she fills an area of need for the Lynx. On Thursday, Ogunbowale absolutely went to work in a powerhouse showdown between Notre Dame and Louisville, finishing with 30 points, six assists, five rebounds, two steals and a block in 40 minutes of play. She was 2-for-2 beyond the arc.

The AP also has the Lynx selecting Kenisha Bell from the U of M, Kitija Laksa from the University of South Florida and Jenna Allen from Michigan State. Third-round selections were not polled.

Though free agency has yet to take place, so this could change, this year might be different from previous ones in that more draft picks could have a chance to stick with the Lynx as there are more open roster spots than there were last year. Any of the players connected with Minnesota, if selected, would have a chance to earn a roster spot on a Lynx team that has quite a few areas of need. It’s all going to come down to what Cheryl Reeve sees as the most important characteristics for players on her roster, and which areas of their game the Lynx manage to shore up through free agency.

It’s worth noting at this point that any mock drafts or projections you’re seeing in January are too early to be trusted. While the Lynx could call any of these players’ names in April, there are also so many different directions they could look. We don’t even have an official date for the draft, and we don’t know who will declare. A few surprise early-entrants or late-season risers could completely shake up the board.

What we do know is what the Lynx need—how they choose to address those needs is another thing entirely—so for now let’s focus on that. There are a few things that jump out as important areas of focus for the Lynx to get back into championship contention:

Shooting: The Lynx were not a bad three-point shooting team by percentage, but they attempted the second-fewest of them in the league. The reason? There simply weren’t that many players on the team who shot the ball well last year. The best shooters on the team by percentage were Tanisha Wright, Cecilia Zandalasini, Rebekkah Brunson and Maya Moore. However, Brunson and Wright shot only 48 threes apiece the entire season, and Moore, while a good three-point shooter, is better utilized in the pick and roll, in the midrange and driving to the hoop than standing behind the three-point line. A Moore three is a different type of look than a three taken by a more traditional floor spacer. She likes to take her looks off the dribble and coming off of picks, rather than from kick-outs. The Lynx need more floor spacers (like Zandalasini), who are comfortable on catch-and-shoot looks from inside-out plays. That will do wonders to open the floor up for Sylvia Fowles, who, as the focus of the Lynx offense last season, spent a lot of her year being triple-teamed.

Backup guard: With Danielle Robinson taking the reins at starting point guard, the Lynx need someone to back her up. Wright played a lot of point guard last year, but her status with the team is unknown, and she’s not a traditional point guard. The Lynx were one of the worst teams at taking care of the basketball last year, and they need someone who will come in and efficiently run the second unit without turning the ball over. Alexis Jones is still an option but her season last year was disappointing. The role is hers for the taking—if she can come in and show that she’s matured and grown her game in the offseason, Jones could be exactly what the Lynx need. However, if that is not the case the Lynx will need to look elsewhere. This is a big area to keep an eye on—Cheryl Reeve could go the route of bringing in a seasoned veteran free agent to play behind Robinson, or she could take a guard in the draft and try to groom her to become a staple of the franchise going forward. While Seimone Augustus is certainly still productive, that also won’t last forever, so getting someone in the draft who can play both on and off the ball could be a great way to fill both needs with one player.

Backcourt rebounding: The Lynx were a good rebounding team last year, but that was due to the fact that they had two of the best rebounders in WNBA history—Sylvia Fowles and Rebekkah Brunson—lining up in their frontcourt. However, if the Lynx are to become a great rebounding team rather than a good one, they need to get more rebounding out of their other positions. Lindsay Whalen was the only non-forward on the team last year who averaged more than two rebounds per game. For the Lynx to return to being an elite rebounding team, they need guards who can get boards. To be fair, the Lynx did not allow opponents second chances last year, so the primary issue isn’t about allowing opponent rebounds—the concern is putting all of the rebounding onus on just a few players. The Lynx need to become a better rebounding team from top to bottom to turn an area of strength into one of dominance. Teams need to shore up weaknesses, but they also need to build on strengths, this is a perfect area to do so.

Whatever Reeve’s approach to building the Lynx’s 2019 roster is, you can be sure that she’s already planned for these areas and more. As thorough as Reeve is, she certainly is beginning to develop a plan for both free agency and the draft, and Lynx fans owe her the benefit of the doubt in getting the Lynx ready to compete. As the NCAA season progresses and the 2019 draft picture starts to come into focus, we’ll be able to start talking more seriously about individual prospects. However, for now, as the college season gets into serious competition, keep an eye on players (especially in the ACC, holy moly are there some good teams…) with those needs in mind. Then, come draft time, you might not be surprised by the name called by the Lynx.