At this point in her career, Sylvia Fowles isn’t trying to prove anything to anyone… but herself.
She’s won a WNBA Most Valuable Player award, two WNBA titles, two WNBA Finals MVP awards, three WNBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, three Olympic gold medals, and that’s not to mention her six WNBA All-Star appearances. She owns the all-time WNBA records for rebounding and double-doubles.
Fowles has done it all over her 14-year career, but after missing significant time for the first time in 2020 with a calf injury, the 35-year-old was determined to show herself she’s still one of the W’s best bigs after all these years.
Through the first nine games of the 2021 season, Fowles has shown that with one of the hottest starts of her career. She’s averaging 16.8 points per game, her highest output since 2018 while shooting a WNBA-best 64.1% from the field — almost 4% higher than the next closest player. For reference, it’s the second-best shooting percentage of Fowles’ career, behind the 65.5% she shot during her MVP season in 2017. She’s doing it on the defensive end, too. Fowles is tied for the lead league in steals and 11th in blocks thus far in 2021.
She admits she may be a step slower in her mid-30s, but Fowles is using it to her advantage.
“I’m a tad bit slower than I have been in the past, so I have to find other ways to utilize my speed,” Fowles said. “I pick and choose my battles wisely, and that’s why I’ve been so successful this year.”
The three-time Olympian continued: “I use [my lack of speed] as a strength. I try to post up as much as possible, but at the same time, not break up the groove that we have and them not trying to throw the ball in and make everything slow. I’d rather for them to just play and then I get in where I fit in.”
As the game has evolved, Fowles has been pulled away from the basket a bit in Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve’s gameplan.
“Cheryl’s taken me away from the basket a little bit, which is really good for me because I make my own breaks and I don’t have to get pounded for 40 minutes a game,” Fowles joked.
With a knock-down midrange jumper added to her arsenal, Fowles has not only adapted, but she’s embraced the evolution. The veteran big has doubled the volume of shots taken between 10 and 16 feet this season, knocking them down at a 61.5% clip. It’s the highest percentage of her career from that range, according to basketball reference.
The link between the championship-winning era of Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, and Rebekkah Brunson and the current crop of young of young Lynx, Fowles has welcomed the weight of the responsibility that comes with leading the Lynx both on the court and in the locker room. It’s not in her nature to bark at teammates, instead Syl leads with poise. She nurtures her young teammates with her “Mama Syl” persona.
“When she got here in 2015, she was playing with Lindsay, Seimone, Maya, Rebekkah… A different level of experience,” Reeve explained. “She didn’t have to shoulder the load at all times, it was a shared situation. Now, she’s been shouldering [the responsibility] since the band broke up… That’s what I’ve been impressed with, is that she’s been able to do it, wants to do it, and has figured out different ways to do it. She’s the bridge — no doubt about it — between the two teams. [Fowles is] the reason why we’re still hanging on and still being successful as a franchise post those years that are referred to as a dynasty.”
Still, despite her illustrious career and torrid start, Fowles has her doubters. ESPN ranked the veteran the No. 16 best player in the WNBA going into the season.
“She’s so consistently good, that it’s not even a thought,” Napheesa Collier said of her teammate. “It’s not like she has highs and lows. I think people are taking that for granted. She came out with a chip on her shoulder… She’s been amazing.”
Added Reeve: “She’s so dominant, and she’s dominant on both sides. I don’t know if it’s just not sexy enough for people, the way she does it, but she’s absolutely underrated.”
Fowles, however, does not concern herself with the thoughts of the media or rankings.
She knows she has the respect on the court.
“All I’ve gotta say is talk to the other players [around the WNBA],” she laughed.
“They’ll let you know.”