In the prime of her career, Natalie Achonwa is ready to win.
Entering free agency this offseason, a championship was her number one priority in her decision to sign with with the Minnesota Lynx. As the franchise boasts 10 consecutive playoff appearances, Achonwa hopes to be a key figure in propelling the Lynx to a fifth WNBA championship and its first since 2017.
“There’s no such thing as a rebuild in Minnesota,” Achonwa told media over Zoom on Wednesday afternoon. “Even last year, and what they were able to do in the bubble, that is a big piece in why I wanted to come to Minnesota. I want to win. I would love a championship.
“That is a ‘now’ thing. You see the talent and skill and competitive nature and heart that is already established in the team.”
The Lynx have plenty of scorers: Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield are back-to-back Rookies of the Year, Sylvia Fowles is a former Most Valuable Player, and the team just signed three-time All-Star Kayla McBride who can be counted on to get a bucket on any given possession. But it was the little things that Achonwa brings that made her a target for Head Coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve this offseason.
“It’s all about easy baskets,” Reeve said. “We have a person like Natalie who understands sometimes the MVP of a possession is keeping the ball moving or setting a great screen so you have enough time to do what you need to do to get a quality shot.”
The three-time WNBA Coach of the Year continued: “I’ve likened Natalie to Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who was with us for our first championship. Not only to hold your teammates accountable part of it — we need that, coaches need that. We need players on the floor to be our voices or in the locker room, and Natalie will do that. But then also Taj had this element of not caring if you ran a play for her. It was about that. It was about a team’s possession and what they could do in that the number of times a great screen leads to a great possession. It’s a lost art, and that’s something Natalie really enjoys doing.”
Achonwa enjoys those nuances in offensive execution. Her selfless disposition will invaluable in the Twin Cities.
“I’ve always been a player that likes to be involved, but doesn’t have to finish the play, doesn’t have to start the play,” Achonwa explained. “Whether that’s with an assist, a pass — I love screen assists. I love screening to get a great shot open. Some of it you might not see on the stat sheet or come up in the assist column, but I will really work to get the shots that are best for our offense.”
Achonwa’s signing brings about a reunion with her fellow Notre Dame alum McBride. After a successful four years in South Bend, the two are now in pursuit of their first WNBA championship in Minnesota a decade later.
“We really didn’t have communication during the [free agency] process when we were both being pitched or wanting to go the Lynx,” Achonwa told media. “It was actually once the decision was made, then we connected and it was just meant to be. The reuniting of me and KayMac, we were the same class at Notre Dame.
“We’ve grinded through a lot together; we’ve been through a lot together and one thing is embedded in both of us is our competitive spirit.”