Practice Report | Changing Up The Offense, Adjusting To Shepard’s Injury

Saying that the Lynx have been turnover prone in their first few games would be an understatement. The message on Monday? No more.

In what she called the best practice of the year, head coach Cheryl Reeve made several changes to the Lynx’s offense on Monday that she thinks will help them reduce the number of turnovers, tipped passes and deflections they allow during games.

“You know what’s really cool is we’re not doing it anymore. We met today and we’re not doing it anymore,” said Reeve. “Wait until you see us next time. Hopefully in New York. We’re going to shoot a shot before we turn it over. We’re going to play fast and shoot a shot before we turn it over.”

Though it’s the players on the court who produce turnovers, Reeve takes responsibility for not putting them in good enough positions.

“We’re kind of changing what we’re doing in terms of what we’ve been focused on. I’ve been a bad coach offensively since the start of training camp,” she said. “It was better today offensively and I’m hopeful we can carry it on.”

Many of the Lynx’s turnovers have come on entry passes to Sylvia Fowles. While getting the ball to Fowles remains an important element of Minnesota’s game plan, they have to stop forcing it inside when the pass isn’t there. That will require Fowles to adjust, but once everyone gets on the same page, they’ll all be better off when their too-low lob passes aren’t being picked off.

Another big part of fixing the offense is unlocking Danielle Robinson. Robinson had a good preseason but has had trouble so far in the regular season. That came to a head on Saturday, when the Lynx’s starting point guard played just 15:23 minutes and sat for much of the fourth quarter.

Reeve takes the blame for that—she said that she has been too impatient with Robinson, playing her in short stints too much and being too irritable with her. For the Lynx to reach their potential it’s important for them to put Robinson in positions to succeed.

“I did a bad job coaching her, first thing. Like I said today I think reflects a little bit more to her strengths. Her playing short minutes and the way that I coached her was awful,” said Reeve. “Lexie (Brown) was playing well and obviously we have a lot of trust in Odyssey (Sims), but at the end of the day I can’t coach anybody the way I coached Danielle the last game.”

A Big Injury Blow

However you slice it, the loss of Jessica Shepard for the season due to a torn ACL is a blow to the Lynx. Shepard had become one of their most reliable players off the bench, not to mention the only real backup four on the roster and a promising piece of the future for Minnesota.

She still has a future here. The Lynx are committed to helping her through her rehab and using the considerable resources that are available to help her get back to 100 percent. Shepard was at practice on crutches—she will still be a big part of this team as she rehabs.

“Provide her all the support that you can, just the initial being around her and then certainly we have a tremendous place is what I told her. We have tremendous resources here. I know she’s going to work hard, and we’re going to use it as a time to improve her shot. Next time you see her, she should be a well-oiled machine,” said Reeve.

There’s nothing anyone can do to ease the hurt of losing a season to an injury like a torn ACL, but Reeve and the rest of the Lynx have Shepard’s back. The outpouring of support for Shepard on social media was encouraging as well.

“Jess is a great person. That’s one of the reasons she’s getting so much support,” said Napheesa Collier. “People love her. She’s such a great teammate, such a great person, so you never want to see this happen to anyone and I think everyone is going to rally behind her.”

“Just trying to be as supportive as I can,” said Collier. “Texting her, seeing how she’s doing, asking if she needs anything. This is a really rough time, and no one wants to go through this but we’re all here for her and trying to be as supportive as we can.”

Collier’s role will change with the injury to Shepard. Going forward, at least until the return of Temi Fagbenle, Collier will be the team’s third post player, after transitioning to the three in training camp. Switching positions for the second time in just a few weeks isn’t easy, but Collier is up for the challenge.

“She didn’t catch on right away, she thought it was just an occasional sub at the four, it’s like, ‘No, you’re like the third post.’ She’s got a lot to learn still, pick and roll defense is very different than what she’s been playing as a perimeter player, but she’ll learn fast,” said Reeve.

The biggest change for Collier will come on defense, where she’ll be asked to defend bigger players rather than quicker ones. Collier’s adjustment to the small forward demonstrated her ability to stay in front of WNBA small-forwards. Now, she will have to try to translate that success to post defense.

On offense, though Collier will have to re-learn many of the Lynx’s plays to be able to play the power forward position in them, she feels her looks will be similar to what she gets now, just against a different kind of defenders.

“It is a lot of the same shots. If you look at the shots Damiris (Dantas) is getting, I feel like we’re getting a lot of the same shots outside and inside, so I’ll be playing where she plays sometimes, sharing some of those minutes now,” said Collier. “[Defenders are] a little bit longer so you have to realize that and get around them or do whatever you need to make those adjustments.”

When the Lynx drafted Collier, they certainly expected her to have an important role on the team, but she has become one of the single most important pieces on this squad. The injury to Shepard only reinforces that.

Quick Hits:

  • In order to practice calling plays and running the offense in more chaotic circumstances, Reeve played loud music for most of practice on Monday. She has great music taste.
  • Stephanie Talbot and Shao Ting (who had a phenomenal practice), will both see their roles increase due to Shepard’s injury. The Lynx’s perimeter players will have to step up as Collier moves to a post role.
  • Brown was hitting shots in practice again on Monday, as per usual. She’s been enjoying a breakout year with the Lynx, having set career highs in back-to-back games.