What A Decade | Minnesota Lynx All-Decade Awards

It’s difficult to sufficiently put this past Lynx decade into words.

The Lynx began as a 13-21 team in 2010 and assembled into a four-time champion franchise under head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve before the decade ended.

Through that time, the Lynx acquired two WNBA MVPs, two Rookies of the Year, and leaned on a handful of players who defined WNBA basketball in the 2010s.

We attempted to recap the moments that pushed the Lynx franchise past any other this past decade.

Championship of the Decade

The voting committee had a hard time narrowing down which of the Lynx’s championships was the best because of how many there were — a problem most franchises wish they had.

The Lynx were the only professional sports team to win four titles in the 2010s. The San Francisco Giants (2010, 2012 and 2014), New England Patriots (2015, 2017 and 2019), Golden State Warriors (2015, 2017 and 2018) and the Chicago Blackhawks (2010, 2013 and 2015) all came close, but the Lynx are the true dynasty of the decade.

The Lynx were named WNBA champs in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 and advanced to the Finals seven seasons in a row. So, which title was the best? 2015 and 2017 would be good picks because Sylvia Fowles was around for both of them, and the 2017 Finals showcased one of the best rivalries in sports when the Lynx beat the Los Angeles Sparks 3-2.

However, the committee decided to go back to where the dynasty started: 2011.

The Lynx finished the 2010 season 13-21, but after just 411 days, they went from missing the playoffs to being champions.

Second-year head coach Cheryl Reeve, Rookie of the Year Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson all played a large part in earning the Lynx’s first title in franchise history, but the retelling of the 2011 Finals would be incomplete without mentioning Seimone Augustus’ comeback season.

Augustus tore her ACL in the 2009 then missed the first stretch of the 2010 season to undergo surgery for fibroid tumors. One year later, she was on her way to becoming the Finals MVP. Augustus averaged a historic 22.0 points per game in the Lynx’s 2011 playoff run and recorded the second-highest point total in a WNBA Finals game by scoring 36 points in the Lynx’s Game 2 101-95 win. They don’t call her Money ‘Mone for nothing.

The 2011 Finals weren’t the Lynx’s most competitive championship runs; they swept the Atlanta Dream in three games. But the Lynx brought Minnesota its first professional sports championship in 2011 and kicked off a run of greatness that probably won’t be replicated for a long time, if at all. – Katie Davidson

Coach of the Decade

I guess Cheryl Reeve would have won this award regardless considering she’s been the only head coach of the Lynx this decade. But we didn’t have to include this category! We make the rules here. Here we are, though, and it’s only right to acknowledge how Reeve has helped put this team on the map. Because not only has Reeve been one of the best coaches of the decade, she’s been one of the best coaches in the history of basketball.

Reeve has led the Lynx to four championships. She was named the WNBA Coach of the Year twice (2011 and 2016) which seems ridiculous considering she’s won 231 games in 10 seasons and made the playoffs in all but one season. Those 231 wins are the most in a 10-year run for any team in WNBA history. The Lynx won an average of 26 games from 2011-2017. That’s insane.

Since taking over in 2010, Reeve’s .679 winning percentage ranks first in league history. Her 40 playoff wins rank first in league history as well.

You might say, well, with Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Rebekkah Brunson and Sylvia Fowles, this team should have won.

And sure. You can say that. But it takes a special person to manage those egos and personalities. Getting everyone to buy into the greater good of the team isn’t always an easy thing to do, but Reeve has made it look that way.

In 2018, Reeve was promoted to the General Manager of the team as well. A year later, she won the league’s Executive of the Year Award – the first female to receive the award, which seems about right. Reeve is a great basketball mind, but she’s also been an advocate of equality. She’s used her platform to pave the way for not only women but for anyone being treadted unfairly. She gets it.

Reeve is only 53. While she would be a Hall of Famer if she retired today, she just signed a contract extension this offseason and you get the feeling she’s cleared some room for another trophy or two. – Kyle Ratke

Best Shot of the Decade

What can you do in 1.7 seconds? Maybe scratch your head, blink your eyes a couple of times, stand up, send a one-worded text.

Maya Moore can close out Finals games in 1.7 seconds.

The Lynx and Indiana Fever were tied 77-77 with just 1.7 seconds left in Game 3 of the 2015 WNBA Finals. The best-of-five series was tied 1-1, and the Lynx had one final opportunity to take a 2-1 series lead after they earned possession on a ball that rolled out of bounds and was last touched by Indiana. With just enough time to get one shot off, the Lynx knew who to turn to.

Lindsay Whalen stood out of bounds just to the left of the Fever bench to inbound the ball. She lifted the ball over her head, looked for a rolling Sylvia Fowles who attempted to set a screen at the free-throw line before making her way to the paint, but instead found an open Maya Moore who was coming off a screen set by Rebekkah Brunson in the opposite corner. Indiana’s Tamika Catchings was originally guarding Moore but switched defensive assignments with Marissa Coleman who was in better position to contest Whalen’s inbound pass to Moore. Moore cut to midcourt, bringing Coleman with her, then did a back cut toward the 3-point arc, creating enough space for Whalen to complete her pass and losing Coleman in the process. The Fever forward caught up with Moore to defend her first look, but Moore used a ball-fake, took one dribble with her right hand to reach the top of the break, then popped a game-winning 3-pointer with near-perfect form despite all the energy used to get an open look.

Again, I may have been able to take a bite of food in the same amount of time.

Some may have wished the shot would have taken place in Minnesota where it would have been met with erupting applauses from Lynx fans. Not coach Reeve.

“I’ve always said winning on the road is one of my favorite things — there’s nothing better,” Reeve said one year later after the Los Angeles Sparks’ Alana Beard hit a game-winner to defeat the Lynx 78-76 in Game 1 of the 2016 Finals. “And then to do it in that fashion and to suck the life out of a building and then it’s quiet and you’re the only ones celebrating, it’s exhilarating for sure.”

Brunson and Fowles’ reactions to Moore’s 2015 buzzer-beater concur.

– Katie Davidson

Best Pass Of The Decade

Janel McCarville had the vision of a point guard at the center position.  In 2019, this is a normal thing. But when McCarville played for the Gophers in the 2000s and later in the WNBA, a passing big was an extreme rarity.

That couldn’t have been on display more than in Game 3 of the 2013 WNBA Finals against the Atlanta Dream.

With 6:45 left in the third quarter, the Lynx were up 48-42. McCarville swiped the ball from Erika de Souza. She led the fast break (although in fairness, it wasn’t super fast – this is what happens when centers are leading the way, beggars can’t be choosers). On the break, she glances back and sees a trailing Rebekkah Brunson. There’s really no angle to get Brunson the ball, though. McCarville instead created her own, bouncing it through her legs to hit Brunson for the layup and the foul.

The crowd, which was full of plenty of Lynx fans, lost its mind. I was there and to be completely honest, I wasn’t able to see the play because there was a tall person standing in front of me. These are things that happen quite frequently to me, but I quickly saw the play and it was easy to see why fans were so excited. At the same time, the pass wasn’t all that surprising considering who it came from.

It helped the Lynx win their second championship in three seasons. For McCarville, it had to be pretty sweet. McCarville had played overseas and was out of the WNBA entirely in 2011 and 2012. But she returned in 2013 and played a huge role for the Lynx as their starting center.

McCarville probably had high expectations going into the 2013 season, but she probably couldn’t have imagined making that type of play in what was the clinching game of a WNBA Finals series. – Kyle Ratke

All-Decade First Team

Point Guard: Lindsay Whalen, 2010-18

Shooting Guard: Seimone Augustus, 2010-19

Small Forward: Maya Moore, 2011-18

Power Forward: Rebekkah Brunson, 2010-18

Center: Sylvia Fowles, 2015-19

All-Decade Second Team

Point Guard: Renee Montgomery, 2015-17

Shooting Guard: Monica Wright, 2010-15

Small Forward: Napheesa Collier, 2019

Power Forward: Damiris Dantas, 2014-15, 2019

Center: Janel McCarville, Taj McWilliams-Franklin

Best Heist Of The Decade

The Lynx were coming off a 2-1 WNBA Western Conference Finals series loss to the Phoenix Mercury at the start of the 2015 season. One of the most glaring stats of that playoff series was how outmatched the Lynx were in the paint. The Lynx missed advancing to the 2014 Finals after being outscored 120-84 in the paint against the Britney Griner-led Mercury and needed to address their interior play. To make matters worse, Lynx center Janel McCarville announced in March that she’d be sitting out of the 2015 season to rest her body. 

The Lynx still began the 2015 season with a 7-2 record despite lacking a true center after forwards Damiris Dantas, a second-year player at the time, and Asjha Jones, who missed the 2013 and 2014 seasons due to injury, were successfully flexible with their roles. But in order to return to the Finals, the Lynx needed a more dominant presence in the paint. 

Their solution? Acquiring Sylvia Fowles, the best center in the history of the WNBA.

Fowles had spent the first seven seasons of her career with the Chicago Sky with whom she earned four All-WNBA honors, two Defensive Player of the Year Awards and one trip to the 2014 WNBA Finals. But Fowles was looking for more than just individual honors and felt she’d be able to take her career to new heights by joining the Lynx.

She was right. 

In July of 2015, after a lengthy deliberation process, the Lynx and Sky decided to include the Atlanta Dream in a three-team trade that would send Fowles to Minnesota where she’d win her first WNBA championship and be named the 2015 Finals Most Valuable Player within three months. 

And we all know Fowles’ success didn’t end there. 

Fowles went on to earn her third Defensive Player of the Year award in 2016 and had a near-perfect 2017 season in which she was named the league’s MVP, the Finals MVP and became just the fifth player in WNBA history to earn both awards in the same season.

The second half of the Lynx’s decade would not have been as decorated if it weren’t for Fowles, but they did have to give up a promising, young player in Dantas in order to bring their star center to Minnesota.

In the 2015 trade, the Lynx landed Fowles and the Sky’s 2016 second-round draft pick after sending Dantas, Reshanda Gray and their 2016 first-round draft pick to the Dream. The Dream sent Erika de Souza to the Sky to complete the three-team trade.

Dantas was averaging 5.6 points on a career-high 58% shooting from the field, 3.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game before parting ways with the Lynx in July of 2015. Luckily, that wasn’t the last time Dantas made her mark on this franchise.

Dantas played for the Dream through the 2018 season but made her way back to Minnesota after the Lynx signed her in February 2019’s free agency. Dantas began her second stint with the Lynx by averaging a career-high 9.2 points per game, recording the fourth-most assists on the 2019 Lynx team and becoming a reliable stretch-4. And guess who she got to play alongside — Fowles, the player the Lynx originally traded her for.

The Lynx’s starting frontcourt players not only have great chemistry off the court, but their games complement one another, too. Dantas shot 39.3% from the 3-point line in 2019 and forced defenders to move out of Fowles’ territory in the paint to challenge her 3-point shooting. When teams gambled and double-teamed Fowles instead of hanging tight around Dantas on the perimeter, the Lynx’s stretch-4 was there to pop a quick 3. Dantas will only create more opportunities for Fowles if she continues to improve her 3-point shooting and passing in her upcoming seasons with the Lynx.

With Dantas and Fowles both listed on Minnesota’s roster, the 2020s look promising for the Lynx. – Katie Davidson

Best Air Conditioner Of The Decade

The Lynx had made the WNBA Finals for the third time in six seasons.

There was one problem, however. Due to Target hosting a corporate event at Target Center, the Lynx were forced to change the location of their home games against the Los Angeles Sparks during the Finals.

The Lynx chose Williams Arena, where the University of Minnesota plays its basketball games, as their arena.

Perfect, right?

Well . . . 

There was one more problem. This was an arena built in 1928 and it had no air conditioning. That’s normally not a problem for college games in December and January. But for games in September, this was a significant problem. Players, and fans, needed to feel comfortable.

Lynx owner Glen Taylor stepped up to the plate, spending around $1 million to install temporary air conditioning in the arena.

While it didn’t look the best, it did its job nonetheless.

The Lynx won the championship in five games, a year after the Sparks beat them in controversial fashion. The Barn served as a great homecourt advantage for the Lynx. And while we don’t think the Lynx will have to play there again, if they do, we know an air conditioning guy they can call. –  Kyle Ratke

Best Draft Night Of The Decade

Let’s take a look at the top No. 6 WNBA draft picks. 

Hall of Famer Cynthia Cooper was the first player to ever be selected at No. 6 (not a bad draw, Houston). The Lynx selected Betty Lennox with their No. 6 overall pick in the 2000 draft. Temeka Johnson went sixth in the 2005 draft. No. 6 pick Danielle Robinson joined the San Antonio Silver Stars in 2011. Jonquel Jones somehow fell to No. 6 in 2016.

Lennox and Johnson are the only Rookie of the Year Award winners out of those notable players. Napheesa Collier joined their exclusive company on Sept. 16.

Collier was named the 2019 Rookie of the Year after starting all 34 games of her debut season and averaging 13.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.91 steals and 0.94 blocks per game while leading the league in minutes played (33.3 mpg). She became the fourth player in WNBA history to finish a season with at least 400 points, 200 rebounds, 75 assists, 50 steals, 25 blocks and 25 made 3-pointers. The significance of these stats is heightened by the fact that Collier’s role on the team was constantly changing. Collier proved she could play and defend both the small and power forward positions and always prioritized team success before personal gains.

How in the world did a franchise player like Collier drop to the sixth pick in the draft?

Kyle Ratke was granted special access to the Lynx’s war room to watch the preparation for the 2019 draft unfold, and an overlooked nugget that he mentioned in his article is Jackie Young’s decision to declare for the draft. The Notre Dame guard, who was correctly predicted to be a top-three pick if she decided against returning to Notre Dame, announced her decision to declare 48 hours before the draft began and in doing so raised the Lynx’s odds of landing a player they presumed would be a top-five pick.

On top of that, I’m not sure many people expected Chicago to select Katie Lou Samuelson with their fourth pick in the draft, which solidified that either Collier or Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale, the Rookie of the Year runner-up, would be available for the Lynx. Dallas used its fifth pick to land Ogunbowale, and the Lynx were ecstatic to welcome Collier, who Rebecca Lobo described as a “perfect fit” for the Lynx, to Minnesota.

But why does the Lynx’s 2019 draft night top the 2011 draft in which the Lynx had two first-round picks including the No. 1 pick overall which was used to select future MVP, Maya Moore? We have to look beyond the first round of the 2019 draft for that answer.

The Lynx entered the 2019 draft with three second-round picks and high hopes that Notre Dame forward Jessica Shepard would somehow drop to 16th. Well, just as they did in the first round, the stars aligned for Minnesota once again.

Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve called Shepard earlier in the week to tell her the Lynx would be thrilled to select her with the No. 16 overall pick, however, she didn’t believe that’d be a realistic possibility. Based on positional needs, the Atlanta Hawks’ decision to pick Notre Dame forward Breanna Turner with the 11th overall pick assured Reeve that the New York Liberty would take Shepard with the No. 14 pick. Instead, the Liberty took China’s Han Xu at No. 14, and Chicago followed up by selecting Baylor’s Chloe Jackson at No. 15, leaving Shepard up for grabs.

Shepard’s rookie season was sadly cut short less than two months later when she tore her ACL in the Lynx’s home loss to the Los Angeles Sparks, but she earned the label of “draft steal” before her season-ending injury. Shepard averaged 4.8 points, 5.7 rebounds (second-best on the team, only behind Sylvia Fowles at the time), 3.5 assists (second-best on the team behind Odyssey Sims) and recorded a plus-5.3 plus-minus net rating (second-best on the team behind Sims) in the six games she played in her rookie season, and her excelled passing abilities made Lobo’s comparison of Shepard to former Lynx Janel McCarville age extremely well. 

It’s heartbreaking to think of what could have been for Shepard’s debut season had she not been injured, but her career will amount to so much more than anything she could have accomplished in her rookie year.

Reeve and her staff didn’t have much time to celebrate Shepard’s availability before they were in talks with the Connecticut Sun who were willing to deal second-year guard Lexie Brown for one of the Lynx’s remaining second-round picks. Reeve viewed Brown, the 2018 No. 9 pick, as a high-potential player who just needed to find the right fit in the league. The Lynx used their No. 18 pick to draft Marquette’s Natisha Hiedeman and immediately sent her to Connecticut to complete the trade for Brown.

Brown went from averaging 5.6 minutes and 1.7 points per game with Connecticut to averaging 18.3 minutes and 7.6 points per game off the bench with the Lynx. Brown is best known for being a pure shooter who can get the Lynx out of a rut by scoring quick points, but an underrated aspect of her first season with the Lynx is that she recorded the best defensive rating (92.6) of Lynx players who played 20 or more games in the 2019 season. Brown’s transformation is not only a testament to her perseverance, but it’s also another bullet point on Reeve’s Executive of the Year resumé.

The Lynx were excited to use their third and final second-round pick to select Cierra Dillard with the 20th overall pick but were skeptical that there would be a long-term spot on their roster for the former Buffalo guard. Dillard and third-round pick Kenisha Bell, a fan favorite guard from the University of Minnesota, were ultimately waived, but Bell did appear in three Lynx regular-season games before being cut a second time in July.

Selecting the Rookie of the Year with the No. 6 overall pick would have made the Lynx the clear winners of the 2019 draft on its own, but additionally acquiring Shepard and Brown gave this year’s draft the edge over all other Lynx draft nights of the decade.

And guess what? The Lynx will begin the next decade by selecting sixth overall in the 2020 draft. – Katie Davidson