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2015 Season Review: Minnesota Lynx

Minnnesota Lynx 2015 Regular-Season Record: 22-12 (1st in Western Conference)

Postseason: Defeated Los Angeles Sparks 2-1 in Western Conference Semifinals; Defeated Phoenix Mercury 2-0 in Western Conference Finals; Defeated Indiana Fever 3-2 in WNBA Finals

What is there to be said about the Minnesota Lynx? Ever since the arrival of Maya Moore, they’ve made the WNBA Finals in three out of four seasons while winning it all twice. Featuring one of the smartest coaching staffs and talented cores in the WNBA (oh, and also the reigning league MVP), it was no surprise when Minnesota was favored to once again come out on top in 2015.

Of course, the game is played on the hardwood and not paper, and the Lynx went through their fair share of struggles this past season. When center Janel McCarville informed the team she wouldn’t be playing in the WNBA in 2015, Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve had to figure out who would take her place, and Minnesota spent much of the first half of the season trying to find the right balance of minutes between youngsters Damiris Dantas and Devereaux Peters and veteran Ashja Jones.

That all changed in July, however, when the Lynx were able to come to terms on a -three-team trade with Atlanta and Chicago and came away with Olympic talent Sylvia Fowles. Fowles instantly gave the Lynx the dominant low-post presence they’d been missing (and not just in 2015; as good as Minnesota has been in recent years, their centers have always been more of the “glue player” type). Now Reeve has the option to switch the team’s offense to one that ran more inside-out.

Such a change can’t be made overnight, and the Lynx went through some expected struggles in August: perimeter scoring ace Seimone Augustus missed considerable time after arthroscopic knee surgery, and perennial all-star point guard Lindsay Whalen battled through annoyances of her own as the team tried to get Fowles (who hadn’t played in the WNBA since requesting a trade from the Sky in the 2014-2015 offseason) up to speed. A 6-6 record on the month wouldn’t have been a disaster for any other team, but for a powerhouse like Minnesota, it raised some concerns about the fit of Fowles and the depth of the team’s bench.

When you have a player of Maya Moore’s caliber, though, such problems often tend to work themselves out. The 2014 MVP was in strong form once again, this season, as she led the team on both ends of the floor en route to another 20 PPG season and another Western Conference No. 1 seed for the Lynx. 

We’ve come to expect excellence from Maya, and she delivered as usual: the celebrated UConn product finished among the league’s top 5 in win shares and PER while continuing to raise her game in other areas, turning in the highest AST% of her career thus far and blossoming as one of the WNBA’s most versatile defensive players as well.

The tumultuous end to the regular season proved to be invaluable for Moore and her teammates, as the time off for Whalen and Augustus had their aging legs in good shape heading into the playoffs while Minnesota’s bench had gained critical experience playing with Fowles. The playoffs had their own challenges in store for the Lynx, but the star-studded squad was ready for them, toughing out a 3-game first-round series against the Sparks before coasting past Phoenix in 2 and eventually winning it all (again!) in a thrilling WNBA Finals series against the Indiana Fever. Though, the championship was defined by a buzzer-beating shot by Moore in Game 3, it was Fowles who took home series MVP honors, making her the third Lynx player to win such an honor. With a trio of championships in five seasons and a different heroine for each of them, Minnesota ended all doubt as to whether they were a basketball dynasty in 2015.

August 16 2015: Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles (34) and forward Maya Moore (23) defend against Washington Mystics guard Ivory Latta (12) during a WNBA game at Verizon Center, in Washington D.C.
Mystics won 77-69.

Biggest Need Heading Into 2016: Depth

This will probably seem like another first-world problem to fans of most other WNBA teams, but believe it or not, the Lynx need to start reloading eventually. Though Moore is still just 26 years old, Whalen, Augustus, Fowles, and Rebekkah Brunson are now all on the wrong side of 30, and the Lynx are in danger of becoming a one-woman show soon if they don’t start considering the future.

We already saw signs of this in 2015 with nagging injuries to both Whalen and Augustus, while the upcoming Tulsa Shock made some big noise by nearly beating Minnesota in the season opener and then soundly defeating them on their home court later in June. And though the adversity faced by the Lynx during the 2nd half of the season left them unfazed in their run towards yet another championship, many people doubt whether there are any real starting-caliber players on their second unit.

This is a challenge faced by the super-team model: keep your dominant core healthy and signed while maintaining a bench strong enough to support them. The Lynx have done a good job of this so far, but as their superstars get more and more expensive to keep in town, they’ll need to start looking for some younger parts who not only complement Moore and company, but project to be WNBA starters in the future.

Again, this might seem like child’s play compared to the situation some other WNBA franchises are in, but in reality, it’s hard to find any other flaws in the league’s current powerhouse. Though they’re aging, the Lynx still have a level of talent most coaches are envious of, and their years of experience together will once again be vital as they shoot for a fourth title in 2016.

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