Deeper, well-rounded Lynx open training camp Sunday

The Minnesota Lynx begin training camp Sunday in a much different place from where they were the last two years.


In 2022, trying to load up with vets to give Sylvia Fowles one last good ride, the Lynx instead found themselves having to cut both Layshia Clarendon and Angel McCoughtry right before the season opener because of injuries, starting the season 2-8 with no clarity in the backcourt.

In 2023, determined to let youngsters Diamond Miller and Dorka Juhász develop, the Lynx saw injuries and backcourt issues lead to an 0-6 start, though Minnesota rallied to make the playoffs.

This year? Perhaps fewer questions, at least rosterwise, certainly in the backcourt. So there will be less time spent figuring out who will play and more time on how they play.

"We're going to shoot more threes, and we're going to shoot them at a good clip," Lynx President of Basketball Operations and head coach Cheryl Reeve said. "That has been a target of ours."

So has this: "We will work on defense from Day One of camp, contrary to the last couple years," Reeve said, referencing the team's defensive rating of 105.7 last year, 10th in the 12-team WNBA, the worst in her time as coach.

Offseason moves have made much of the Lynx roster appear close to being set.

The Lynx acquired guards veteran guards Natisha Hiedeman (via trade) and Courtney Williams (via free agency). Both can play off and on the ball; both can hit the three, though Williams' midrange game is her biggest calling card. But, along with Kayla McBride, they offer the Lynx some certainty and depth in the backcourt.

Signed as a free agent, post Alanna Smith — whose career took a jump while playing with Williams last year in Chicago — gives the Lynx a rebounder and rim protector. Returning to the team is Cecilia Zandalasini, an athletic wing who can hit the three.

At this point, it appears Napheesa Collier, McBride, Williams, Miller and Juhász would be the starters, though Juhász will likely miss the early part of the season because of overseas commitments; Smith will likely hold that spot down.

That gives Reeve depth at guard (Hiedeman), on the wing (Zandalasini — who might also be a late arrival — and Bridget Carleton) and at power forward (rookie Alissa Pili).

This should lead to intense competition for the final spot or spots on the roster; teams are allowed to keep 12 players, but many keep 11. Determined to keep post Sika Kone, the big acquired in the Lynx draft-related trade, Reeve is leaning toward keeping 12.

Who will get the final positions? Taylor Soule, the forward who was strong in camp last year, is back. There is third-round draft pick Kiki Jefferson. Olivia Époupa, from France, is hoping to make the team as a backup point guard.

But, with the way Miller and Juhász grew last year, with another expected jump in Collier's play?

"We have a foundation we're building on," Reeve said. "Diamond, Dorka and Phee — who is still a young player — coupled with KMac and Courtney, great veterans. Young players need great veterans. We've been around Courtney for two, three weeks, and she's a talker. All kinds of talk. Fun talk, hype-you-up talk, get-on-you talk. We're just dying to have that."

Miller, who had offseason surgery to repair a meniscus in her knee, is ready to go. Reeve is looking for Carleton to be more aggressive in hunting shots.

Where will more threes come from? McBride is the team's best. Both Hiedeman and Williams can shoot it, Carleton has proven she has and more should come from Miller and Zandalasini.

More three-point threats will make it easier on Collier inside. Better on-ball defense on the perimeter will help everyone at the other end.

"Last year, we didn't know who was going to be on the team," Reeve said. "Not only who was going to be on the team, but what our strengths were. We had a lot to learn."

This year, perhaps more fine-tuning.