Lynx set to open 2024 season with optimism built on depth, defense

Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve is not about to make predictions. She isn't about to say the team's start to the WNBA season — which begins Tuesday night in Seattle — will necessarily be better than last year's 0-6 start, or the 2-8 start in 2022.

But she said she believes this: The team is deeper; the team will defend better. The team is well ahead of where it was the past two years with the season about to start.

"Oftentimes, what you do in training camp shows itself in the regular season, good or bad or ugly," Reeve said. "The good we've seen is a reason for optimism."

Moving from one era of Lynx basketball to another has been difficult at times. In 2022, trying to let Sylvia Fowles finish her career strong, Reeve signed veteran players who, as it turned out, were not healthy enough to play. Last year, with Fowles retired, the Lynx were devoted to developing rookies Dorka Juhász and Diamond Miller. Both of them started nearly ever game.

In some ways, Reeve is ready to talk about this summer as the official start of the new era.

Napheesa Collier, already an All-Star and an Olympian, was fourth in the WNBA MVP voting last year. Reeve expects yet another step. Juhász — when she arrives from Europe — and Miller have a year of experience. Determined not to enter yet another season with backcourt questions, Reeve signed Courtney Williams as a free agent and traded for Natisha Hiedeman, both proven players with playoff experience.

So, Year One?

"We had a lot of new people last year," Collier said. "And also a lot of young people. We had two rookies in our starting lineup, which is a development year. Now they have that year. The people we brought in are vets."

Miller, along with co-captains Collier and Kayla McBride, will start. Williams — who will bring a pick-and-roll aspect to the Lynx's offense — starts at the point. Free-agency signee Alanna Smith — coming off a career year playing with Williams in Chicago last year — will start the season in the post.

Hiedeman will help the second unit, which includes Bridget Carleton, Cecilia Zandalasini and rookie Alissa Pili.

But Reeve has more lineup options. She can pair Hiedman and Williams together with McBride at the three in smaller lineups, for example. Once Juhász is back from Europe, Reeve will have more options with bigger lineups.

Most importantly, the team appears more ready.

"We are further ahead in training camp than we were last year," Reeve said. "Our starting point for the regular season is further ahead. I don't know what that translates into. You can never count wins and losses. But I can tell you we've accomplished being a better team to start the season than we were last year."

Unlike past years, the Lynx started intense work on defense from the start of camp. Last year, the Lynx finished 10th in defensive efficiency at 105.7, the worst number since Reeve took over as head coach for the 2010 season. After finishing in the top half of the league every year from 2011 through 2021, the Lynx have struggled the past two seasons.

"We started with defense, which is a huge change for us," Collier said of the start of camp. "Good defense is our expectation going into the regular season. And the offense will follow that."

The Lynx also will enter the regular season with some certainty. There are new faces, but everyone has known their role from the start. In 2022, the Lynx waived Layshia Clarendon and Crystal Dangerfield before the start of the season, which also began without veteran Angel McCoughtry, who was waived days later. Last year, questions at the point persisted.

Perhaps not this year.

"In the early parts of last year, we were up and down, up and down," McBride said. "We really didn't know who we were as a group. Once we figured that out, that's when everything went up and we went to the playoffs. I think we're a little bit ahead of the game. I think we have good energy, communication. We have a lot of vets, people who have been in the league for a long time. It's good. We're excited."