Improvement to the newest wrinkle in the Lynx’s offense occurs at the end of practices, once most of Rebekkah Brunson’s teammates have left the floor.
Tuesday, the power forward made shots from 10 different spots on the court, alternating attempts from midrange and the three-point line and making her way from one corner to the other.
Player development coach Walt Hopkins, who presides over the post-practice shooting sessions, brimmed with positivity. He popped up from his chair to help her when coach Cheryl Reeve said it was “Brunson Time.” He offered minimalist pointers. Once, all he said after shagging a ball was “shoulder.”
Brunson does not need much technical advice, just encouragement. She’s adjusting to a new reality: She’s a three-point threat.
Before this season Brunson had made only two threes in 13 seasons. Now she’s shooting 41.2 percent from three-point range — eighth in the WNBA — on 2.4 attempts per game, and has made 21. That helps draw defenders away from Minnesota’s MVP candidate, center Sylvia Fowles.
“It’s good for us if they are paying attention to her,” assistant coach James Wade said. “It’s good for us if they don’t.”
In the film Wade reviewed before joining the Lynx coaching staff this season, he noticed Brunson often wouldn’t even look at the basket if she had the ball near the perimeter. In seven of her previous WNBA seasons, she didn’t even attempt a shot from deep.
Brunson knew that if teams respected her from the perimeter, that would make scoring easier for Fowles, who still encounters double- and triple-teams. Point guard Lindsay Whalen said the entire floor is more open now for cuts to the basket, too.
The Lynx are averaging five more three-point attempts per game this season (16.9) than they were a season ago. But no player’s transformation has been more dramatic than Brunson’s.
She said the numbers she’s posting this season are a continuation of the work she had done in past years with former assistant coach Jim Petersen, who helped her become a better midrange shooter.
Her shot’s structure did not need fixing. Her range just needed expanding.
And her mentality requires maintenance.
“I’m still learning to keep putting them up when they’re not going in,” Brunson said. “That’s a scorer’s mentality. You’ve got to put them up in volume.”
Reeve said players sometimes suffer a “relapse,” in which they revert to old tendencies if something new stops working.
Brunson was 0-7 from the field — and 0-for-3 from three — against the New York Liberty last week. By the end, she stopped looking to shoot, which hampered the offense because New York’s offense could focus a defender elsewhere.
The Lynx coaches focus their praise on her work, not on the results, because they need her to shoot even when she isn’t making baskets, so that the floor remains spread.
Learning to coach that way took time for Reeve, who said she decided to stop dictating the power forward’s shot selection last season, after she had already coached Brunson for six years. She sensed that if she worried about Brunson’s shooting, the 14-year veteran felt worried, too.
“It’s liberating, that you know it’s never a bad shot,” Reeve said.
And often, if Brunson is shooting, it’s a good one.