Lynx center Sylvia Fowles and coach Cheryl Reeve sat down for a talk before the season began. It was there Fowles made it clear what her top priority was:
There is so much more to Fowles' game, of course. She was the league's most accurate shooter this season. She did things, at age 35, that had never been done before. For instance, her 29 points, 20 rebounds, four steals and three blocks in a victory over Seattle Aug. 24.
But Fowles, whose 2020 season was shortened by injury, was determined to come back as a defensive force.
And she did.
Sunday morning the WNBA announced Fowles had won her fourth Defensive Player of the Year award. She and Tamika Catchings (five times) are the only players to win it four or more times. Fowles got 29 of 61 votes from a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters. L.A. guard Brittney Sykes (six votes) finished second. Connecticut forward Jonquel Jones and Phoenix forward Brianna Turner each got four votes. Phoenix center Brittney Griner got two votes while Connecticut guards Briann January and Jasmine Thomas each got one vote.
For Fowles, it was her second DPOY with the Lynx. She won her first two with Chicago in 2011 and 2013, her third with Minnesota in 2016. She was awarded the trophy by WNBA commissioner Kathy Engelbert prior to Sunday's playoff game with Chicago at Target Center in a press conference attended by the Lynx team and coaching staff — despite Fowles telling her teammates not to disrupt their pre-game preparation by coming. As Reeve said, that shows how important Fowles is to the team.
"It was defense first,'' Fowles said. "For me to get this award, once again, I just proved to myself that I can actually go out there and still defend at a high level.''
Fowles joked that defense has been her key since she was young, playing with three older brothers. "They only allowed me to play defense growing up,'' she said. "Defense is something I pride myself on just because I had ignorant brothers.''
In her 14th season, Fowles was second in the league in steals (1.8) and blocks (1.81) and third in defensive rebounds (8.0). She was the only player to average 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. With her as the anchor, the Lynx finished fourth in the league in defensive rating (98.0) and in points allowed in the paint (32.8). All this while averaging 16.0 points and 10.1 rebounds and shooting 64 percent.
"Think about all the ways we count on Syl defensively,'' Reeve said. "And each year I give her more."
As the game has evolved, so has Fowles. The center no longer just fights on the block with another big. With spacing and pace, a center also has to protect the rim in help defense. Reeve said Fowles is a better help defender than when she came here in 2015.
"Her responsibility has gone way up,'' Reeve said.
Fowles won her first DPOY at age 25. She said this one means much, much more. "Heck yes, it means a lot,'' she said. "Just the work you have to put in? For the most part, I think I sustained that effort. … This means a lot coming at 35, proving to myself I still got it. I think that's a big deal. I normally don't give myself credit for what I do. … But this one is pretty impressive.''