Part of having a consistent core of star players for the past eight years was an offensive philosophy on the Lynx that amounted to “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Or at least don’t update it.
As the rest of the WNBA was gravitating toward three-pointers at an increasing rate, the Lynx were sticking with a tried and true offense built around two-pointers.
During their seven-year run from 2011-17, which included four WNBA titles, the Lynx never finished in the top half of the WNBA in three-pointers attempted. Last year, when they went 18-16 and made a quick playoff exit, they were second-to-last in threes attempted — part of the reason they finished 10th out of 12 teams in offensive efficiency, per Basketball Reference.
With Maya Moore sitting out this year, Lindsay Whalen retired and Rebekkah Brunson not in camp, though, the roster looks much different. And so, too, might the offensive philosophy — outside of getting dominant center Sylvia Fowles the ball in the post.
“We were a two-point team. We were a pull-up [team]. But that’s what worked, and we won a lot of games that way,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Now’s a time to look at ‘How can we play differently?’ to sort of catch up to where the game is today.”
The average WNBA team attempted 15.8 threes per game in 2011, when the Lynx won their first championship. That number was 19.4 last season; last year’s WNBA champion Seattle attempted a league-high 24 per game.
It’s one thing to want to shoot more threes. It’s another thing to commit to doing it — and to do it well. Listening to Reeve, the commitment is there. The question in looking at the roster is whether the Lynx have the personnel to succeed if their strategy incorporates more threes.
Moore made (66) and took (181) almost three times as many three-pointers last season as any other player on the 2018 Lynx roster, so her absence will be felt in that area (among many others).
Newcomer Karima Christmas-Kelly, who will take a lot of Moore’s minutes, is a willing shooter but has made just 32.4% from beyond the arc in her career.
Point guard Danielle Robinson, whose shot looked pretty good in a recent practice session, nevertheless entered last season without having made a three-pointer in her entire WNBA career. She made three last season, putting her at 3-for-52 in her career. And newcomer Odyssey Sims is just a 27.4% shooter from long-distance in her career.
Power forwards Damiras Dantas and second-round pick Jessica Shepard are both trying to be floor-stretchers with three-point range — a wrinkle Brunson added the last couple seasons with reasonable efficiency.
“Jess has looked very comfortable. I need her to shoot. That’s the game, right? … Jess fits that really well,” Reeve said. “Damiras probably has her sweet spot just inside the [three-point line], but we’re working diligently with her to shoot [threes]. They all have the green light to shoot from three. That’s probably the first step.”
It’s still very much a work in progress. In their first preseason game Friday, the Lynx shot just 1-for-14 from three-point range (7.1%) — but they still defeated Washington thanks to shooting 60.4% on those good old-fashioned two-pointers.
“I’m learning every day what it is that we do well. I’m trying to figure what this team’s best offense is,” Reeve said. “I could tell you with Lindsay, Seimone [Augustus], Rebekkah, Maya and Syl, like the back of my hand. I’m still learning about this group.”