The first time they practiced together, it was a revelation.
Layshia Clarendon is a veteran. Nine years with five teams. And in all that time, Clarendon had never played with a dominant, back-to-the-basket center like Sylvia Fowles.
They were working on entry passes. Take one. "Higher,'' Fowles said. Take two, ditto.
Finally, Clarendon got it.
And the Lynx are benefiting. Since joining Minnesota after an 0-4 start, Clarendon has become the starting point guard, a calming veteran presence, a vocal leader…. a guard who knows you have to get the ball to Fowles high(er). A winner.
The Lynx, 8-3 since first signing Clarendon to a injury exception contract, have signed them for the rest of the season.
In 11 games, with 10 starts, Clarendon averaged 9.1 points, 4.9 assists, 3.0 rebounds. A double-figure scorer in five of 11 games, Clarendon averaged 13.3 points and 5.3 assists during the team's current three-game winning streak. Minnesota will go for four in a rematch in Phoenix on Saturday night.
What's striking about all of this is how quickly Clarendon has fit in.
"I think Syl is one reason,'' Clarendon said after practice Friday. "I never played, in my pro career, with a dominant post player. That's fun, really new to me. That really sets our offense up well. Playing with good players makes you better as a point guard.''
It happened quickly. The Lynx had an offensive rating of 92.2 without Clarendon in the starting lineup. In the starting lineup? A 104.5, third-best in the league.
"Part of it is how fit Layshia is,'' assistant coach Katie Smith said. "They're very much of a competitor, a professional, knows the scout, understands the game. And a team player. They really filled a lot of boxes we needed to help us get going.''
Clarendon is not the only reason for this. Napheesa Collier came to the team late, too, and was integrating herself back into the flow. But there is no question the Lynx have gotten more efficient offensively, and Clarendon said that can get better, noting the Lynx are still struggling to limit their turnovers.
Clarendon came to the Lynx after being waived by New York. There was a succession of injury-related contracts — the Lynx have dealt with injuries to Rennia Davis, Jessica Shepard, Aerial Powers and Natalie Achonwa — and now a season-long deal.
"It's been great, having Layshia around,'' Kayla McBride said. "I think the steadiness is something we really needed at the beginning of the season. [Clarendon] slid right in, with their experience.''
Clarendon was a key part of Wednesday's 82-76 victory in a contentious, physical game. Phoenix had drawn within four when Clarendon drove for a layup with 1:49 left. Moments later, after the Mercury had come within four again, Clarendon hit an 11-foot jumper with 26.5 seconds left to ice the game.
Even off the court Clarendon has had an impact, leading in practices and being vocal during timeouts.
"They've played with a lot of teams, in a lot of scenarios, overseas, USA Basketball,'' McBride said. "And Layshia's able to communicate.''
Clarendon also gave the coaching staff a lot of credit, particularly coach Cheryl Reeve, comparing Reeve to former Indiana Fever coach and Women's Basketball Hall of Fame member Lin Dunn.
"She brings a level of veteran coaching I haven't felt since Dunn,'' said Clarendon, who began their career with the Fever. "So much experience, knows how to coach the game.''
The Lynx (8-7), over .500 for the first time this season, have four more games before the league takes a month-long Olympic break. After Saturday's game, the Lynx play host to Dallas on Wednesday, then play at Las Vegas on Friday and at Los Angeles on July 11.