WNBA rewatch: Sylvia Fowles dominant in Lynx opener

Amber Stocks and Sky still without 3 players at start of new era in Chicago

Head Coach Cheryl Reeve said on many occasions that she wants her team to get the ball to Sylvia Fowles more often in 2017. Those weren’t empty words from the great coach. Her team fed its talented center early and often. Fowles had 17 at the half and finished with 26, 10 boards, 4 steals and 3 blocks.

Look at how Fowles got many of her buckets and you’ll see exactly why Reeve is such a great coach. The Lynx didn’t just drop it into her, then stand around and watch. Fowles often caught the ball moving toward the basket:

Fowles had enough time to make it through two Genius Bar appointments before laying that one in. But take some time to appreciate the screen that freed her — and who set it. Yep, that’s Maya Moore, arguably the best player in the world, setting that thing.

First watch Moore’s eyes. She has eyes on teammate Seimone Augustus, to be sure she doesn’t set it too early. Augustus knows she can fire that pass as soon as Fowles turns the corner.

Then watch Moore’s defender, Tamera Young. She doesn’t even think about helping onto Fowles. Would you? She’s guarding Maya Moore! Had Young hung around without getting on top of that action, Lindsay Whalen and/or Natasha Howard could crush her with a screen, freeing Moore to pop to the top for an open jumper.

Reeve uses Moore and Fowles to help each other off the ball so well. Call Maya Moore the world’s best decoy if you wish in a set like this:

But guard it like she’s a decoy and she’s ending the game before the start of the 4th quarter. The two initial screeners clear as Fowles ducks in and lays it in with ease by using the rim for protection. Fowles’ defender could have offered more resistance to at least keep her from catching it right under the rim. But guarding a forceful duck in like that from a player like Fowles is extremely difficult when you’re on the weak side — Fowles could do a dozen different things from that spot.

In my third favorite from this one, Fowles walks into another easy lefty layup:

Natasha Howard ducks in from the weak corner and delivers the bounce pass to Fowles. The Sky may deserve more “credit” for this one. You’d probably prefer to play Howard 1 on 1 given the alternative to that hard double. Good execution from the Lynx there (with Moore off the floor).

Fowles is a central piece to the league’s best defense, too. Her presence protecting the basket emboldens them to apply occasional pressure in the back court with Whalen and Brunson or Augustus.

Anybody approaching the paint is aware of Fowles as a shot blocker. This Fowles block ended up turning into an early post opportunity for her going the other way:

That duck in is just mean. She anticipates the ball reversal and Brunson looks for her right away.

There was plenty to appreciate with Chicago’s effort in this one, even as they played without #2 pick Alaina Coates (ankle), Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley (both overseas). This was a good game! Tamera Young scored a team high 14 in 31 minutes off the bench:

You need somebody to throw the ball to late in the clock against elite competition. Young hit another tough, invaluable shot off the bounce to keep Chicago close:

Young drew the Maya Moore assignment for much of the game. Moore shot 5–19 overall and 1–11 from three. Those nights will always be rare for Moore, but Young had a little bit to do with it:

Stefanie Dolson, brought back in the Elena Delle Donne trade with the #2 pick (Coates) and Kahleah Copper (8 pts, 2 reb, 2 ast in 15 min off the bench), started alongside Imani Boyette in the front court.

Amber Stocks will not be short on bigs in her first season with the Sky, but Dolson can alleviate some of their probable spacing issues if she hits 1–2 of these every game:

Dolson hasn’t averaged even one 3PA per game yet in her career, but now would be the time to stretch her game out some more. Dolson would be even tougher to guard, the floor would open up for her teammates, and she’d have more chances to flash moves like this one:

Reeve has also said that she would like for her team to shoot more threes. The Lynx were 3–20 on Sunday, but give it some time. (Or get to Vegas ASAP if you think Maya Moore is no longer a 38% 3PT shooter. They’ll gladly take your money, if there’s even a prop bet for that.)

Whalen is one that would likely be asked to shoot a few more per game. She hasn’t taken more than 15 attempts from deep in a season since 2012. Catch and shoot looks in transition like these are a good start in that direction:

Some headlines suggested the Lynx came out flat. I wouldn’t be so quick to go there — this team is full of vets. What do people need them to prove across 34 games? Sure, if Minnesota struggles to hit shots for an extended stretch, go ahead and press the issue.

This team is competing for championships. The biggest part in doing so for them is getting to the postseason managing minutes as best they can. And Reeve is going to try out different lineups to maximize and explore what she has with that bench, which includes two rookies.

Don’t be quick to give up on Chicago. Let’s grant them a few games with their full team, although Coates may take a while to get all the way back given the severity of her ankle injury.

More from the WNBA’s opening weekend: