The Minnesota Lynx locker room was dead silent. They had just fallen to the New York Liberty last summer, 81-68, at Madison Square Garden, a month after trading for Sylvia Fowles, one of the best centers in the league. Maya Moore could only muster up a hushed and frustrated tone when asked questions about the team’s four-game losing streak. Minnesota went just 6-6 after picking up a superstar.
The rest is history, of course. The Lynx went on to win the 2015 WNBA Championship, with Fowles taking home the Finals MVP. Fast forward to their locker room after topping the Liberty 79-69 on Tuesday, and the scene was entirely different. Dancing, laughter, all the signs of a team that’s come together. And in the middle of it all, on and off the court, is Fowles.
“She’s such a presence on the court,” Moore said after the game Tuesday night, sitting in front of her locker. “She causes so much attention when she is working in the paint, when she’s running the floor, when she’s setting screens.”
Fowles’s impact extends beyond her impressive numbers. Her averages of 13.8 points and and 8.8 rebounds a night on 55.6% shooting from the field this season don’t do her game justice.
Offensively, Fowles can affect the game with or without the ball. She sucks defensive attention her way on the pick-and-roll like a black hole, often leaving the Lynx a pass or two away from an open jumper. Her screens are some of the best in the league, stopping defenders in their tracks. Opposing big men tire themselves out over the course of a game trying (and failing) to keep her out of the post. Once Fowles gets to the block, it’s easy pickings:
“She definitely allows us to take those moments to recharge on the offensive end while she carries it inside,” Moore said. “And the baskets she scores I think are just so demoralizing for the other team. Whenever you get points scored on you in the paint, it should hurt you as a defensive team.”
Fowles stands at 6’6”, making it a touch unfair that she has such a reliable hook shot as well. She’s also a willing and capable passer when the defense inevitably collapses. Oh, and lollygag on transition defense and this might happen:
Fowles is somehow able to burn teams running the floor while anchoring the defense in the middle. Minnesota is allowing just 90.3 points per 100 possessions with her on the court, while team gave up 98.7 points in 2014 and 94 points last season. Fowles’s block numbers are down, but she’s still wrecked havoc. She’s collecting 31% of available defensive rebounds, good for second in the league. Her length bothers shooters and breaks up plays with deflections like these:
“The one-to-five feet, the pressure you can put in that area, both offensively and defensively,” Cheryl Reeve, head coach of the Lynx, said prior to the game, standing courtside, when asked what Fowles’s biggest impact is. “Life for Lindsay [Whalen,] Seimone [Augustus] and Maya each year was getting more and more challenging, more and more challenging. Each had to kind of find ways each year to be a little bit better than the year before, a little bit better than the year before. I think Sylvia is giving them a little more freedom than what they’ve had.”
Reeve chalked up Minnesota’s losses soon after the Fowles trade to other roster changes, a tough stretch in the schedule and the obvious difficulty in bringing in a new star who needs to learn the offensive system. She and Fowles both cited the fact that the Lynx franchise has never had a center this good, which is something that took getting used to.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Fowles has meshed with her teammates on the court so seamlessly given time, though. She’s willing to do the little things and doesn’t have the burden of carrying an entire team. Having a mastermind in Reeve at the helm certainly helps. But she’s also a perfect fit in the locker room, which is as big a reason for her success in Minnesota as any of her on-court abilities. And that underlying chemistry and mutual respect stems from the same quality that drives Fowles and her teammates.
“It is a good fit because I’m probably one of the biggest sore losers you’ll probably ever meet,” Fowles said. “This team go hard, man.”