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Napheesa Collier Grows In Every Direction

Napheesa Collier #24 of the Minnesota Lynx drives to the basket during the game against the Los Angeles Sparks on June 5, 2024 at Arena in Los Angeles, California.
Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

What more is there to say than “judge not, that ye be not judged”? After poking fun at Pat McAfee’s unintelligible WNBA rant and his subsequent apology, I must now express regret for a WNBA take of my own. I did not call anyone a “white bitch,” but I did do something just as bad, which was write “Bring back Liz Cambage” in a post here two days ago. In jest! Obviously in jest! But the universe cannot read context or tone and did in fact bring back Liz Cambage. The Athletic’s Sabreena Merchant spotted the exhausting former WNBA star courtside at last night’s Lynx-Sparks game in Los Angeles. Many thanks to the dozens of you who sent me this news with your earnest suggestions that I be “arrested” and “burned at the stake.” You are absolutely right. Really sorry about that. While I can’t go back and change my actions, I can do better and I will do better in the future. 

Though you can blame Cambage for roughly one million other things, you cannot blame her for wanting to check out the Minnesota Lynx while they’re in town. Nine games into their season, they already look like a tough playoff contender, their only two losses so far coming to the Sun (in a real ref show of an overtime) and the Aces. They've taken care of business against everyone else, including the Liberty, who sat back and watched helplessly last weekend as Minnesota rained threes on them, to the tune of 14-of-28 shooting. The Lynx can beat you in every which way—with that shooting, with their active defense, with smart ball movement—and that's fitting, given the face of their team.

Napheesa Collier has long been so good at so many things on both sides of the ball that it wasn't always easy to imagine her paths to improvement. Her WNBA debut, against the Sky back in 2019, introduced her to the league as something of a finished product. She finished that game with 27 points, six rebounds and three blocks. “I needed to go out there and play as aggressively as I can, so I wouldn’t be a liability for the team,” she said, coolly, afterward. And still, she seems better than ever this year.

She's managed the same sizable offensive workload she did last season, when she put up the highest shooting volume of her career. When the Lynx went up 8-0 to start the Sparks game last night, Collier had scored seven of those points in what would ultimately be an 11-point first quarter for her. (MVPhee? Maybe, but not so fast—also Wednesday night, A’ja Wilson put up 36 points, 12 rebounds and six steals of her own against the Wings in Dallas.) Before the 2024 season began, she told reporters that her offseason focus has been on her ball-handling and on her three-point shooting, which is at 33 percent this year, though on fairly low volume still.

Defensively, she's also been a real treat to watch. In the absence of an established center in the Lynx rotation, Collier has been asked to play up the lineup a bit, and she does it so well—her wingspan and positioning instincts have her averaging a double-double this year—that you can actually kind of forget she's only 6-foot-1. (I, in fact, forgot this fact until the broadcast mentioned it last night, and it took me a second to recover.) I loved this moment in Minnesota's game against the Liberty, where Collier sees all the matchup problems her former UConn teammate poses on offense, and simply poses them right back to Stewart on defense. You have crazy arms, Stewie? Well, I have crazy arms, too.

Collier has had some other advantages beyond the genetic ones: She landed with a great coach in Cheryl Reeve, who moved up to second in all-time WNBA coaching wins after last night and has been rather in her bag as a playcaller this season. This year's hyped draft class has had me reflecting on the 2019 draft, which stands out as one of the league's best for all the stars and solid rotation players it produced. Collier went sixth overall, which seems ridiculous now. But who can argue with the fit? She's always had a knack for being in the right place.

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