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Aerial Powers’ role with Lynx continues to fluctuate early in season

Last season's leader in minutes played has seen spotty usage at best in Minnesota's first 3 games

Minnesota Lynx forward Aerial Powers interacts with fans after a play during the second half against the Chicago Sky on July 6, 2022.
Minnesota Lynx forward Aerial Powers interacts with fans after a play during the second half against the Chicago Sky on July 6, 2022.
Shari L. Gross / Star Tribune / TNS

Aerial Powers appeared to be a non-factor in terms of the Minnesota Lynx’s rotation. In the team’s season-opening loss to Chicago, Powers — a starter a year ago who led the team in total minutes played — was on the floor for just five minutes against the Sky.

After an up-and-down two years as a focal point for Minnesota, the guard was on the outside looking in at the rotation.

The winds quickly started to change, however, as Powers produced in her first-half stint against Atlanta in the second game of this season. The playing time didn’t follow in the second half, but Powers finished with 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting in nine minutes.

What changed?

“She had two good days of practice. I told them that’s where you earn playing time,” Reeve said after the loss to the Dream. “AP had two good days of practice, she got the opportunity in the first half.”

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Powers’ standing clearly wasn’t solid, as demonstrated by the lack of second-half playing time. Reeve noted she didn’t like what that group was doing offensively during its brief stint, so she pulled the plug.

“It’s one of those things, when you’re a bench player, that’s what happens,” Reeve said. “You don’t always get that chance again in the second half.”

But those opportunities did extend Thursday in Phoenix. Powers led the Lynx in scoring, scoring 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting in 24 minutes. That included a nine-point second quarter during which Powers never left the floor.

“Obviously when you’re having success like she was having, it got a little bit harder for her in the second half, and she started taking a little bit harder shots,” Reeve said. “But certainly, she was awfully helpful to us. She’s feeling her shot right now, which is great, and it was great to see her continue to find success.”

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Prior to the start of the season, Powers predicted Minnesota’s shift to a more five-out offensive look — with no one permanently occupying the paint — would make it easier to penetrate defenses and then potentially kick out to others.

Powers did score a couple of times in the paint against Atlanta, but as was the case in past years, she continues to do most of her damage in the mid-range.

“I feel extremely comfortable everywhere on the floor right now, just trying to get to my spots, pass when I’m needed to, create for my teammates,” Powers said. “Just trying to do whatever it takes to win. I feel comfortable, though.”

The 29-year-old has value for Minnesota if she continues to provide a scoring punch off the bench, a role she made her mark in earlier in her career. But the points do come at a cost. The Lynx have historically been worse defensively with Powers on the floor, a trend that has continued through three games this season.

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While Minnesota’s starters all sport defensive ratings of 100 or less thus far this season, the Lynx are allowing an obscene 122 points per 100 possessions with Powers in the game.

That’s surely something Reeve will consider moving forward when determining just how big Powers’ role should be.

Lynx drop to 0-3 with loss in Phoenix

Minnesota’s third consecutive loss to open the 2023 campaign couldn’t be blamed on one specific quarter.

In a battle between 0-2 teams, the Lynx simply appeared to be the inferior team. Minnesota was out-played for much of Thursday's game in Phoenix at the hands of the previously winless Mercury.

And the problems facing the Lynx in the loss weren’t all that easily correctable. Minnesota isn’t good enough defensively, as evidenced by Phoenix’s 50-point first half. Diana Taurasi finished with 23 points and 10 assists, while Brittney Griner added 19 points and eight in her third game back with the Mercury after missing all of last season while she was detained in Russia.

Phoenix (1-2) shot 49% from the field and 46% from deep.

And Minnesota simply doesn’t have the offensive weapons to counteract that kind of punch. Powers — who played single-digit minutes in each of the Lynx’s first two contests — led the way with 20 points in 24 minutes Thursday. No one else scored more than 13 points.

The Lynx’s starting lineup lacks much in the way of firepower as rookie Diamond Miller continues to find her footing and Napheesa Collier tallied just eight points on nine shots. Minnesota (0-3) doesn’t seem to possess a No. 1 scorer on its current roster, which doesn’t have to be a death sentence if a team can defend at a high level. The Lynx just aren’t doing that consistently enough at the moment to win games.

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