Minnesota Lynx rookie forward Napheesa Collier was the sixth-overall selection in the 2019 WNBA Draft and she certainly lived up to that billing in her first professional game.
On Saturday, May 25, Minnesota played its home opener for the 2019 regular season against the Chicago Sky and Collier made her first professional start at small forward for the Lynx. The result was just short of a WNBA rookie record as part of a winning 89-71 effort.
Collier hit eight of her 10 field goal attempts, including going 3-for-4 from 3-point range, and went 8-for-11 at the free-throw line to score 27 points. That point total is the second-most ever for a rookie in her WNBA debut. She also blocked three shots, grabbed six rebounds and recorded two steals.
The record for a rookie debut which still stands despite Collier’s effort on Saturday belongs to Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker. In her WNBA debut on May 17, 2008, she dropped 34 points on the Phoenix Mercury on 12/19 shooting.
Collier played her collegiate basketball for the University of Connecticut. There she was a two-time All-American and won the American Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year award twice. She finished her four years at UConn third on the Huskies’ all-time scoring list, fourth in career rebounds and set the school single-season rebounding record with 411 boards as a senior. She was the second UConn player drafted in 2019 and faced her collegiate teammate Katie Lou Samuelson on Saturday, as Samuelson was drafted fourth overall by Chicago.
If Collier can continue to produce like this it will go a long way toward the Lynx being a title contender in 2019. Minnesota is looking for offensive production to replace that which it will miss from retired guard Lindsay Whalen and former guard Maya Moore, who is taking off the 2019 season for personal reasons. In 2018 Moore and Whalen combined for 23.7 points, 5.7 assists, 7.7 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game.
Collier won’t have to do all the heavy lifting for the Lynx. Minnesota also acquired guard Odyssey Sims from the Los Angeles Sparks during the offseason. Sims scored 11 points, made five assists, grabbed three rebounds and recorded a steal in her Lynx debut. Veteran center Sylvia Fowles was her usual self in getting Minnesota started off right, scoring 16 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Starting point guard Danielle Robinson also got into double figures with 13 points and guard Lexie Brown added 10 points off the bench.
Collier’s accolade wasn’t the only notable accomplishment from Saturday in the WNBA. Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner moved up the WNBA’s all-time blocked shots list in her team’s 77-68 loss in Seattle. She now sits at fourth-place all-time, having surpassed Fowles with 575 blocked shots. She needs 11 more blocked shots to tie Lauren Jackson for third place. Margo Dydek holds the career record with 877 blocked shots.
One game doesn’t make for a Hall of Fame career and opponents will adjust to Collier as they get more experience playing against her but she is off to an impressive start in the WNBA. If she continues to produce at a similar level, Minnesota may have found its next superstar player.