Sylvia Fowles proved yet again in 2021 that she is the bedrock of the Lynx’s success. At 35 years old, Fowles became the first WNBA player to finish in the top two in the league in rebounds (10.8), steals (1.8) and blocks (1.8) per game. This all while averaging 16 points on 64 percent shooting.
Fowles won the Defensive Player of the Year award for the fourth time and finished fourth in MVP voting while leading Minnesota to the league’s third-best record (22-10).
Lynx coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve was asked what she learned this season and, somehow, it was about Fowles, who the coach has spent seven seasons with.
“The more I had to talk about Syl — I always appreciate her — but the more you have to recognize like, ‘God, I really do ask a lot of Syl schematically,’ ” Reeve said. "I think I learned the old-dog, new-tricks kind of thing that Syl was capable of. Continuing to evolve, learning patience. … I wasn’t sure if that was really possible, to be honest with you.”
Fowles has adjusted her game, adding a mid-range jumper and learning to defend pick and rolls in space with ease. She also has continued to evolve as a leader. It’s one thing to play with Rebekkah Brunson, Lindsay Whalen, Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus. But Fowles has learned to lead younger players such as Crystal Dangerfield and Napheesa Collier and newcomers to the team like Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers.
“I think the most proud moment for me was when everything clicked for everybody, and once we’d seen how good of a team we could be once we bought in to what Cheryl and her staff was teaching us,” Fowles said. “That was a pretty big moment for me. Also, just looking at the growth from the beginning of the season to now — the awareness, the willingness of wanting to pass the ball, how to pass the ball, making sure we’re running the plays right, getting the ball to where it needs to be on team. Those things made me very proud of them.”
Minnesota grew as the season progressed. Fowles is a big reason why.
“Learning that Syl was able to adapt and evolve, that was a fun ride, and that you can at the age of 35. You’re pretty set in your ways, but you still can,” Reeve said. “And that taught me. If Syl can do it, I can do it, too.”
Somehow, in her 14th WNBA season, Fowles’ powers appear to be as high as ever. So, with Fowles heading into free agency, the decision for Reeve to back up the Brinks truck to bring Fowles back looks like a no-brainer. Fowles and veteran guard Layshia Clarendon will be priorities on Reeve’s offseason checklist.
“Both of those players know how we feel about them, but free agency is free agency,” Reeve said Tuesday. “They’re obviously important parts of the franchise. Syl is a free agent because she’s on the old (collective bargaining agreement), and now could have an opportunity to be a part of the new CBA and the (increased) money that goes with that.”
The largest looming question for Fowles is, does she want to play next season?
“My future is still unclear at the moment,” she said Tuesday. “We’ve still got some things to talk about, Cheryl and I. I’m unsure at the moment, honestly.”
For Fowles, it really boils down to parenthood. Does she want to be a mom in the near future, or push that possibility further down the road?
“That’s basically the main thing for me right now,” Fowles said. “It’s nothing else besides that.”
Her body held up well this season. Fowles noted there were nicks and tweaks, but she played in 32 of Minnesota’s 33 games. She was “extremely excited” and likely relieved to get confirmation no offseason surgeries were required upon the conclusion of the season.
“I held up pretty well at 35,” Fowles said.
She couldn’t give an answer on how much longer she would like to play.
“Most likely I just want to go on how my body feels,” Fowles said. “And this season, I felt some nagging injuries, but nothing too serious. So if this could go on for the next couple of years, I’d take it.”
But, as she noted, there is more to consider than injuries.
“We’ll see,” Fowles said of her future. “I’ll keep you posted in the next couple of months.”