New-look Perth Lynx already look like a championship contender
Success can be measured in many ways, and by most accounts, the last few seasons for the Perth Lynx would be considered successful.
Since the arrival of head coach Andy Stewart in 2015, the once moribund franchise has turned its fortunes around, qualifying for the postseason four years in a row. Prior to that, the team had not sniffed the playoffs since the turn of the millennium, but now they were a fiery contender and a threat in any game.
Good enough? Maybe for some. But it was clear that if Perth were to get over the hump, they would have to shake up the roster in a big way.
Franchise lynchpin Asia Taylor, fresh off her third straight WNBL All-Star Five anointment, returned Stateside to ply her trade with — quite appropriately — the Minnesota Lynx. Losing the 2018-19 WNBL leading scorer left a huge gap in Perth's offence, but they were eager to fill it with a mix of potential and proven assets.
Enter Nadeen Payne, the former Bendigo Spirit forward, who led her squad last season with an average of 14 points per game, as well as almost 5 rebounds, enough for second on the Spirit roster.
Enter USA import Ariel Atkins, who was named to the WNBA All-Defensive Second Team in her rookie season with the Washington Mystics. Atkins unlocked another gear in the WNBA playoffs, averaging 15 points, and a hair under 4 rebounds and 2 assists.
Enter Dallas Wings centre Imani McGee-Stafford, daughter of Women's Basketball Hall of Famer Pamela McGee and sister of the NBA's JaVale McGee, alongside former Bendigo guard Marena Whittle.
Top it all off with a trio of talented local girls in Nes'eya Williams, Tayah Burrows and Jewell Williams, each of whom came through the Lynx pathway academy, and you've got a roster that looks and feels markedly different from the previous edition.
One game into the young WNBL season, things appear quite promising. The Lynx soundly defeated the Sydney Uni Flames 79-62 behind Alison Schwagmeyer-Belger's 21 points, 10 boards and 2 steals. Payne added 13 points and 4 boards, while McGee-Stafford came exactly as advertised, bullying the Flames with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Tonight, the Lynx hope to keep the momentum going as they head to Dandenong to take on the Southside Flyers, who handled the Townsville Fire in game 1, 81-72. Leilani Mitchell already looks to be in fine form, as she netted 21 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and a pair of blocks.
This game could prove to be a litmus test for both of these retooled and restructured teams, and it's certain to provide more than a few thrills along the way.