Collier Emerging as Legit MVP Contender


Prior to the 2023 season, Napheesa Collier had already established herself among the upper echelon of WNBA talent.

Named to the 2020 All-WNBA Second Team in just her sophomore professional campaign, it was clear she was a budding superstar. Now, as the WNBA’s 27th season approaches its final stretch, Collier has emerged in full bloom. Once a player solely confined to All-Star and All-WNBA consideration, she has transformed into a legitimate MVP contender.

Building a Legacy

“[Napheesa] continues to build her resume as one of the all-time greats,” Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said following a June loss to the Connecticut Sun in which Collier went off for 21 points, seven rebounds and four steals. It was her fourth career game with 20+ points, 5+ rebounds and 4+ steals. Only Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles, two WNBA legends, have had more such games in a Lynx uniform.

Collier’s numbers have been impressive across the board. The 6-foot-1 forward out of UConn is averaging a career-high 21.9 points (48.5% FG 8.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game. She’s also recorded five 30-point performances this summer after achieving zero of such games across her first four seasons.

Given this is the first full-length season she has played in two years, her rise in production is nothing short of extraordinary. Collier missed all but four games in 2022 after giving birth to her daughter Mila in late May.

“I worked really hard in the offseason to come back and be better than when I left the game in 2021,” Collier said.

She has certainly reaped the rewards of her grind. Collier ranks third in the league in points per game, seventh in steals per game (1.6), and leads the league in points in the paint per game (11.6). The latter of which is especially astounding considering she’s only listed at 6’1″. Her ability to read and take advantage of different defensive coverages combined with a seemingly innate knack for scoring and rebounding the ball, compensates for that size disadvantage in the post.

“I’m really confident [in the post]. I mean if I had to hit a game-winner, that’s where I’m going,” she said.

Furthermore, Collier’s offensive arsenal is as polished as ever. There’s a noticeable improvement in her jumper’s efficiency, with the mid-range fadeaway having become her quintessential move.

In a 99-97 overtime victory over the Seattle Storm, Collier hit the game-winning shot using said patented fadeaway. In that same victory, she tallied 31 points, eight rebounds, five assists and six blocks. She joined Candace Parker as just the second WNBA player ever to have a game with at least 30 points, five rebounds, five assists and five blocks.

The End of an Era

When Collier arrived in Minnesota in 2019, it was on the backend of a newly dismantled dynasty.

The Lynx had won four of the last eight WNBA titles and three of the five starters from those championships, including 2014 league MVP Maya Moore, effectively retired in 2018. 2017 league MVP, Sylvia Fowles, and eight-time All-Star Seimone Augustus were the sole remnants of that starting squad left on the roster by the time Collier stepped foot in the Twin Cities.

A semi-rebuild was in effect and Collier, drafted sixth overall by Minnesota, was a key cog in those reconstruction plans. She averaged 15.1 points and 7.4 rebounds across her first three seasons with the Lynx. Minnesota’s record was above .500 in each of those seasons, but they failed to make a deep playoff run.

Fowles retired in 2022 and Collier, who was off on maternity leave, returned for the final four games of the season to play with her friend one last time.

Her retirement left Collier as the only All-WNBA-level talent left on Minnesota’s roster. Reeve named Collier the team’s sole captain in 2023. This is the first time in her 13-year tenure with the Lynx that Reeve has not named multiple captains.

“It’s kind of a new era for our organization. Everyone who won the last championship is gone. It’s kind of our time to start over,” Collier said.

A Rocky Start

The oldest player on Minnesota’s roster, Kayla McBride, is just 31 years old. The average age of the starting five is 26. This youth and thus inexperience has been evident at times.

Minnesota got off to an 0-6 start, leaving fans wondering if the front office was trying to tank for college superstars Paige Bueckers or Caitlin Clark in next year’s draft. Reeve shut down those rumors.

“I would invite anybody that would suggest that we were tanking to walk into either our practices or during the course of a game… This group that you’re with, they don’t deserve that. I mean, that’s embarrassing that that gets thrown around.”

It’s one thing to talk the talk, it’s another thing to walk the walk, however. Reeve has most certainly done both. Since that abysmal start, the Lynx have won 14 of their last 23 games, improving to 14-15 on the season. They currently sit at sixth in the WNBA standings.

This surge, although a team effort, is a credit to Collier’s heroics. She’s averaged 24.2 points in wins this season and is fifth in EFF at 23.3 efficiency points a game. Collier is also second in the league in usage percentage (USG) at 28.4%. USG quantifies the percentage of plays during a player’s time on the court in which they either shoot the ball, get to the line, or commit a turnover, per Her Hoop Stats.

Additionally, Collier is an astute defender. Named to the WNBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2020, she is deceptively lengthy. This allows her to deflect passes and accumulate steals at a high rate. She’s currently seventh in the league in defensive rebounds per game (6.3).

Branching Out

Collier’s on-court resume is not the only thing that has impressed, however.

In groundbreaking news, it was announced that she and New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart would be founding their own women’s basketball league titled Unrivaled. The new league will showcase 30 of the top players in the world in 3-on-3 and 1-on-1 games. It will run from January to March in Miami.


The two former UConn teammates launched Unrivaled in response to the WNBA’s contentious prioritization ordinance established in the league’s 2020 CBA. The ruling states that players must have completed their overseas obligations by the start of training camp in April 2024. An estimated 50% of the WNBA play overseas during the offseason. Many of those international seasons will likely run past the training camp deadline.

Collier and Stewart are presenting the league’s top players with an opportunity to make a considerable amount of cash in the offseason — reportedly all contracts will be six figures — all while finishing play well before the start of WNBA training camp.

“We remain committed to the WNBA, however, there’s a problem that exists, which is players having to choose whether to play oversea to maximize earnings in the winter or stay home with family. We’ve decided to create our own solution,” Collier said.

“Stewie and I both have daughters. It’s our responsibility to show them & every young girl that looks up to us that sometimes you don’t have to wait your turn. You can either beg for a seat at the table or build your own table. We’re building our own table.”

Unfortunately, Unrivaled will not have any immediate benefit for non-All-Star type players, as they’ll still be forced to play elsewhere if they wish to make maximize their earnings. However, Collier has hinted at plans to expand the league in the future.

Moreover, the importance of remaining stateside cannot be understated. Not only is there a faction of players who wish to stay home simply for the sake of comfortability, but following Brittney Griner‘s wrongful detainment last year, it has become a matter of player safety.

Looking Ahead

With just 11 regular-season games left, the Lynx will be battling it out for one of the seven remaining playoff spots.

Collier missed three games in late July and early August with a right ankle sprain. She has returned with a vengeance, however, dropping 29 points against the Chicago Sky on August 8th.

In a clash for the MVP title that appears to have become a three-horse race between Breanna Stewart, Alyssa Thomas and A’ja Wilson, Collier is right on the fringes with plenty of time to prove herself.

A caveat preventing Collier from entering the fore-front of the MVP conversation is Minnesota’s record. If the Lynx can somehow finagle their way into the top four or five teams in the standings, her MVP odds improve exponentially. However, no player from a team that’s outside the top three in the standings has won MVP since Candace Parker in 2008.

Nevertheless, an All-WNBA First-Team selection is definitely in the cards for Collier.

And of course, the fans at Target Center will continue to shout “MVPHEE” in support of their All-Star.

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All individual player statistics are curtesy of Her Hoop Stats.

About Ethan Arcata

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