Bridget Carleton stays ready in first year with Lynx

Lynx signed Carleton to a seven-day contract on Aug. 22, 2019

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The Lynx signed Bridget Carleton to a seven-day contract on Aug. 22, 2019. Carleton has since proven to be a long-term fixture on her young Lynx team. Photo credit: Minnesota Lynx Twitter account.

Saturday marks one year since Bridget Carleton began her journey with the Lynx.

The Lynx signed the free agent forward to a seven-day contract on Aug. 22, 2019, fifty days after the Chatham, Ontario native was waived by the Connecticut Sun.

At the time, the Lynx were “wanting to go with something a little different” at the power forward position and were intrigued by Carleton’s 3-point shooting and the idea of playing her alongside Napheesa Collier.

But Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve still had some work to do.

“As I told Bridget, we have to learn about her,” said Reeve in 2019.

On Aug. 21, 2020, Reeve knew enough about Carleton to run a crunch-time play for her against the Phoenix Mercury. Skylar Diggins-Smith had hit two big 3s to threaten the Lynx’s fourth-quarter lead, and Minnesota needed some quick offense to dismantle Phoenix’s momentum.

“Calling Bridget Carleton’s number, it’s just kind of a fun story,” said Reeve after her team’s 90-80 win. “We’re in the last five minutes, we’re trying to win a game and we’re running a play for Bridget Carleton to help seal the win and she makes a heck of a play.”

Leading 83-76, Crystal Dangerfield began the play for Carleton by dishing the ball to Damiris Dantas who stood at the right elbow. Napheesa Collier moved from the left elbow to set a screen for Carleton who was planted on the left block. Shenise Johnson set an off-ball screen for Dangerfield who slipped to the right corner for security, but Carleton managed to lose Diana Taurasi on Collier’s screen, turned the corner and earned a one-dribble, right-handed layup to boost her team’s lead.

Photo credits: screenshots from WNBA.com League Pass.

Carleton was 4-for-4 from the 3-point line in the first half but failed to score in the first 17 minutes of the second half. But Reeve knew she’d be ready for her momentum-shifting look. She has been all season.

“When Bridget got to Minneapolis, she prepared her body,” Reeve said. “She just really had that week prior to our travel to Bradenton, was really confident, and then we got here to training camp and she was one of our best players at training camp. I just didn’t know how it was going to show itself because we knew when we came down here, we had Karima Christmas-Kelly, and I told her I wasn’t sure how this was going to go, just to be ready.”

Carleton has gone from earning one minute in the Lynx’s season-opener, to registering eight minutes two games later, to coming off the bench to bail the Lynx out of foul trouble, to earning her first career start (and registering a career-high 25 points in the same game), to playing a career-high 37 minutes as a starter against the Dallas Wings on Aug. 19.

While her role has been fluid, Carleton has been steady.

“We saw this in training camp with her,” Reeve said. “She was one of our best players in training camp, and it’s just really cool to see her doing it in these kind of games. When they’re trying to keep her from getting things done, she still finds a way.

“She’s just a really good basketball player.”

Carleton’s 7.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game may not catch the eye of those just glancing through stats, but her knowledge of the game is undeniable when you watch her play.

One minute, four seconds after her late layup, Carleton helped extend the Lynx’s lead by sending a bounce pass around Allana Smith to Damiris Dantas who finished an easy bunny after pinning Taurasi behind her on the right block. The dish off the dribble became Carleton’s sixth assist of the night.

On the defensive end, Carleton was in charge of handling Taurasi and Bria Hartley throughout the night but continually bailed out teammates by executing her defensive rotations and being a reliable help-side defender — a vital contribution without Sylvia Fowles on the court.

She boasts the Lynx’s best effective field goal (73.6%) and true shooting (73.3%) percentages and has included every area on the court (aside from right corner 3s) in her shooting artillery.

But these contributions aren’t what make her a perfect fit for the Lynx. It’s her maturity.

Carleton’s fundamental play that lacks flashiness may limit her attention from the national media (for now). She won’t be the player whose photo is used in a game graphic to promote an upcoming matchup. If a teammate scores more points than her, her crucial contributions will often be overlooked.

But none of that will impact her play.

“Every game I’m just going in confident, knowing what I can do and just being ready when my number is called,” Carleton said.

One year later, it’s safe to say Reeve has learned Carleton’s impact.