Carleton's 2021 role is unknown, but her future with Minnesota is secured

Carleton and the Lynx secured their future together on Saturday

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Lynx forward Bridget Carleton signed her qualifying offer with Minnesota on Saturday, Jan. 9. Photo credit: Stephen Gosling/NBAE via GettyImages/NBA Content Network

Bridget Carleton returning to Minnesota for her third season in the WNBA just makes sense.

Carleton has exemplified Lynx culture ever since signing a seven-day contract with Minnesota in August of 2019. The Iowa State Cheryl Miller Award winner and 2019 Big 12 Player of the Year put her past behind her after being waived by the Connecticut Sun during her first WNBA season and didn’t expect anything other than to have to earn her playing time in Minnesota. It didn’t take long before she did so.

After only playing 11 total minutes in the Lynx’s final six-game stretch of the 2019 season, Carleton entered the 2020 bubble with a new aura of confidence generated by a hardworking offseason with Team Canada and Townsville Fire. She was soon promoted to defending Napheesa Collier in her first training camp with Minnesota, and that should have been our first hint that 2020 would be special for Carleton.

Carleton went on to be a reliable two-way player the following season, which was a high commodity in the unpredictable season of the bubble.

After only averaging 5.3 minutes in the first three games of the season, Carleton showed no sign of diffidence. She registered a team-high, plus-9 net rating in the Lynx’s 78-69 Aug. 1 win over the Sun in which she shot a perfect 3-for-3 from the field and earned 23 minutes of court time. Shenise Johnson went down with a hamstring injury in the same game, and as advertised, Carleton was ready to step up for her team when her time came.

The following game, Carleton recorded the Lynx’s first 2020 25-point performance in her first career start. Carleton only registered three more double-digit scoring performances after her career scoring night, but her steady impact was undeniable from there on out.

The Lynx cashed out on Carleton’s dynamic offensive ability to score off the dribble with her polished handle, a nice second punch to her signature catch-and-shoot prowess. As noted by WCCO’s Sloane Martin, Carleton recorded the sixth-best effective field goal percentage (62.3%) of players who played in at least 10 games in 2020.

Carleton’s drive and high basketball IQ also came to life on the defensive end where she was often matched with opposing teams’ top scoring threats — regardless of whether they played the 1, 2, 3, or even the 4.

Carleton finished her first full season with the Lynx with the team’s fourth-best plus-minus rating (plus-2.9, only behind Sylvia Fowles, Collier, and Crystal Dangerfield), the team’s second-best 3P% (45.7%), and added promise for what she could contribute to the Lynx’s bright future.

Carleton and the Lynx secured their future together on Saturday, but defining Carleton’s 2021 role is less of a no-brainer than the agreed-upon qualifying offer itself.

The Lynx are about to enter free agency season with plenty of cap room and a chance to try their hand at landing a player who could take them to the next level. With their already-solid starting frontcourt of Fowles and Damiris Dantas, it’s plausible that Cheryl Reeve and her staff may try to swing for the fences in adding a veteran guard who can score on her own and create more opportunities for Fowles in the paint. Should they take that route, Carleton would be the most likely current starter to be relegated to an off-the-bench role.

Any team would be fortunate to have a Bridget Carleton serve as a stabilizing force for their second unit, and luckily for Minnesota, Carleton has shown her play isn’t malleable by her starting status.

The Lynx’s offseason could be headed for a heavy dose of uncertainty. Having Carleton locked in will continue to add some security to Minnesota’s future.