Crystal Dangerfield: Master of the #wubble

Dangerfield's poise and maturity has made her the 2020 Rookie of the Year frontrunner

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PALMETTO, FL- SEPTEMBER 8: Crystal Dangerfield #2 of the Minnesota Lynx drives to the basket against the Washington Mystics on September 8, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Photo credit: NBA Content Network

It’s no longer a question to almost all observers: Crystal Dangerfield has earned the 2020 Rookie of the Year Award.

It’s disappointing, unfortunate, you name it, that Dangerfield’s case was boosted by injuries sustained by Sabrina Ionescu, Chennedy Carter and Satou Sabally, but their misfortune shouldn’t take away from what Dangerfield did this season.

Dangerfield finished her first regular season averaging 16.2 points (second among rookies who played more than three games), 30.0 minutes (second) and 3.6 assists (second) and kept the Lynx PR team busy by seemingly breaking a new franchise rookie record every night.

The 5’5 point guard recorded eight games in which she scored 20 or more points and closed the regular season as the 13-9 Lynx’s leading scorer. According to Pivot Analysis, Dangerfield recorded the highest usage rate (24.5%) of Lynx players who played more than 13 games but had just the seventh-highest turnover percentage (15.3%) on her team.

Dangerfield shot 64.2% from the restricted area and 55.7% from inside the paint despite her small size and hit 34.7% of her 98 shots taken more than 24 feet away from the basket.

As Odyssey Sims would put it in simpler terms, Dangerfield is a “baller.”

Dangerfield played her first regular season with a calm demeanor that her team leaned on in nearly every challenging on-court situation it faced. Her game was calculated yet crafty, always seeming as though she had a plan even if viewers didn’t grasp that plan until after she was scoring on a defender a foot taller than her in the paint.

Dangerfield averaged 6.5 points (second in the league behind Carter) in fourth quarters and never went through a “rough patch” in the season despite her banged up body. We saw Dangerfield’s teammates Bridget Carleton, Rachel Banham and Lexie Brown all have big games before being limited by opposing team’s scouting reports at some point in the season, but no team (with the exception of Seattle) was able to as noticeably limit Dangerfield.

That isn’t to say that Dangerfield’s rookie season was perfect; the hiccups, of course, came. But when they did, Dangerfield didn’t waste time adjusting to make the most of what didn’t go according to plan.

The most retold instance of this came on draft night.

Lynx trivia nerds (myself included) will never forget that Dangerfield was chosen 16th overall in the 2020 draft. That means eight teams — including her own — passed up on her at least once. (Congrats to Connecticut, Las Vegas and Washington for being able to say they didn’t pass up on Dangerfield in the draft.)

“I really wasn’t too worried about how high or where exactly I went,” said Dangerfield in one of her first Zoom conference calls with Lynx beat reporters. “I was just worried about the fit of the team, where I could see myself playing. That’s what every rookie wants — when they get to the league to make the team and know they’ll have some playing time.

“I think I found that with the Minnesota Lynx, so that’s what I’m really looking forward to.”

Those of us on the call at the time who were unfamiliar with Dangerfield’s genuine maturity may have regarded her response to dropping in the draft as being scripted. But Dangerfield quickly proved the sincerity of her words.

On media day, Reeve shared that Dangerfield’s 2020 role would be limited.

“Sometimes (Dangerfield) might be the best point guard we have on our team, but it’s not going to matter because we’re going to be playing the players that are ahead of her,” Reeve said. “This is more over time. We know we want Crystal Dangerfield in the Minnesota Lynx franchise. You just may not see the affinity that we have for her right away translating into minutes. I think she’ll handle that tremendously.”

Dangerfield was allotted four minutes, six seconds of playing time in the first half of the Lynx’s season-opener against the Connecticut Sun and recorded one turnover, nothing else. She had three points, one assist, one steal and was 1-for-4 from the field through three quarters. But after Dangerfield’s seven-point fourth quarter, Reeve was ready to admit her team’s dependency on its second-round rookie.

“We were just looking for something different at the guard spot,” Reeve said. “(Dangerfield) made the most of it. That’s what UConn players do; she’s ready. She’s confident.

“We probably don’t win without Crystal’s minutes today.”

Reeve’s sentiment would prove to apply to most of her team’s next 21 regular season games.

Dangerfield continued to make the most of her opportunities by earning a starting spot when Lexie Brown suffered a concussion in the second game of the season and holding onto that spot for the remainder of the season. Yet, Dangerfield never seemed to take her starting role for granted. She knew the stakes only rose with her promotion.

After the Lynx’s fifth loss of the season, Dangerfield took responsibility for her team’s sluggish first half against the Phoenix Mercury.

“I definitely wasn’t happy with the way I played in the first half,” Dangerfield said. “I think my low energy kind of carried over to the team, so I take responsibility for what happened in the first half.”

The response may have been insignificant to some, but it stuck with me. It resonated with Reeve, too, who noted Dangerfield’s early ability to take accountability for her team’s success.

“I haven’t coached that in any way. I think that that’s just who Crystal is,” said Reeve the next day. “I think she apologized no less than two times. It reminds me of Lindsay Whalen who would take full responsibility if a team got off to a bad start. I always remember with Lindsay if the first play didn’t go well because of something that she felt like she could have done better, and then it sort of snowballed and we didn’t play well, she would always feel like it was because of what she did.

“I don’t mean to make the comparison. I really don’t like when people do that with some of the all-time greats. If you’re talking about point guards, I think probably the good ones that take responsibility for their team.”

Dangerfield lived by that mantra all season long all while still making time to learn from and study her mistakes.

On Aug. 23, I asked Dangerfield what she looks for most when reviewing her own film. “Turnovers,” was her immediate response, but her answer went beyond what’s shown in the box score.

“I have way too many turnovers so just seeing where I can cut those down,” Dangerfield said. “And even things that don’t result in turnovers — tipped passes that mess up the timing of a play, stuff like that.”

Again, I was impressed by Dangerfield’s detail. And Reeve’s reaction to Dangerfield’s response diminished any sense that it was a common answer for a rookie.

“It’s great when you have a young player going back and watching video and looking at the details like that,” Reeve said. “I think you could see why that would make Crystal successful to this point.”

Of course, there will come a time in Dangerfield’s career — if it hasn’t come already — where her poise and maturity are just expected and no longer an eye-catcher. She’ll go through similar, second-year challenges we saw Napheesa Collier work through as teams become more familiar with her tendencies and ways to take advantage of her size.

But that won’t faze Dangerfield. Nothing has.

"The most impressive part of Crystal's season is not having practice time to work on things and improve in practice," Reeve said. "She had to go through growing pains in games while we're trying to win.”

After all, you can’t be the Rookie of the Year frontrunner in the year of the bubble without adjusting on the fly.