Cheryl Reeve gave guard Lindsay Whalen some good advice following the 2015 season.
It's not that Whalen performed poorly that season, but everything looked more difficult for her, and by the end of the season she had broken down physically. She limped to the finish line, hobbled by a bum ankle that limited her during the Lynx's championship run.
Reeve told Whalen, "Sometimes when you get older, you've got to do some things that are easier."
One of the easiest things a player can do, Reeve said, is shoot the ball when you're open.
Shooting has never been a focal point of Whalen's game, so evolution was going to require time. But Whalen had plenty of that last offseason after choosing to forego a season overseas, a choice she again made this year.
Whalen, who turned 35 on Tuesday, utilized her newfound free time to develop a mid-range shot, something, she acknowledged, was missing when she was leading the Gophers to a Final Four in college. Back then, it was all three-pointers or layups. And in 12 WNBA seasons, the focus has been putting the ball on the deck and getting to the bucket.
"I've gotten to the basket a lot in my career," she said. "I've been able to get in there."
She still can, but maybe not with the same ease or frequency. Younger players are generally quicker; it's a fact of pro basketball. So, if your first step isn't as fast as your opponent's, your mind better be sharper.
"It's what it is; the players are getting better," Whalen said. "I'm still going to drive and attack and those things, but I think length-of-career-wise and just being hopefully a little smarter, you have to make those outside shots and do those things."
It paid off last season.
Whalen's scoring and assist averages dipped, but that had more to do with added depth in the backcourt in the form of Jia Perkins and Renee Montgomery.
Whalen's offensive rating – the points Minnesota scored when she was on the floor per 100 possessions – tied for a career best. She also notched the best field goal percentage (51.3 percent), second-best true shooting percentage, which factors in free-throws, and third-best effective field goal percentage, which takes the added value of three-pointers into account.
"She wasn't getting layups," Reeve said. "She still got to the rim at times, but her No. 1 focus was, if you're not going to guard me in a ball screen, if you're going to go under, I'm going to make you pay. She did a tremendous job of that."
Whalen continued to work her mid-range game and three-point shooting this offseason, and made adjustments in the way she runs the pick and roll and defends. It's all part of her efforts to evolve and stay ahead.
"It's just all making yourself more dynamic, harder to guard, all those things," Whalen said. "Being here in the offseasons, I've had the luxury of being able to work on my game and work on things and continue to try to get better.
"There's different aspects of your game that are maybe going to be a little different than they were are 25, but the experience and the things you have now are going to be hopefully that much better and continue to help you improve even at this stage in our careers, which is pretty cool."