MINNEAPOLIS — Sylvia Fowles is hard to miss. She stands 6-foot-6, a foot and an inch taller than her shortest teammate, Crystal Dangerfield, but her size is a small part of what makes her such a must-watch player. Because it's Fowles’ enduring skills that stand out, making her a candidate for the WNBA's MVP award after having won it in 2017.
Numbers-wise, Fowles proves she’s one of the league’s best in every game. She’s averaging a double-double with 16.1 points and 10.7 rebounds a game. But according to her coach Cheryl Reeve, what makes Fowles special cannot always be captured in a box score.
For one, the player she’s defending can’t finish in the paint.
“What doesn't show up in a stat sheet is how her player can't catch the ball," Reeve explained. "Put her on (Liz) Cambage. Put her on if she has Tina (Charles). Put her on (Brittney) Griner. Just making a catch not work, that doesn't show up in the stat sheet.
"So when people vote for Defensive Player of the Year, they go right to the stats. Coaches look at it from the standpoint of, ‘I can't run my offense because I can't throw it there.'"
Centers are having a moment in the WNBA. The position-less basketball that was a hallmark of the league for so many years is now in the backseat due to centers like Fowles, who dominate the paint and can score and grab a rebound every time.
“If you watch Syl play, you just go, 'She's a woman among girls,' so to speak. She's just so physically dominant," Reeve said. "And what she's doing she does really well. If you don't guard her in the paint, she's just going to bury you."
According to her teammates, what Fowles brings to the Lynx is about so much more than scoring and rebounding. They say she is the quiet leader who teams up well with them.
Guard Aerial Powers, who is in her first season in Minnesota, is trying to learn from Fowles at every chance.
“She puts up numbers and makes it look so easy, right?" Powers said. "Afterward, you look at the stat sheet, you think, 'That's what she's doing? She was just doing it so effortlessly.'
"She talks to me a lot when we're coming up on screens. Sometimes, I want to go, and she'll say, 'Wait on it.'
"We need her. We need her on the court to be a leader, which she has been, and locked in. She makes sure our team goes.”
Forward Napheesa Collier, who's in her third season in the WNBA, has played all three next to Fowles.
"We play a lot different when Syl’s on there because she is an MVP candidate and she's a Hall of Famer," Collier said. "We want to get her the ball (because) our offense obviously involves getting into the post a little bit more.
"And off the court, she's just such a solid individual. Someone that, even my rookie year, I felt like I could always go to her for anything. And she's obviously been in the league for a long time. She's our vet. So we look to her for guidance and for motivation, things like that.”
This year’s WNBA MVP race is a tight one with four reasonable candidates: Fowles, Griner, A’ja Wilson and Jonquel Jones. In her 14th season, Fowles is showing she is still deserving of votes.