Bridget Carleton was on a mission to prove she belonged in 2020. After a rookie season that featured sparing playing time at two separate stops — Connecticut, then Minnesota — a few early-season injuries led to a significant opportunity for Carleton to show what she had in the WNBA bubble.
She took advantage.
Carleton scored 25 points in Minnesota’s fifth game of the season, a win over New York, and never really looked back. The guard played heavy minutes the rest of the campaign and played an integral role in the Lynx’s run to the WNBA semifinals.
“Last year, I think my mindset was prove to myself that I belong to play in the WNBA,” Carleton said, “and prove to people around me that I deserve to be there.”
Mission accomplished. Carleton has fortified her role as a WNBA rotation player. So what’s next?
“I want to continue to work hard and make an impact on this team and help us win,” Carleton said. “But yeah, the confidence, comparing to where I was last year at this time to this year, it’s a huge difference.”
Lynx coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said Carleton is “the complete package.” There is no significant weakness in her game. She can do a bit of everything. No longer, Lynx forward and fellow Canadian National Team member Natalie Achonwa noted, will Carleton be “pigeon-holed” into the role of shooter.
“She’s made herself incredibly valuable, because she can play. We even have her initiating the offense at times,” Reeve said. “And credit to Bridget, because she just has a thirst for wanting to do whatever the team needs.”
This season, that will involve shifting a bit more from small forward to shooting guard. That’s not an easy shift — even Maya Moore somewhat balked at making that change years ago, Reeve said — because the matchups are different.
“If you go through the list of twos in our league versus the list of threes and what their skillset and foot speed is, you’ll see what Bridget is faced with,” Reeve said. “It can be done, but certainly it’ll be a challenge for her. It’s one that she’s ready for and wants to do.”
To help with that, Carleton spent her offseason focusing on improving her agility and footwork, something she spent ample time on last offseason, as well.
“Trying to get my body in a good place and ready for the season,” she explained. “I think last year I took a step forward in that aspect, and I just wanted to continue that heading into this season, and I think a lot of it just comes down to being prepared as physically as possible, and then that can translate onto the court.”
The 23-year-old has things working in her favor, too, such as her 6-foot-1 frame. She could post up smaller guards when the opportunity presents itself. Carleton also remains committed to being solid defensively, being aggressive on offense at opportune times and making the little plays necessary to win games. Achonwa has marveled at the ways in which Carleton has expanded her game.
“Being in an environment like this feeds into that,” Achonwa said. “And she’s putting in the work to have that confidence.”
The Lynx clearly have confidence in Carleton, as well. Hence why Reeve doesn’t hesitate to give the guard more responsibilities.
“I just always want to tell her something, because I know whatever I tell her, she’s going to do it, she’s going to add it,” Reeve said. “She’s just willing to do whatever, and she wants to play.”