After practice ended last week, the Lynx coaches put Nikolina Milik through a special workout. She is asked to guard the post, block an inbound pass, then defend the player once the ball is in her hands.
With one rule: Milik was not allowed to touch the person she was protecting. at all. No arm bars, no hands, no leaning on the body, nothing.
It is not easy.
Lynx coach Sheryl Reeve said: “It’s all about position. And then she mentioned Lynx assistant Rebecca Brunson, as a player, Reeve was one of the best post defenders she’s ever coached. “Brunson rarely touched her players. We are accelerating our efforts to proceed with this drill. [Milic] From a bad problem.
It’s all part of the process of learning to play basketball in the United States, especially in the WNBA.
“This is something I never expected,” Milik said. “When I came here, I thought it would be more physical, and it’s the opposite. Actually here, they don’t really allow contact that I don’t know. I like contact. I’m a physical player.
Milik is a 6-3 post player and is a 28-year-old WNBA rookie. She was born to Serbian parents in a relatively small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She is a fitness warrior and fast eater, tall, lean and strong. She has had a long and successful career in Europe, including playing for Team Serbia at the 2019 FIBA Women’s Eurobasket tournament, where Serbia won bronze – and jumped onto the Lynx’s radar.
The two sides talked for a while about Milik coming to Minnesota. But then the epidemic happened. Last year, Reeve didn’t feel like there was a spot on the roster. But this year, when the Lynx were rocked by last-minute changes and injuries, Milik got her chance. She originally came to Lynx on a surrogate contract. After that, she signed a contract for seven days. She recently signed on for the remainder of the season.
And now she’s part of Reeve’s future plans.
This season has seen her role change several times. She participated in 28 games. She has been everything from the first (four times) to the fifth post in a five-post rotation, depending on the health of Lynx’s list.
“She’s very aggressive,” Reeve said. “And she’s very competitive, which is very valuable. She fights on both ends. That’s contagious. When she’s on the floor, you know you’re getting a competitor. And she’s probably our best low-post scorer since Sylvia. [Fowles].”
Offensively, Milik’s play is well-translated. She has good footwork and a variety of spin moves and hooks that allow her to shoot with her larger competitors. Milik averaged 6.0 points and 3.0 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per game, shooting 58.8% on two-point shots.
On a 36-minute-per-game basis, she’s averaging about 18 points and nine rebounds — and 5.5. Disgusting.
Learning how to prevent breakdowns is key. “It’s something I’m working on,” Milik said.
The whole season was a learning experience for Milik, who was in the country for the first time. She has to learn a new style of play, she has to get to know her teammates. Coming from a small town, the big city is not your favorite. And when she arrived in early May, she was surprised — and unprepared — for Minnesota’s unseasonably cold weather. But Milik said she has come to love Minneapolis and its lakes.
At the professional level, it was time to try the WNBA.
“I’ve had a long career, I’ve had a lot of experience playing in Europe, playing in the Euroleague,” Milik said. “It’s high-level basketball. But that was something that was missing in my career. And I thought, ‘Why don’t you give it a chance?’ I thought.
Milik has definitely shown that she belongs at this level. And, as she refines her defensive game, her role will likely continue to grow.
“I know what I can do,” she said, “I’ve played with a lot of players from this league [in Europe]. I never doubted what I could do.”