Aerial Powers simply grinned when asked about Myisha Hines-Allen’s WNBA coming-out party. The fifth-year veteran has spent the past two-plus years watching Hines-Allen put in the work behind the scenes. She knew what was coming.
“The girls who have been on this team, that see Myisha compete every day in practice, they know what she has,” Powers said. “We knew she had it in her, she just hadn’t had the opportunity given the amazing players before her. But now she has the opportunity and she’s taking full advantage. I feel like you’ll see a lot of that from Myisha … where she can score in multiple ways. She’s a big, strong four. She can play the five, but she can also pop out and shoot the three. If you know, you know.”
Hines-Allen and the rest of the Mystics served notice that, although the team may be without four projected starters, the defending champions still have plenty of weapons. Hines-Allen was a force from the opening tip, working inside and out, taking defenders off the dribble, grabbing defensive rebounds and starting the break.
Coach/General Manager Mike Thibault, teammates and Hines-Allen herself seemed almost casual about the effort, but numbers don’t lie. Hines-Allen, who had eclipsed her previous career high of 15 points by halftime, averaged 2.3 points and 2.1 rebounds in 7.8 minutes per game on last season’s title-winning team. As a rookie in 2018, she averaged 3.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in 10.5 minutes.
There just weren’t a lot of minutes left over behind Elena Delle Donne, LaToya Sanders, Emma Meesseman and Tianna Hawkins the past two seasons. The novel coronavirus pandemic led Sanders and offseason acquisition Tina Charles to opt out of the season. Delle Donne is rehabbing a back injury, and Hawkins tweaked her back and barely played Saturday. Hines-Allen seized her chance.
“The biggest thing, when I was sitting on the bench those two years, I wasn’t just sulking and being mad,” Hines-Allen said.
" ‘Oh, why am I not playing?’ Complaining and this and that. I was continuing to get better. Look at the people in front of me. What are they doing well? How do they defend? How do they get their open shots? It’s, like, all leading up to this point now where I worked so hard for it.
“If I would have been mad and angry those two years that I wasn’t playing where we had great players in front of me playing, then this moment right here wouldn’t have mattered to me at all. It mattered because I took everything that the post players were giving me — even the guards were telling me what to do. It all leads up to this moment and makes it even more special.”
Things aren’t likely to come so easily for Hines-Allen the rest of the season. She won’t sneak up on anyone after her play Saturday. She will be a big part of opponents’ scouting reports and, for a Mystics team built to share the ball and take advantage of mismatches, she is unlikely to see as many matchup advantages as she did against a Fever team without much of an interior presence.
The Mystics face the Connecticut Sun (0-1) on Tuesday in a rematch of the 2019 Finals, though many of the key figures from that series will be absent in Bradenton. The Mystics will be without three starters from their Game 5 win — Delle Donne and the starting backcourt of Natasha Cloud (opted out) and Kristi Toliver (left via free agency). The Sun will be missing Jonquel Jones (opted out), Courtney Williams (traded) and Shekinna Stricklen (left via free agency) — three of the top five scorers from that 2019 team.
Thibault wants to temper expectations for both the team and Hines-Allen. However, he was encouraged that the third-year power forward has taken coaching to heart.
“I said, ‘Look, you’re an undersized post player,’” Thibault said. “‘You need to be able to do some things that other posts can’t do.’ One was ballhandling, to be able to attack people off the dribble, use her quickness and strength, because she’s not going to be there on length or size. … She’s worked very hard over the last year to expand her shooting range.
“I just told her you have to kind of reinvent yourself into a modern day post player who can do multiple things.”
Note: Hawkins will miss Tuesday’s game after she was scheduled to see a doctor Monday about her injured back. Thibault said she could miss the rest of the week. The team was already shorthanded with just 10 active players, but Thibault said he is unlikely to add another player immediately. Hawkins would need to miss two games first to apply for a roster hardship, but then the new player would need a physical and cardiac screening and then quarantine for seven days.
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