June 11, 2022
How Myisha Hines-Allen busted out of her early-season shooting slump for the Washington Mystics
Hines-Allen and the Mystics went back to the 2020 playbook
“Man, it’s about time!” Austin exclaimed after Friday’s 76-59 win over the Minnesota Lynx. With Hines-Allen sitting beside her for that comment, the two players and the room of media erupted into laughter. Hines-Allen looked surprised by the rookie’s candor — “That’s crazy,” she said as she laughed.
Austin’s comment showed how satisfying it was for the entire organization to see Hines-Allen perform to her own high standard. The 26-year-old forward and former All-WNBA selection entered Friday’s game averaging just 6.2 points per game on 35.9% shooting from the field and 25.0% from 3-point range, well below her averages from the past two seasons. She hadn’t hit more than one 3-pointer in a game all season, and her advanced statistics showed drop-offs in nearly every category.
However, starting in place of two-time WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne on Friday — who had a scheduled rest day — Hines-Allen had a season-high 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including three 3-pointers. Her 75.0% shooting from the field was her best percentage this season (minimum two attempts), and she also contributed six rebounds and two assists with zero turnovers in just over 21 minutes.
“Seeing the ball go in is a relief,” Hines-Allen admitted postgame. “So that’s a lot of weight off my shoulders.”
Hines-Allen got her first assist, on a ball reversal to Alysha Clark for a 3-pointer, in the game’s opening minute, but she didn’t score until midway through the second quarter. She set a screen for Clark, got the pass, then drove and drew a shooting foul on Minnesota forward Damiris Dantas. She hit both free throws and finished the first half with a quiet two points.
The third quarter produced Hines-Allen’s first field goal of the day, a 3-pointer that also originated from a Hines-Allen screen. She handed the ball off to Atkins at the top of the key, set a screen for Atkins, and soon got the ball back behind the arc. Lynx forward Jessica Shepard was guarding her, but not closely enough, and Hines-Allen confidently rose and hit the shot.
Hines-Allen then took over in the fourth quarter as the Mystics extended a nine-point lead to as many as 19. In a six-minute span, she had 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting to fuel a 16-7 run. All of her baskets came either at the rim or behind the arc: She had an offensive rebound and putback, two layups, and two wide-open threes.
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In previous games, Hines-Allen had made occasional layups in transition or other easy baskets that can often help struggling players find their footing. Those didn’t do the trick for Hines-Allen, and neither did a pep talk from close friend and former teammate Emma Meesseman a few weeks ago. What worked instead, according to Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault, was a tactical change to take advantage of Hines-Allen’s versatility.
“We’re kind of using her more and more tonight like we did in the bubble [in 2020] and for the times that she was healthy last year,” he said postgame. “But we put the ball in her hands a little bit more as a point forward in the fourth quarter and that was a big thing. I mean, she was able to penetrate or find people, [and she] made a couple open threes …
“I just think that putting the ball in her hands to make some decisions lets her know that we’re not giving up on her when she’s struggling a little bit.”
As a point forward, Hines-Allen had the advantage against Minnesota forwards Nikolina Milic and Bridget Carleton, and she blew past both of them from the top of the key in the fourth quarter. With just over six minutes remaining, she beat Milic, drew a help defender in Dantas, and dropped the ball off to Austin for a layup, prompting Minnesota head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve to call timeout. But on the Mystics’ next possession, a similar scenario unfolded with Carleton guarding Hines-Allen, and when Minnesota’s help didn’t arrive in time, Hines-Allen got all the way to the rim for a layup.
“I guess it’s just the type of player that I am,” Hines-Allen said postgame about why playing point forward helped her find her rhythm. “I like to read the floor. I like to have spacing and just see where the help is coming from, and if there’s no help, being able to attack downhill and get the open shots.”
“Everything she did, she was very decisive,” Thibault added. “When she was going to the basket, she was going to the basket. When she decided she was going to shoot a three, she didn’t overthink it. She had one moment in the first half where I told her, ‘Hey, don’t pass that shot up, or at least look at the basket. Make people play you honest.’ And she did.”
Hines-Allen signed a new contract with the Mystics in the offseason worth a guaranteed $525,300 over three years, and there was plenty of anticipation about what she and Delle Donne could do together in the frontcourt. Hines-Allen told The Next in April that she had worked on her focus all offseason, learning how to visualize schemes rather than having to take as many reps in practice. And it seemed to pay off with a strong first three games of the season, including a win over the now-first-place Las Vegas Aces on May 10 in which she had 15 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, three steals and two blocks.
“To be looking at a triple-double or close to it tonight, that’s a huge step for her,” Thibault said then. He also called the performance “maybe the best game she’s played defensively.”
But in the 10 games between the win over the Aces and Friday’s win at Minnesota, Hines-Allen hadn’t looked like herself. She didn’t score in double figures in eight straight games, shooting just 27.3% from the field and going scoreless twice. Her rebounding numbers dropped, too, and Austin replaced her in the starting lineup.
“I am a confident person, but for any competitor, any basketball player, any athlete, anybody, it’s just like, when you know you’re capable of doing something and … you’re not living up to what you know you can do, it sucks,” Hines-Allen said on June 5.
“[The] biggest thing [for Hines-Allen] is just going to be hanging her hat every night on her rebounding, on her defense,” associate head coach Eric Thibault told reporters on May 24. “We have a few people right now that are just pressing a little bit offensively, so if you can get out of your own head and get locked into team concepts and team coverage, that makes it easier.”
Hines-Allen stepped up her rebounding with six against the Indiana Fever on May 31, and she earned praise from Thibault for her communication on defense in a loss to the New York Liberty on June 3. But she still scored only six points across the two games and missed a potential game-tying turnaround jump shot with one second left against New York. She didn’t react much in the moment, with just a slight grimace visible as the Liberty iced the game at the free throw line, but she was disappointed postgame.
“You live and you learn,” she said. “Moving forward, my teammates just kept remind[ing] me [that] I’m going to have that shot again. I’m going to be in that position again. Don’t hang my head on it. If I could get it back, of course, I would not have taken a rushed shot like that. But it is what it is, I guess, now.”
Speaking about her struggles more broadly, she added, “I’m missing shots that I know that I can make. My teammates know that I can make [them] because if not, they wouldn’t pass me the ball in those situations. … So for me it’s just staying the course. This is just another adversity right now that I’m going through, and then I’ll get over it.”
As Hines-Allen continued to struggle, she learned how to turn the page more quickly from off nights, and she remained her usual confident self. Mike Thibault said he doesn’t typically bench players for slumps early in the year, preferring to let them play through it as long as they are still contributing on one end of the court. Coaches and teammates constantly encouraged Hines-Allen, and everyone knew her shots would fall eventually.
After more than three weeks of struggles, Hines-Allen seemed to turn a corner on June 5 in a loss to Chicago, scoring 13 points and making a season-high-tying six field goals. But she was disappointed with her focus in the pivotal third quarter and didn’t look fully comfortable all game, shooting just 40.0% from the field and 25.0% from 3-point range.
And then came Friday, just in time.
“I think it’s good for her confidence. I think it’s good for our team,” Thibault said postgame.
“It feels great … to see her out there just having fun again,” Austin said. “Just throughout this whole time, she’s been nonstop positive, encouraging. You would have never thought anything was going on, and she still was showing up in the games, regardless [of] if it shows on the offensive end. She still is talking to us. And it just showed today … and we’re going to continue to get this Myisha every single night … My dawg!”
If Austin’s assessment is correct and Friday’s performance carries over for Hines-Allen, that will be a huge boost for the Mystics, who are currently fourth in the standings but have struggled to establish an offensive flow. Hines-Allen can play all three frontcourt positions and creates constant mismatches with her strength and variety of guard and post skills. She is still taking significantly fewer shots from inside 10 feet and more long jumpers this season than she has historically, so there is room for her to get easier shots going forward, whether off of post-ups or drives to the rim. Hines-Allen can also impact the offense with her passing, as the Las Vegas game showed, and she has improved her assist percentage to a career-high 20.4% this season.
Her struggles may also help Hines-Allen in the long run by encouraging her to focus first on defense and rebounding and making her an even more well-rounded player. She has always been a very good rebounder, ranking in at least the 88th percentile in rebounding rate in each of her first four WNBA seasons. And though she has never been a liability defensively, she admitted that when she has worried about missing shots, it has sometimes interfered with her defense.
As Eric Thibault put it on June 5, “We need her to be able to play both ends of the floor. She’s a big swing player for us.”
On Friday, the pendulum finally swung in Hines-Allen’s favor. It was about time, everyone seemed to agree. Austin was just the one who said it out loud.
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.