August 15, 2023 

Ariel Atkins signs two-year extension with Washington Mystics

A WNBA champion and All-Star, Atkins has spent her entire career in Washington

In February 2021, a year before Ariel Atkins’ rookie contract with the Washington Mystics was set to expire, Atkins signed an extension to stay in Washington through the 2023 season. “I believe in what we do here,” she said about why she declined to test free agency.

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On Tuesday, Atkins again eschewed free agency and signed another extension that will keep her in a Mystics uniform through 2025. The deal is fully guaranteed for two years and will pay her $200,000 per year, The Next’s Howard Megdal reported. That is close to the regular maximum contract value of $208,219 for 2024.

“It was really about what I believe that we can do here and wanting to be a part of something that I felt like I built and helping it get back to championship status,” Atkins told The Washington Post’s Kareem Copeland, echoing her comments from 2021. “… That’s something that I believe we can still do here. When you’re in a place that you’re wanted and you can help build and you can help grow, it’s what I look for.”

The Mystics drafted Atkins seventh overall in 2018 out of Texas, and the 5’10 guard has been an impact player for them ever since. She has played 169 career games for Washington and started the past 164, helping the team advance to the WNBA Finals in 2018 and win a championship in 2019.

In her career, the 27-year-old Atkins is averaging 13.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals in 27.6 minutes per game. She has averaged at least 10 points per game every season and shot at least 35% from 3-point range five times. She is also a two-time All-Star and has been named to the WNBA’s All-Defensive Team in each of her five full seasons to date — something no player in WNBA history had done before.

“We are excited that Ariel has committed herself to the long-term future of the Washington Mystics,” general manager Mike Thibault said in the team’s announcement. “She has been such an integral part of our success and is entering the prime of her career. Ariel has worked hard to improve every season and the respect she has in our locker room will allow her to take on an even bigger leadership role as we move forward.”

Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins shoots a deep 3-pointer as Connecticut Sun guard Tyasha Harris tries to contest.
Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins (7) shoots during a game against the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on July 9, 2023. (Photo credit: Chris Poss | The Next)

This season, Atkins shook off a slow start offensively to average 12.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists through 19 games. On July 7, she recorded her first career double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds against the Indiana Fever.

“Ariel’s a winner. I mean, she’s a winner. She looks and says, ‘What do we need tonight?’” head coach Eric Thibault told reporters postgame. “… She made every effort she possibly could on both ends of the floor.”

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On July 11 against the Seattle Storm, Atkins set the franchise record with her 309th career 3-pointer, surpassing former Mystics point guard Ivory Latta.

“A ain’t even scratched the surface,” guard Brittney Sykes told reporters that night. “She’s just starting to tap into whatever makes her great.”

“Knowing what you do well and doing it to the best of your ability and putting two feet in and committing yourself to it every single day, that’s exactly what A does,” added point guard Natasha Cloud. “So that’s what makes her great. That’s what’s going to continue to make her great.”

However, later in the game against the Storm, Atkins suffered a sprained ankle and has not played since. It’s the first long-term injury of her professional career and one in a string of injuries for the team this season. Before that, she had been remarkably durable, missing just eight regular-season games in five seasons.

Atkins’ extension gives the Mystics six players under contract for 2024: starters Atkins, Sykes and Shakira Austin as well as reserves Myisha Hines-Allen, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Queen Egbo. Atkins will earn the most, with Sykes right behind her at $190,000. In total, the six players will earn just over $823,000, leaving nearly $640,000 available to spend under the salary cap.

Elena Delle Donne, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Cloud, the WNBA’s assists leader in 2022, will be the team’s marquee free agents. Veteran forward Tianna Hawkins, who is currently having one of the best seasons of her career, will also be a free agent in 2024. Here are a few scenarios for how that could play out:

  • The Mystics can still afford to give Delle Donne the supermaximum ($241,984 in 2024) and Cloud up to about $204,000. However, they would have to fill out their remaining three roster spots with players with less than three years of service in the WNBA, who have a lower minimum contract amount than veteran players do. There would not be enough cap space to retain Hawkins.
  • If Cloud stays closer to her current salary of $190,000, that would create room for a veteran minimum contract that could go to Hawkins. But given how well Hawkins has played this season, other teams would likely offer her more.
  • If Delle Donne is willing to take the maximum instead of the supermaximum, that would give the Mystics another $33,700 to work with to round out the roster.
Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins slides her feet as Connecticut Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman dribbles the ball with her right hand and looks to drive.
Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins (7) defends Connecticut Sun guard Natisha Hiedeman (2) during a WNBA regular-season game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on May 21, 2023. (Photo credit: Chris Poss | The Next)

Having Atkins locked in, though, answers one big question about the Mystics’ future about six months before free agency opens. She will continue to add to her franchise 3-point record, lock down the Mystics’ perimeter defense and chase the second championship in franchise history.

As one fan wrote on Instagram in response to the news, “You can’t spell Washington without the A!!!”

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.

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