August 18, 2022 

How Washington’s Myisha Hines-Allen found her footing in a season of adjustments

Hines-Allen has filled practically every role for the Mystics this season, and now she’s putting them all together to be her best self

At first blush, it seemed like the 2022 WNBA season would provide stability for Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-AllenSigned to a three-year protected contract in February, the fifth-year player knew she would stay in Washington and play for the only coach she has ever had in the league, Mike Thibault. And with five players on the roster who had already been her teammate for at least two seasons, there was familiarity in the locker room, too.

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However, Hines-Allen, a 2020 All-WNBA selection, has had to adjust on the court this season in just about every other respect. Whether she starts or comes off the bench depends on the status of forward Elena Delle Donne, who has sat out 11 games to rest her surgically repaired back. Hines-Allen is filling different roles on the court depending on which other forward is playing, and defenses are guarding her differently than in past seasons, forcing her to adjust every time she sees the court.

“She’s really had to adapt probably more than any other player on our team,” Thibault said on July 19. “… I think she’s had a tough adjustment. I think as we’ve gone through the last three or four weeks, it’s gotten a little smoother for her. There’s more of a rhythm to what she’s doing. And she knows that we need her to be good every night.”

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Hines-Allen is averaging 8.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists in just under 20 minutes per game this season, shooting 41.5% from the floor and 36.7% from 3-point range. All of the adjustments have sometimes made it hard for her to be decisive, which she has said is the mindset she needs to play at her best. She weathered a 10-game stretch in May and June in which she shot just 27.3% from the field, and her 16.1% turnover rate for the season is the second-worst of her career.

Yet Thibault was optimistic in July that the best was yet to come for Hines-Allen this season, and she has seemingly validated that. She is averaging 12.9 points in seven games played since Thibault’s statement, shooting at least 50% from the field five times, and has been the go-to playmaker at times when the offense has struggled. She appears to be turning a corner, just in time to help the Mystics make a playoff run.

“She’s one of our X-factors,” wing Alysha Clark said on Aug. 14. “… When she’s going, we’re going.”

Let’s break down Hines-Allen’s challenges this season and how she has overcome them to peak at the right time.

From starter to reserve and back again

At the beginning of the season, Thibault and the Mystics planned to start Hines-Allen alongside Delle Donne. Instead, rookie Shakira Austin seized the starting center spot after six games and Hines-Allen became the one shuttling back and forth in the lineup. She is the first frontcourt player off the bench when Delle Donne plays and starts next to Austin when Delle Donne rests, so her role changes game to game.

Hines-Allen has split those roles nearly evenly, playing 346 total minutes in 15 games as a starter compared to 309 minutes in 19 games as a reserve. Her statistics per 40 minutes are very similar in each role, at about 18.5 points and 11 rebounds. But when she starts, she averages 23.1 minutes per game, compared to just 16.1 per game off the bench.

“One [game], it’s 30 minutes, one [game] it’s 20 minutes. She just doesn’t know night in and night out where her minutes are,” Hines-Allen’s former teammate and current assistant coach LaToya Sanders told The Next on Aug. 2. “But I think she’s learned to accept it and she’s learning to adapt.”

Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen shoots a midrange jumper during a game against the Seattle Storm at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on July 30, 2022. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra)

The challenge of versatility

At 6’1 and exceptionally strong, versatility is Hines-Allen’s calling card in the WNBA. She is a mismatch for opposing guards and forwards alike with her size, strength and quickness. She can play small forward, power forward and center and initiate offense as a point forward.

“I’ve worked too hard to just be one-dimensional or two-dimensional,” Hines-Allen told The Next on July 31. “I like to be able to do more than one thing, more than two things and just be able to affect the game in so many different ways. … I love that challenge and I’ll never back down from it.”

The challenge of being that versatile is in the amount of information that Hines-Allen has to absorb, from how to attack and defend at three frontcourt positions to how to initiate the offense. The complexity of her role has increased since 2020, when she was the team’s leading scorer and began to develop her point forward skills. “She knew we needed her to score and make plays,” Mystics associate head coach Eric Thibault told The Next.

This season, there is significantly more depth around Hines-Allen, and her looks within the offense depend a lot on whether she’s playing center with Delle Donne alongside her or power forward next to Austin or Elizabeth Williams.

“If she’s playing with Elizabeth or Shakira, she’s probably going to get more threes because she’s … spacing the floor as opposed to them,” Mike Thibault said on July 21. “And so she’s not going to get a lot of post-ups in those situations. Whereas when she’s playing with Elena, she’s becoming more of the low-post player, unless we see that Elena has the better matchup on the block.”

The data bear that out: When Hines-Allen plays alongside Delle Donne, 36.1% of her shots are at the rim, compared to 27.3% overall this season. When she plays with Williams, she steps further out and takes 53.4% of her shots from the midrange, up from 44.0% overall. And when she plays with Austin, she takes 31.1% of her shots from behind the arc, only slightly higher than her overall rate of 28.7% but much higher than her 21.3% rate with Delle Donne.

Frontcourt PartnerTotal MinutesShare of Shots at RimShare of Midrange ShotsShare of 3-Pointers
Elena Delle Donne16436.1%42.6%21.3%
Elizabeth Williams15117.8%53.4%28.8%
Shakira Austin30129.4%39.5%31.1%
Notes: Data is from The overall data cover every minute Hines-Allen has played this season; the player pairings are the minutes Hines-Allen has played with that frontcourt player and any three perimeter players. Forward Tianna Hawkins is not shown in this analysis because she and Hines-Allen have played just 22 minutes together.

Increased defensive attention

In Hines-Allen’s breakout season in 2020, she often had the element of surprise on her side. She had scored barely 150 points in her first two seasons, so defenses weren’t always as attuned to her as they were to guard Ariel Atkins and forward Emma Meesseman, both proven offensive options on the Mystics’ 2019 championship team. And Hines-Allen had only averaged 9.1 minutes per game before 2020, so defenses didn’t always know what she would do in an expanded role.

Now, however, defenses know not to leave Hines-Allen open and have ample film to scout her tendencies. “People play her for a bull in the china shop, going right,” Sanders said, referring to Hines-Allen’s ability to muscle her way to the basket and score. They know she can go coast-to-coast in transition, too, and give her fewer gaps to penetrate. Sometimes, they send a second defender at her in the paint, willing to risk giving up an open 3-pointer to prevent her from getting an easy bucket.

“She’s tough. She’s a really strong post player,” New York Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello said on July 21. “Can shoot the three and take you off the dribble but also back you in there.” In the teams’ first two matchups this season, Brondello said, the Liberty “brought crowds” against Hines-Allen, hoping to make her uncomfortable. Hines-Allen had just five points in those two games on 2-for-12 shooting, but she got the last word with 13 points in the teams’ final meeting.

Hines-Allen has had to figure out how to counter that additional attention and respect from defenses this season. “For a while, she was just kind of playing on instinct — probably her first couple of years,” Eric Thibault said. “… She and Ariel are kind of in the same space of, okay, I’ve been able to just play and be good. Now I’ve got to play, stay aggressive, but also think and process and read defense and adjust to how people are playing me. So I think that’s a big step, and everybody kind of hits it at different times.”

The result is sometimes indecisiveness

Hines-Allen has had to switch back and forth between starter and reserve, gets her shots from different spots depending on who’s on the court with her, and has had to analyze and counter how teams are guarding her. All of that change adds up to a lot of thinking and, sometimes, indecisiveness about what she should do next.

Contrast that with the 2020 season, when she was a consistent starter, was a go-to scorer, and could largely play on instinct. “I don’t think she second-guessed any shots she took that year,” Thibault said. It showed in her career-high shooting percentages — 51.0% from the field and 42.6% from 3-point range.

This season, Hines-Allen has often cited her decisiveness when she has had good performances and lamented her indecisiveness on off nights. Paradoxically, she told The Next, she tends to be indecisive when she is moving too fast and more decisive when she’s “taking a deep breath” and moving more deliberately. That applies on defense, too: When opponents are pushing the pace, she said, “I know the coverages, but sometimes I can just get sped up in my own head.”

Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen (2) high-fives guard Ariel Atkins (7) during a game against the Seattle Storm at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on July 31, 2022. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra)

How Hines-Allen is figuring out her role

During training camp, Hines-Allen said that she had worked in the offseason on her mental game, including her ability to focus and visualize plays. That work has been tested this season, especially early on.

“Shoot, [my shot is] still not falling right now how I want it to, to be honest,” Hines-Allen said on July 31, after producing a quiet five points on 2-for-4 shooting against the Seattle Storm.

Despite her struggles, she has stayed ready and always been prepared, much like she did in her first two seasons when her minutes were scarce.

“She continues to work hard every day,” Atkins told The Next. “… It’s not like, ‘Oh, woe is me.’ It’s just like, ‘All right, what can I do to help this team win?’ And that’s her mindset because she’s a winner.”

“[Director of player development] Sefu [Bernard] reminds me all the time … that’s just a part of my story in the W,” Hines-Allen said. “There’s going to be highs and there’s going to be lows, and I can’t get too down on myself because I know I put in the work, [my] coaches know I put in the work, my teammates know I put in the work. So it’s like, everyone has confidence in me. I just have to have the most confidence in myself.”

The Mystics have shown their confidence in Hines-Allen by putting the ball in her hands more. That allows her to make reads and gives her a lot of space to operate, and it helped her break out of her early 10-game shooting slump.

Whether she’s running the show in transition or in the half court, Hines-Allen’s first option as a ball-handler is generally to attack the rim. She’s gotten better at identifying her best Plans B and C if teams protect the paint, but it’s hard for anyone to stop Plan A when Hines-Allen is confident and decisive, no matter how well they’ve scouted her.

“When Myisha ever has the ball and she’s coming directly towards you, that’s not a pretty sight,” former Mystics teammate and current Las Vegas Aces forward Theresa Plaisance told The Next. “Whenever you have a bulldozer coming full speed, full steam ahead at you, it’s not the best idea to stick in front of it.”

“I would want to wear some kind of armor if she’s coming down the lane,” added Sanders.

Hines-Allen continued to find her rhythm in July, when the Mystics’ lineups and substitution patterns got more predictable. Delle Donne missed fewer games, and Hines-Allen settled in as a reserve. Mike Thibault said on July 14 that Hines-Allen was recognizing and attacking mismatches, and she and Delle Donne were developing chemistry after playing just 93 total minutes together in the past four regular seasons.

“It’s fun playing together,” Delle Donne said on July 21, after she and Hines-Allen shared the court for 15 minutes against New York. “I felt like in the second half, it was almost like taking turns, like, you go, I’ll go. Whoever had the mismatch, we were just trying to attack it. And yeah, hopefully we’ll continue to see that lineup with us in. I think it creates a lot of problems for other people’s defenses.”

But Hines-Allen admitted that she was still learning how to play with the two-time WNBA MVP. “I’m still learning when to set screens for her so she can get that mismatch and just playing off of her,” Hines-Allen said. “… Knowing that you’re playing with an MVP, sometimes [you] just want to get out of her way. And I feel like sometimes I’m in the way. … But, I mean, it’s awesome to play with her.”

As Hines-Allen has struggled offensively this season, she has leaned on other parts of her game to make an impact. “There’s other ways I can affect the game,” she said on July 31, later adding, “Check those stats — I think I’m doing pretty good right now on the defensive side.” Eric Thibault identified Hines-Allen’s defense, rebounding, ball-handling and screening as skills she can bring every night, regardless of a team’s schemes or her own rhythm.

On this Mystics team, Thibault said, Hines-Allen’s role is “to be ready” for whatever the situation demands. Similarly, Hines-Allen defined her role as “honestly, to be myself,” with all of the versatility that implies.

“She’s an energy giver. She does all the dirty work. She’s a big ox. She’s so versatile on the offensive end,” point guard Natasha Cloud said on Aug. 7. “When she’s confident, we’re better because of it. So it’s just continuing to instill that confidence in her and her understanding that we need her dog out every single night. We need her.”

Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen celebrates a 3-pointer during a game against the Los Angeles Sparks at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 7, 2022. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra)

Hines-Allen appeared to find her form in the past few weeks, producing her highest-scoring games of the season on Aug. 5 at Chicago (21) and on Aug. 7 against Los Angeles (20). Against Chicago, she scored seven of the Mystics’ first nine points on a 3-pointer, a mid-range jump shot and a drive to the rim. Two days later, Hines-Allen was the lead playmaker for much of the Mystics’ comeback from an eight-point halftime deficit, slicing through the Sparks’ defense for layups three times in the third quarter alone. She shot 53.8% from the field across the two games and also contributed 12 rebounds and four assists in only 44 minutes.

The only thing that could slow Hines-Allen’s momentum was a stint in health and safety protocols, which forced her to miss the Mystics’ last two regular-season games on Aug. 12 and 14. But she rejoined the team on Monday and will be vital off the bench in a first-round playoff series against Seattle.

It’s safe to say that Hines-Allen will bring her trademark versatility in what is expected to be a tightly contested series, but what’s asked of her could change game to game, perhaps even quarter to quarter. With all of the changes that she has weathered this season, Hines-Allen is uniquely prepared for that.

“She’s just kind of the linchpin that holds everything together for our team,” Sanders said. “… She’s going to be important to hold everything together and to get us over the hump to contend for a championship.”

The Next’s Natalie Heavren contributed additional reporting for this story.

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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