Most WNBA fans agree that Atlanta Dream’s Ryan Howard (the 2022 No. 1 overall pick) is the favorite to win the WNBA Rookie of the Year. But the game shouldn’t be as lopsided as it may seem, as Washington mystics Shakira Austin put in a terrific but understated performance.
Howard is the front runner, understandably. The 6-foot-2 guard leads the rookie class in points (15.1 ppg), assists (2.7) and steals (1.5) and ranks second in minutes played among a playoff-ready Atlanta team (30.6 ppg). points) for the first time since 2018. Although her numbers fell back to Earth as the summer wore on, Howard became the seventh WNBA rookie to score at least 100 points in his first five games (20.4 points per game in that span) and the only A first-year player named to the 2022 All-Star Game.
When Howard was left out of the equation, we also saw the impact on the dream: Atlanta missed two games with a shoulder injury and lost 25 to the Connecticut Sun, 1-1 team.
Austin, a 6-3 forward/center who was the third overall pick in April’s draft, isn’t particularly eye-popping: She averaged 8.0 points per game (fifth among the Mystics) and averaged 8.0 points per game per game. 6.1 rebounds per game (second best). She’s not the focal point of Washington’s offense, but coach Mike Thibaut said he appreciates that even when he’s not playing for her, Austin still finds a way to score by setting up screens and hitting glass. For a rookie, her performance was impressive: Her 53.8 field goal percentage was ninth in the league by a player who averaged at least five attempts per game and appeared in at least 10 games. She also completed 67.8 percent of her attempts within 5 feet of the rim.
But it’s her defensive prowess that sets Austin apart, and he’s started every but four games this season since May 20. She’s not the team leader in steals or blocks, but teammate Ariel Atkins sees Austin as “the safety of the team.” [Washington] defense,” which has the league’s second-best defensive rating after Seattle. Tebow even said he thinks she’ll be “a mainstay in Seattle.” [all-league] Becoming a defensive team at some point in her career. “
It’s the little things that don’t show up in scoring that Austin has done well to help the Mystics become the defensive force they’ve become, especially under two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne. Loads of cases in and out of the lineup managed most of the season.
“One of the best attributes of a post player defense is being able to direct traffic and cover things on the pick-and-roll and in the lane,” Tebow said. “When we watched her in college, she communicated really well with her teammates on the defensive end, shouting out screens, screens, blocks, knowing when to help and when to come back. She just had that defensive instinct.
“I think sometimes at any level it’s hard to get your whole team to talk and communicate in the right way. But if you have a rookie who can come in and do something on day one, that really helps.”
Without Austin, would the Mystics be where they are now despite Delle Donne missing nine games?
“We won’t,” Atkins said.
“She’s a huge part of what we do. I don’t think we necessarily have to pick people in and have to do what she’s doing. But she stepped up and showed us that she’s capable of doing it. So it’s us What to expect from her every night…I’m excited to see what she’ll bring us for the rest of the season.”
According to Her Hoop Stats, Howard and Austin are neck-and-neck in win shares — 2.5 and 2.4, respectively — but Austin’s win shares per 40 minutes (0.17) are slightly better than Howard’s (0.14) for the veteran big man, and Austin per game only played 21 minutes). Austin ranks third in the league in defensive win shares per 40 minutes, behind only Defensive Player of the Year candidates Brianna Stewart and Ezzie Mabegor.
Before the All-Star Game, I wrote in our midseason draft that while acknowledging Austin’s talent, Howard was likely to be the rookie of the year, and still is.She’s more critical of Atlanta’s play on both ends of the floor — if you ask ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, his Outperforming the Substitution Player Indicator real Like Howard beat Austin.
But at the end of the day, whoever wins the 2022 Rookie of the Year may not matter that much in the grand scheme of things: Howard and Austin both have the potential to be enduring WNBA superstars, and arguably even MVPs.
Rookie Ryan Howard hit six from beyond the arc to lead the Dream Team to victory.
game of the week
Atlanta Dream Team, Los Angeles Sparks (Thursday at 3:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV): A game with meaningful playoff significance. The two teams are sixth and seventh in the WNBA standings heading into Thursday’s game, meaning both teams will make the playoffs if the regular season ends today. Atlanta’s playoff chances are looking increasingly solid after recent victories over the Phoenix Mercury and Las Vegas Aces, but the Dallas Wings and Phoenix Mercury are choking both teams by their necks. The Minnesota Bobcats and New York Liberty also stay within striking distance, making this a must-win game for every team — though even more so for Los Angeles. Atlanta is 1-0 in the season series with the final game coming in August.
Phoenix Mercury’s Seattle Storm (Friday, 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV): The final regular-season matchup between WNBA legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi was their 46th-ever regular-season encounter and the most between any two WNBA players (plus Also Tamika Catchings vs. Swin Cash and Lindsay Whalen vs. Candice Dupri). Bird leads the series 25-20 while also owning one more title than Taurasi (4-3) and will keep his bragging rights no matter how Friday’s matchup unfolds.
Las Vegas Aces at Chicago Sky (8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, Amazon Prime Video): Commissioner’s Cup Championship. Aside from the much-appreciated financial bonus, winning the Commissioner’s Cup may not mean much to the players, but both teams still have a lot to prove in the second iteration of this season’s championship. After a red-hot start to the season, the Aces appear poised to host the game ahead of a slump in June/early July, with Chicago’s red-hot streak giving it an advantage at home. Will this high-stakes matchup between the top two teams in the standings predict which team has the best chance of winning the WNBA title in September, or whether the second year will be like last season with no cup finalists ( Seattle and Connecticut) to reach the WNBA Finals?
Statistics this week
The Dream’s 92-76 victory over the Aces on Tuesday was the biggest upset of the WNBA season as Atlanta finished with a 13-point deficit, according to Caesars Sportsbook. The Dream’s 16-point win was also the largest among double-digit losers in the past five WNBA seasons.
Fantasy Women’s Basketball Picks
Who starts: Phoenix’s Shey Peddy has been hot in fantasy lately, averaging 27.0 points over the past three games, and Mercury continues to fight for a playoff spot despite Brittney Griner’s absence and the midseason departure of Tina Charles.
Chiney Ogwumike has averaged 30.0 points over the past three games and got a starter when Liz Cambage was out with COVID-19. Even now, she could still be a player worth starting as Cambage works to get back to normal for the Sparks.
Who sits: New York’s Marlene Johannes has struggled, averaging 13.7 points over the past three games, while Sandy Brandlow’s team has lost four straight and further out of playoff contention. Moriah Jefferson’s productivity has also declined, averaging just 10.0 points over the past three games as the Bobcats try to push through the late postseason.