Ariel Atkins shows why she's key to the Mystics' success with a career-high 29 points
'She can be one of the best guards in our league, and she’s acting like it'
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Natasha Cloud has never been one to shy away from sharing her opinions on her teammates, and her thoughts on Ariel Atkins are no exception.
“Ariel Atkins is the best two guard in this league. Period. And is still underrated,” Cloud said after the Washington Mystics’ 96-93 loss to the Las Vegas Aces on Saturday.
Atkins entered the game averaging 16.0 points per game and finished with a career-high 29 points. The fourth-year pro also contributed two rebounds, four assists and two steals. She did not realize how many points she had scored until after the game had finished and was instead focused on trying to get her team a win.
“I have to be able to hunt shots for our team and be able to knock down the open shots and also be able to create shots for myself and others on the floor,” she said, enjoying the moment but noting that finding her shots is just part of her job.
Despite her success, Atkins still had a list of places she wanted to continue to improve, starting with her free throws, saying, “I did miss two free throws. My mom’s going to be mad about that.” Those were the first two free throws Atkins has missed this season, having made all 12 of her attempts entering Saturday’s game.
She also wants to get more rebounds and reduce her turnovers, as she had four against Las Vegas.
During the preseason, associate head coach Eric Thibault mentioned the conversations he and Atkins have had about the next steps for her.
He said, “The way we talked about it together was, if the ball is in your hands with the shot clock running down or the end of the quarter, can we just say you’re going to get us a good shot, whether it's for you or a teammate? … I think that's the final piece to her puzzle.”
Atkins proved against the Aces that she is ready to take on that additional responsibility, knocking down three 3-pointers in the last 2:37 of the game.
Head coach Mike Thibault noted that he has had conversations with Atkins about the fact that she has the potential to score 20 points (or around that mark) consistently without putting pressure on herself.
He also said that she has begun to study how defenses are playing more and been able to slow down and see more things, though these are ongoing processes.
Thibault recognized Atkins’ shooting confidence on Saturday, saying, “She knows that she can be one of the best guards in our league, and she’s acting like it.”
Myisha Hines-Allen found out about her teammate’s career high in the postgame press conference and responded by saying, “Oh, career high? Oh, I didn't even know that! I'm going to have to gas her up a little bit.”
And she did just that when Atkins walked in for her turn, saying, “Hey, 29, career high, okay!” with a smile and continuing to talk as she left the room.
Hines-Allen also commented on the growth she has seen from Atkins, noting that she has grown more comfortable and become more dominant each season.
“She's playing more into herself and the player that she knows she can be and we know she can be, too. She's taking those tough shots. She wants the ball in situations to make the tough shot. We've started running horns for her, just to go downhill or get the pull-up jumper, because she's able to just stop on a dime and shoot the ball with so much confidence or get downhill,” Hines-Allen said.
Cloud echoed her teammate’s remarks.
“Ariel Atkins improves every single year since the minute that she came into this league. You can ask anyone: she was a ‘rookie vet.’ She's an old soul. She understands, she's passionate about getting better, not only for herself but for this team, this organization. So she's expanded her game, whether it is her one-on-one play, whether it is just making her 3-point shot more consistent, getting in and being able to see and also facilitate, too. She's done a phenomenal job and she's leading us in a lot of ways right now on the offensive end, so I'm gonna ride with my dawg,” she said.
Atkins has been a consistent presence for the team this season and will need to continue to contribute in multiple ways in order for the Mystics to end a two-game losing streak and turn their season around.
Cloud summarized Atkins’ performance best, saying, “Ariel Atkins. That’s what she was able to bring.”