Myisha Hines-Allen's case for WNBA Most Improved Player

(Or just ask the Dallas Wings.)

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Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen shoots the ball against Seattle Storm forward Natasha Howard on September 2, 2020. Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Washington Mystics’ playoff hopes hit a major roadblock on Sunday afternoon with a 101-94 overtime loss to the Dallas Wings. They are now 1.5 games behind Dallas for the final playoff spot with four games left in the regular season.

But to get the season sweep of the Mystics, Dallas had to overcome a significant roadblock of its own in the form of Myisha Hines-Allen, who is enjoying a breakout year for the Mystics in her third WNBA season. Hines-Allen had 20 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals against the Wings on Sunday, yet that may not even have been her top performance against Dallas this season. On August 21, she had a career-high 35 points along with 12 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals in another overtime battle.

It’s not just the Wings she’s torching, either: for the season, she is averaging 15.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists on 49% shooting from the field while playing just under 30 minutes per game. An undersized forward at 6’1, she can score from everywhere on the court, converting 38% of her 3-pointers, 47% of her midrange shots, and 64% of her shots in the restricted area.

Before Sunday’s game, Wings head coach Brian Agler referenced Hines-Allen’s stellar performance in the first game and how difficult it is to stop her all-around game. “She’s had some really good games against some teams, including us,” he said. “And she’s a different type of player to defend because she’s so versatile bringing the ball down the floor, she can play one-on-one in the tunnel, good rebounder, good offensive rebounder. She’s tough that way.”

Hours later, Hines-Allen scored in a variety of ways for a Mystics team that was one last-second shot away from winning the game in regulation. She got putbacks off of offensive rebounds, drove smaller guards all the way from the perimeter to the rim, and even nailed a fadeaway off of one foot to force a Dallas timeout late in the first half. It was the eighth time this season, in just 18 games, that she surpassed her career high entering the 2020 season of 15 points.

Hines-Allen leaps to block a shot by New York Liberty guard Kia Nurse on August 25, 2019. Photo credit: Domenic Allegra

Hines-Allen’s rebounding was just as important for a Mystics team that entered the game ranked eleventh in the league in rebounds per game. Her 10 defensive rebounds were a big reason why Dallas, which came into the game averaging the third-most offensive rebounds in the WNBA (9.3), managed only four. At one point in the second half, Hines-Allen had 12 total rebounds and Dallas’ entire team had 18, and the final tally was 30-26 in favor of the Mystics.

Hines-Allen’s role has arguably increased the most of any player in the WNBA this season, and she has continually delivered. In 2019, she played just 7.8 minutes per game, contributed 2.3 points and 2.1 rebounds, and shot just 36% from the field. This year, she is a leading contender for the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award alongside players such as Atlanta’s Betnijah Laney, Chicago’s Kahleah Copper, and Connecticut’s Brionna Jones.

To put Hines-Allen’s statistical leap into perspective, here are the jumps she has made from 2019 to 2020 on the WNBA’s official leaderboards for points, rebounds, and assists per game, compared to other frontrunners for the award. Hines-Allen has made bigger jumps than any of the other frontrunners in every single category, and for good measure, she ranks higher than Copper and Jones in every category and higher than Laney in rebounding this season.

Source: WNBA Leaderboards for 2019 and 2020.

“Myisha is most improved. I don't think there's a question about that,” her teammate Emma Meesseman said last week. “On and off the court, really. I'm seeing her every day … growing as a person and player. So for me, there's no question or competition between who it could be. For me, it's her.”

Not everyone around the WNBA shares Meesseman’s opinion, though, with Laney in particular providing tough competition. One argument that some people may use to try to weaken Hines-Allen’s case for the award is that her minutes have increased, so it’s natural for her averages to rise as well. However, what is remarkable about Hines-Allen is that she has actually been more productive in major minutes this season than she was in much shorter stints in 2018 and 2019.

The table below shows her shooting percentages and statistics per 40 minutes, with the top performance in each category highlighted in blue.

Source: Basketball-Reference

“Why is Myisha the Most Improved Player?” her head coach Mike Thibault asked rhetorically. “I mean, you're going from somebody who averaged [eight] minutes a game last year … to going to a major role this summer to being one of our leading scorers and our leading rebounder consistently throughout the season. She's in the top [five] in the league in rebounding and in the top 15 in scoring.

“That's a huge jump for a player, especially an undersized post player. I know there's great competition for that award, but she's certainly deserving of it.”

It’s never a bad idea to trust Thibault, the WNBA’s all-time winningest coach. But if you need more objective evidence, the numbers back him up: Hines-Allen has elevated her game by leaps and bounds, even compared to her consensus competition for the most improved player in the league.