“She’s just a beast”: Myisha Hines-Allen has the Mystics on the cusp of the playoffs

Her coaches and teammates believe she's performing like an all-WNBA player—or even MVP

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Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen shoots the ball past the outstretched arm of Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker on September 10, 2020. Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen is a frontrunner for the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award this season. But her head coach is thinking even bigger.

“I think the conversation should change to whether she should be considered as an all-league player this summer,” he said on Thursday night after Hines-Allen led the Mystics to a crucial win over Los Angeles with 30 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. “And I'm dead serious about that because she has stepped up against the biggest and best teams and matched them toe to toe and outplayed a bunch of them, and I'm really proud of what she did tonight.”

Hines-Allen made 13 of her 20 shots, including three of four 3-point attempts, despite competing against a Los Angeles frontcourt with two former WNBA MVPs in Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker. According to Mystics PR, Hines-Allen became just the fifth player to score 30+ points twice this season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, pulling the Mystics into a tie for the final playoff spot with two games left to play.

Hines-Allen scored 13 points in the second quarter, including a half-court bank shot at the halftime buzzer, but her biggest contributions came in the final 88 seconds. She hadn’t scored in seven minutes, but with the Mystics leading by a single point, she hit 3-pointers on consecutive Mystics possessions, then rebounded a Sparks miss, pushed the ball up the court, and found a cutting Emma Meesseman for a layup. She got another defensive rebound with 25 seconds left and hit one of two foul shots to seal the 80-72 victory.

“I can’t say it enough: Myisha was huge for us,” point guard Leilani Mitchell said. “… One of [her late 3-pointers] was a broken play and we just threw it to her to make a play and she hit that second three. We said it out of the last three-minute timeout that, basically, this is our season, this is our push for the playoffs, [and] we got to win this game … and I think that spoke heaps to Myisha especially. She just competes every single night. And you saw her go out there and she took it into her own hands and played amazing for us.”

Guard Kiara Leslie added that “it’s hard not to just sit back and watch” Hines-Allen when she’s playing that way. “I have to catch myself, like, ‘Did she just do that?’” And Meesseman tweeted after the game that Hines-Allen was playing at a Most Valuable Player (MVP) level:

Hines-Allen and Thibault both referenced the confidence that she is playing with as of late, averaging 23.8 points and 10.0 rebounds per game while shooting 63% from the field over her past four games. Not coincidentally, the team has won three of those games to reinvigorate its playoff hopes.

One of Hines-Allen’s best offensive weapons all season has been her turnaround jump shot, which helps her get separation from taller and longer defenders. She can also use her physical strength to go at defenders, a strategy that has been her bread and butter over the years.

“I do what I can do best, and that's for me, personally, I'm undersized but I have amazing strength,” Hines-Allen said. “So it's just like, ‘Alright, use your strength to … back down [players], whether it be taller defenders or smaller defenders.’”

Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner, a contender for WNBA Defensive Player of the Year honors, said recently that Hines-Allen is one of the strongest players she’s faced this season. The two were also conference rivals in college and competed against each other several times. Since then, Turner said, Hines-Allen has gotten even stronger and added a 3-point shot to her offensive arsenal.

As a college senior three years ago, Hines-Allen attempted just 14 3-pointers; this season, she is making 41% of her 3-pointers on nearly three attempts per game.

Hines-Allen’s decision-making has also improved this season, even as she faces more pressure from defenders and has the ball in her hands much more often than in previous years. “[Associate head coach Eric Thibault] says it all the time, how I'm able to hold more in mentally, so I can think more,” Hines-Allen said. That thought process includes recognizing how defenses are set up and how they are trying to stop her in particular. “I definitely think I've done better in that aspect,” she said.

Thibault credited two more factors behind the scenes to Hines-Allen’s star turn this season: her work rate and the team bonding that has taken place inside the WNBA bubble. “Our best players right now in this group are our hardest workers, and it shows,” he said on Thursday. Most of those best players—Hines-Allen, Meesseman, and Ariel Atkins—are living together in a villa, which has become the place where the whole team hangs out off the court. “They’ve just learned how to be each other’s support,” Thibault explained.

July 25, 2020

According to Hines-Allen, that support came up big in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s game. Candace Parker had gotten two stops on Hines-Allen, and Hines-Allen—who had made shots seemingly at will for much of the night—needed some help to move past that. “I’m not even gonna lie to you—my head went down,” she said. “But my teammates were like, ‘You got it, My!’ … They want to see me do great and they know I can be great, so when you got people in your corner … you’re going to run through a wall for them.”

Sparks head coach Derek Fisher admitted that his team did not match the energy of the Mystics, who were facing what amounted to an elimination game. Hines-Allen believes that the team’s culture and focus on daily improvement have helped the Mystics contend for a playoff spot despite losing 12 of 13 games earlier this season. “I think it just starts with us never giving up, never settling for just losing,” she said. “… That’s definitely Mystics basketball—never settling for anything less than being great.”

Told of her coach’s assessment that she is playing at an all-WNBA level, Hines-Allen let out a shocked laugh. “It's awesome that he thinks that,” she managed. “That's crazy; that's big. I'm telling y'all, he never told me that!”

However, the numbers suggest it’s not such a crazy idea: several of Hines-Allen’s statistics compare favorably with those of the league’s top forwards, including Parker, Seattle’s Breanna Stewart, Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson, and Angel McCoughtry, Minnesota’s Napheesa Collier, and Connecticut’s DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas.

Through Thursday’s games, Hines-Allen ranked first in that eight-player group in effective field goal percentage, third in 3-point shooting percentage, fourth in points per game, and fourth in rebounds per game. She is also nearly keeping pace with that decorated group in advanced statistics such as player efficiency rating while making their lives difficult when she is assigned to defend them.

Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen celebrates during a game against the Dallas Wings on August 21, 2020. Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

This season has been different from last year’s championship run in so many ways, but the confidence Hines-Allen is playing with and her production with the team’s postseason hopes hanging in the balance is reminiscent of her good friend Meesseman’s Finals MVP performance in 2019. “I would say there's a lot to that right now,” Thibault said. “You get on a roll like Myisha’s been on and feel good about how you’re playing—I think by nature, she's a more confident person anyway, but I think it's very similar.”

Meesseman knows that Hines-Allen’s play in the final two games will be a big factor in whether the team gets another shot at a playoff run this season. “We all just really want to make the playoffs and in order to do that, we need her to be that aggressive,” Meesseman said on Friday.

“She's just a beast,” Meesseman added. “… So, two more games like that and it's gonna be good.”

All data for the comparison of the WNBA’s top forwards are from their Basketball-Reference player pages.