Total priority shots rarely play revenge games. But just three weeks into her rookie season with the Atlanta Dream, the do-it-all winger Ryan Howard has already found herself in two halves. In the first, against the Washington Mystics, Howard fired 4 for 4 of three in the first quarter, putting in 15 points in that frame alone. Watching them, it was hard not to wonder the same thing I had been wondering about the five Dream Games before: What were the Mystics thinking when they won the draft lottery but traded to Atlanta the week before the draft?
It’s not quite a rhetorical question. This was the “need vs. best available player” predicament, and Mystics made their choice. “At the end of the day we felt like we needed another player for the long-term,” said Mike Thibault, Mystics’ post-game technical director and general manager. “But it’s an excellent shot.” Mystics will never make the mistake of underestimating Howard again. The second time they played, the league’s best defense pulled up and carried Howard goalless in what has been her only bad game of the season so far. Last night, Howard celebrated the Rookie of the Month with a 22-point performance and three steals against the Minnesota Lynx. It was another night in the office for the rookie who found her way into this league remarkably quickly.
Perhaps a highly drafted rookie would have come into the league and blown the doors off. Sabrina Ionescu entered the WNBA with impossible expectations, but injuries and her limited athletic ability have prevented her conspicuous skill from translating into team success thus far. Last year’s first overall pick, Charlie Collier – well, I couldn’t actually tell you anything about it. According to her basketball reference page, she was 6-foot-5, went to Barbers Hill High School in Mount Bellevue, Texas, and averaged less than two points and five minutes a game with the Dallas Wings this year. There’s plenty of seasons left – don’t call the race now – but this year’s Novice class looks set to make for a more interesting debate than it was last year, when the award went by default to the only Novice to crack the starting lineup. Shakira Austin, the postal player that Mystics replaced in third, made the transition to the Pro so impressive that Thibault couldn’t regret the trade too much. Meanwhile, Howard may be building not just a resume for the best rookie but the best player in the case. She moved the dream from a clown show into a solid, respectable movie. by Kevin Bilton’s War ScaleShe is second in the league, behind Breanna Stewart and ahead of Elena Delle Donne. Always a nice spreadsheet company.
Before the season started, there were some Online chatter On whether Thibault actually traded Mystics for reasons of positional need or whether the trade could be read as a judgment on the draft’s higher potential client. in An introductory survey conducted by The Athleticone WNBA GM called Howard “the best potential client of the year. I don’t think there’s anyone close to her,” and then added, “I think asking about her is her movement, her passion, her fight—that would be a question mark for everyone around her.” Remote psychoanalysis from anonymous global admins and Twitter scouts is the price that hypothetical blanket choices have long had to pay, really for no other reason than long-standing assumptions that are boring and contradiction is fun.
In college, Howard was the big fish in a small pond. Of her Kentucky teammates, one may have had the chance to play in the WNBA. The questions about “passion” and “fighting” come to light if you think about how exhausting it is to play on a team like this. Howard’s game, as devised by its coach Tanisha Wright, does not draw attention to itself either. (Okay, maybe on the defensive end, where Howard is already a prolific shot-blocker.) Her production mostly comes from excellent three-point shooting of great size—she shoots roughly 43 percent from three in about seven attempts per game. What makes shooting excellent is that Howard actually has a calm, clever way of getting a good look. Not only do few beginners have that kind of sense, although it is true. Very few players develop anything like this.
Maya Moore, if she had a bag much deeper than Howard’s up to this point, could dominate the game in similar ways. I successfully crimped the screens, then hit with a quick release. Despite everything his Minnesota teammates went, I remember the fun way to watch a Lynx game was to just watch Moore, and watch her dribble off the ball, slip away from the defenders, and always end up in the right place at the right time. . To be the kind of threat Moore was, Howard would have to diversify and expand her game indoors a bit. (The three-point shooting may go down where it’s been spotted better, and at the moment, it’s less efficient than two.) She’s shown a greater interest in creating her own shot in her last doubles match, which is encouraging. But those “kinetic” fears seem especially funny now. Ryan Howard never stops moving. This is what makes her a star.