Make some room Rhyne Howard. Mystics forward Shakira Austin is making a run for the Rookie of the Year award. The two rookie forwards have established themselves as key players in their respective team’s rotation late into the season.
Howard leads a standout rookie group in scoring (15.1 points per game), assists (2.7), and steals (1.5) and is second in minutes (30.6 per game) for an Atlanta team poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2018. She was also the only rookie to be named to the 2022 All-Star Game. Although Howard has hit the rookie wall, she became the seventh rookie to score at least 100 points in her first five games (20.4 points per game during that span).
Austin is averaging 8.0 points and 6.1 rebounds per game on 53.8 percent shooting (ninth-best in the W)from the field, good for fifth-best and second-best on the Mytcis, respectively. Coach Mike Thibault has praised Austin’s ability to make plays and be a strong contributor on the court despite not having any plays run for her. She does that by doing the small things, setting solid screens, and crashing the glass.
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— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) July 20, 2022
What sets Austin apart from Howard, though, is her defensive abilities. Although she doesn’t lead the team in steals or blocks, Ariel Atkins called Austin the “safety of the (Mystics) defense.” As of Wednesday, the Mystics hold the second-best defensive rating behind the Seattle Storm.
Thibault believes that he thinks the former Ole Miss Rebel will be a “mainstay on the (all) defensive team at some point in her career.”
“One of the best attributes of a post player defensively is to be able to direct traffic and call out coverages on pick and rolls and things in the lane,” Thibault said. “When we watched her in college, she was a really good communicator with her teammates on defense, calling out screens loud, coverages, blocking out, knowing when to help and when to get back. She just has defensive instincts.”
“It’s hard enough, I think sometimes at any level, to get your whole team talking and communicating the right way. But if you have a rookie that can come in and do some of that stuff on the first day, it’s really helpful.”
— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) July 17, 2022
At this point, Howard and Atkins are neck-and-neck in win shares per Her Hoop Stats — 2.5 and 2.4, respectively. However, Austin (0.17) slightly edges Howard (0.14) in win shares per 40 despite only playing 21.0 minutes per game. That’s good enough to place her in third-place in the League behind Breanna Stewart and Ezi Magbegor, who are DPOY candidates.
For what it’s worth, Atkins believes that the fifth-place Mystics (16-11) aren’t in this position without Austin playing well while Elena Delle Donne missed nine games.
“We wouldn’t be,” Atkins said.
“She’s a big part of what we do. I don’t think we necessarily drafted someone to come in and have to do the things that she’s doing. But she stepped up to the plate and showed us that she was capable of doing it. So that’s something that we expect of her every night — and I’m excited to see what she’s going to give us the rest of the season.”
The Mystics are slated for a Thursday morning contest with the Liberty. The Dream is set for a Thursday afternoon matchup with the Sparks.