A year ago Myisha Hines-Allen's best opportunity to get time on the court was in the Washington Mystics practice gym. But only after the team's official practice. Behind the likes of Elena Delle Donne, Emma Meesseman and LaToya Sanders there was little opportunity for the third-year pro to get reps in.
For games, Hines-Allen's time was mostly reserved for sitting on the bench. She would watch Sanders size up and position her body against post players much larger than herself. She would study how Meesseman moves the ball as a forward with a ton of attention directed on her.
The 24-year-old was doing what she could to stay ready and work on her development in any way she could. She was biding her time until she got her chance.
And in 2020 that chance has been presented to her.
Through seven games, Myisha Hines-Allen is leading the way for a Mystics' offense missing several key pieces from last year's championship team. On opening night she made a statement. With a career-high 24 points, Hines-Allen led Washington to a dominating win over the Indiana Fever. Her explosive breakthrough took the eyes of many as she was named the WNBA's Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
As the season has continued, she has emerged as one of Washington's top-scoring threats with 15.6 points and is nearly averaging a double-double with 8.7 rebounds.
All that time waiting finally paid off.
"I think the biggest thing was when I was sitting on the bench last two years, I wasn't just sulking and being mad 'Oh why am I not playing and this and that.' I was continuing to get better, look at the people in front of me," Hines-Allen said after the first game of the season. "What are they doing well, how do they defend, how do they get their open shots? It's like all leading up to this point right now where I've worked so hard for."
While many may be surprised by the rapid pace Hines-Allen has started the season with, the rest of the team is not. She's been a well-kept secret buried down the depth chart that was bound to break loose at some point.
"And I think, that's the biggest thing. If I would have been, you know mad, angry, those two years that I wasn't playing when we have great players in front of me playing, then this moment right here wouldn't have mattered to me at all," Hines-Allen said. "But it matters most because I took everything that every post players were giving me, even the guards for telling me what to do, you know, so it all leads up to this moment. It makes it even more special just because they're not here - those players that were helping me out."
Hines-Allen is a team-first competitor and has played well in the chances she has gotten at practices. Teammates knew this was going to be Hines-Allen's year to prove her value in the league.
"I feel like if you know, you know, right," Aerial Powers told reporters after the win over Indiana. "The girls who have been on our team, that see Myisha compete every day in practice, they know what she has. We knew she had it in her, she just hadn't had the opportunity given the amazing players before her. But now she has that opportunity and she's taking full advantage."
Since being drafted by Washington in 2018 in the second round, Hines-Allen has remained on the roster. That is not necessarily an easy feat for the Louisville product in today's WNBA. Having only 12 teams means roster spots are hard to come by and a franchise can quickly run out of space with so many developed stars in the league.
Typically, second-round picks have trouble making it. The most notable are Allie Quigley of the Chicago Sky, Jessica Breland on the Phoenix Mercury, and fellow Mystics teammates Natasha Cloud and Meeseman.
Her first year, Hines-Allen saw a decent amount of playing time for a rookie with injuries and Meesseman taking a year off from the WNBA. Last year she averaged less than eight minutes a game, the fewest among those in the regular rotation.
Still, head coach and general manager Mike Thibault has raved about the ability of Hines-Allen since he drafted her. She's a dynamic forward who is quick and can score at all three levels. Her ball-handling is great for her size, but positionally she provides such a big mismatch on the offensive end. She has the strength of a post player, but the speed and agility of a guard. Thibault's go-to player comparison for her is Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green.
But when you have superstars in a two-time WNBA MVP and a Finals MVP who play in similar roles in an offense, how can you justify squeezing room for a player without those accolades into a rotation? You can't.
"I thought that this (year) was a great opportunity for her," Thibault said. "I mean she just got stuck in a tough position last year with so many great post players. And she knew that when Tina (Charles) probably wasn't going to play or Elena wasn't going to play, this was a great opportunity for her to make a statement about her game, and where she is and how she can help this team, and she's obviously lived up to it. She's worked hard. In the offseason, in her game overseas and it's paid off."
Growth and development have come with limited reps and opportunities even in workouts for Hines-Allen. She's realizing this unique season has created not only a moment where she can showcase her abilities but a place where she can fully hone her craft and establish herself as a star in the league.
Game plans are now around her. Practice time has drastically changed. It was something that she frankly wasn't accustomed to in the first game when Thibault had to pull her out because she was winded.
"I feel like for me, personally, I can grow a lot more," Hines-Allen said. "So, I think, me being on the court now it's definitely helping me because it's showing me things that I'm good at, things I still need to work on too. So just being on the court whether it's in practice, or actually in the game, the confidence in the things where I'm like actually watching film. Because before I was watching film on other players or in the game I was looking at [Sanders] most of the time. Now I can actually see myself, where, like I need to be more often or oh I could have done this differently."
With that evolution also brings a renowned confidence. At this rate, Hines-Allen is going to continue to get better night-in and night-out. She hasn't wavered yet from her big opening night performance with three additional games of 16-plus points. No one has seen how much she can actually succeed with this much playing time since she was in college. For her, the next step forward is to just continue doing what she is doing.
"This is a great feeling. I would be lying if I told you that I wasn't shocked, surprised, none of that," Hines-Allen said. "I'm super happy with myself and how I played, but again I wouldn't be able to do what I was doing if it wasn't for my teammates giving me that support."
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