There are several players that are more than deserving of the WNBA Most Improved Player Award this season. Under normal circumstances, the league could bestow this honor on any one of the soon-to-be finalists and there will be no argument. But this season it is a four-player race and after Myisha Hines-Allen's latest showing, there is a clear frontrunner.
Hines-Allen further solidified her case to take home the award at season's end. She recored her fifth game of the year with 20+ points by dropping 26 on the playoff-bound Minnesota Lynx. By halftime, the third-year player had scored the most points (19) in a half of any Mystics player and was shooting 8-for-11 from the field. Leading the way, her aggression sparked Washington to an early edge after a disappointing loss with playoff implications to the Dallas Wings. She was a rebound away from her ninth double-double.
It was more than what is expected from the player that in the conversation for the award. That's a borderline MVP-type performance.
"I think it's clear to me - and I'm obviously biased - but I think she's the most improved player," head coach Mike Thibault said postgame. "[She's] had to play an incredible role after basically not playing but six minutes a game on average last year. I just think that she's worked so hard on both her post-up game and her 3-point shooting, her energy level has been really good. And I just think that you're talking about somebody who's an undersized post player who's learning to be a ball handler, a 3-point shooter, a post-up player. That's pretty versatile to do all those things in the course of the year."
There's a crowded field alongside Hines-Allen with the Atlanta Dream’s Betnijah Laney, the Connecticut Sun’s Brionna Jones, and the Chicago Sky’s Kahleah Copper. All have a their own valid case and are great stories on a unique 2020 season.
But as The Next's Jenn Hatfield lays out quite plainly, there is no one more deserving than Hines-Allen when looking at the statistics.
Hines-Allen is ninth in the league in scoring (15.9 ppg), tied for third in rebounding (8.7 rpg) and eighth in total efficiency.
She's done that on a Mystics' squad that's lacked their traditional star-power and battled an inconsistent roster all season. Beating the Lynx it was on full display from her back-down post-ups, her transition drives and finger-roll layups at the rim and knock-down kickout threes. Even in the third quarter she had drawn a triple team inside the post because she could not be stopped.
"I do what I can do best, and that's for me personally I'm undersized but I have amazing strength. So it's just like, 'alright, use your strength to your ability,'" Hines-Allen said postgame. "For me personally if I win that award... I think it just shows like never give up, because, the first two years I didn't play and I could have sulked... But for me, it was much more than that. I'm an underdog, and I take pride in being an underdog."
This opportunity to be in the conversation for the Most Improved Player is from the situation presented to her this year. With so many Mystics sitting out this season, she was next in line to fill-in to important roles. The former second-round draft pick has lived up to that and is also making a case for her longevity in the league.
Now that things have settled down on the roster, the team behind Hines-Allen is playing some of their most competitive basketball of the season. They're out of the playoffs right now, but have two recent wins against two of the top six teams in the league.
And when she plays well, the team plays well. In wins, she's averaging 20.8 points and shooting over 63% from the field. All the reason why, even after another ankle roll late in the game, she made the push to get back in to finish it.
As things stand, she is on pace to have the biggest single-year points improvement (+13.6 ppg) in WNBA history, according to ESPN. With three games left and the playoffs still on the table, there is no sign she is going to slow down.
"At the end of the day we're still in that running to make playoffs," Hines-Allen said. "There's one spot left so we can't hang our heads on that last Dallas [Sunday] even though we really, we really really needed it. Alright, next one. Let's try to continue to surprise people and make this playoff push because it's still possible.