Key Offseason Trade Ignites Rookie of the Year Race


The biggest trade of the 2022 WNBA draft has been the key to a now head-to-head race for Rookie of the Year between Rhyne Howard and Shakira Austin. Dan Padover and Mike Thibault had the team’s best interest in sight, and they have made their respective picks gel within their system.

At first overall, Howard is a quiet, yet jaw dropping young superstar, who matches the Atlanta energy and culture. At third overall, Austin is receiving tutelage from one of the best forwards in the league, Elena Delle Donne. Her dominant personality translates across her stat sheet. So, how are these two shaking up the Rookie of the Year campaign?

Sold Out Dates

First, let us talk about how the Atlanta Dream have now sold out four of their home games. Fans are packing the arena to see Rhyne Howard. She is smiling and dancing on the court, firing off the 3-point arrow, and showing off the occasional “griddy” dance. Her gameplay and personality is infectious with not only her teammates, but also the fans in Gateway Center Arena.

The Atlanta Dream bench is electric once Howard gets going. It pushes the rest of her team to be explosive in their performance. Whether teammate or fan, everyone celebrated the turnaround jumper on Kayla McBride in the matchup against the Minnesota Lynx.

Even more so, from its starting five players to those that come off the bench, the Dream team is deep. A balanced roster stat sheet from the Minnesota game showed that five players scored in double digits for the Dream. Coming off a team-high 30 rebounds in that game, the team works together on offense and defense to get the second-chance buckets. Also, working hard on the defensive boards helps to get on the run and make transition buckets.

Along with 3-pointers from Howard and the steals from Aari McDonald, it is the little details of the game that gets the crowd on their feet and players finishing at the basket.

Make Way for Accolades

The Atlanta rookie has already been the recipient of WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week and WNBA Player of the Month. What is working well for Howard? The confidence that Coach Tanisha Wright and her teammates have in her lets her know she is the first offensive option for the team. Averaging 15.8 points per game, she is leading all rookies in scoring. Although standing tall in this first month of the season, there is another rookie who brings a dog mentality back to her home arena.

Dog Mentality from a Rebel

With the third pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft, the Washington Mystics selected Shakira Austin. Well, fans could only imagine how Austin’s personality and performance would compliment with the Atlanta Dream. However, it is befitting that she come home to impact her new squad, the Washington Mystics.

From LaChina Robinson and Rebecca Lobo, both spoke highly to her potential of being a perennial star in the league. Her size, mobility, length, and athleticism are on display in each game. She is averaging 8.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Receiving tutelage from Natasha Cloud, Elena Delle Donne, and Myisha Hines-Allen, there is no ceiling in sight for the 6’5″ post-player.

Now, the connection between Cloud and Austin looks like they have been playing together longer than a month. Taking the microphone from Ros Gold-Onwude, Cloud addressed the entire W community that may have forgotten, “she is a shooter.” Cloud is a vocal, emotional, and aggressive player.

Rookie Identity

Without doubt, the identity of the Mystics is predicated on toughness and physicality. Austin has great court awareness similar to her point guard. She makes cuts across the baseline, receives the backdoor pass, and stays on the glass for her team. Also, she is a fierce competitor, not afraid to get in the face of her opponents.

For example, Austin’s dominance was on display in her 20-point game against the Dallas Wings. She demonstrated proficient shooting: eight rebounds, two blocks, one assist, and two steals. What would Austin’s stat line look like if her minutes were increased? Above all, running at the four, Austin will continue to improve at one of the hardest positions on the floor. She is learning from the best, and with Delle Donne having mandatory rest days in her schedule, those minutes will give Austin more experience to put up another impressive stat line. Twelve games into the season, she has proven to be an asset to her team, just as head coach Mike Thibault envisioned.

Eye on the Prize

Overall, to juxtapose Howard and Austin is simply an opportunity to shed light on their individual performances. What the rookies have accomplished through their first month of the season has yielded high production. They exceed the expectations that fans and analysts placed on them.

Therefore, a shocking trade deal between the Dream and the Mystics has proven that each team received what was meant for them. Howard and Austin fit their respective cultures, are thriving in their gameplay, and each night, they are blazing a path for future rookie accolades.


About Caylen Johnson

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