If you haven’t been paying attention to Mystics shooting guard Ariel Atkins this season, I highly suggest it. In a way, Atkins is the perfect player for the modern style of basketball. By the numbers, threes and layups are the most efficient shot in the game, and Atkins excels at leveraging her excellent three-point shooting ability to create easier looks for herself and teammates.
Of the ten players in the WNBA with over 90 attempted threes this season, Ariel Atkins and Kelsey Plum are the only two that are shooting over 40 percent on their threes, a mark of great efficiency that produces insane value for overall team scoring.
With Elena Delle Donne missing considerable time this season for Washington, Atkins has been called upon more than ever to carry the offensive load. Despite losing to the LA Sparks on Tuesday 84-82, Atkins showed once again why she is an All-Star-caliber player, scoring 22 points on 64 percent true shooting.
Atkins showed a little bit of everything on the scoring end. On this possession in the second quarter, Atkins begins to cut baseline before retracting back out to the corner for an open catch-and-shoot three.
Atkins is a very great catch-and-shoot player pic.twitter.com/6JAwqS9xJy— Josh Felton (@jfeltonnn) June 23, 2022
Perhaps the most dangerous part of her game is her off-ball movement. On this play drawn up out of a timeout, Atkins receives a great pass from Natasha Cloud (who will also get a player breakdown very soon!) and despite excellent defense, drops in a contested mid-range jumper.
Her off-ball game and difficult shot making ability adds some unpredictability to the Mystics' offense pic.twitter.com/sP1AGBVD8M— Josh Felton (@jfeltonnn) June 23, 2022
Just a few plays later, Atkins showed great concentration and balance, stopping on a dime here in front of former teammate Kristi Toliver to create space for the foul-line jumper.
Great balance on this play from Ariel Atkins to stop on a dime and make a nice free throw line jumper pic.twitter.com/t3JaoiPPvg— Josh Felton (@jfeltonnn) June 23, 2022
Watching this game, it was interesting to see how the Sparks guards defended Atkins. For the most part when she didn’t have the ball, Atkins’ defender was at least five feet away from her. The Sparks guards trusted their closeout abilities on Atkins, but in this game, she made some very contested shots that should have been an indicator she was in another zone.
On this play, she clears out for Cloud to go to work in the post. Atkins’ primary defender appears unconcerned about the amount of space she is providing her. Cloud throws another great pass right into the shooting pocket of Atkins, and the shot is nothing but net.
Another catch and shoot bucket despite a great contest by Brittney Sykes pic.twitter.com/t1VH5Mjpdh— Josh Felton (@jfeltonnn) June 23, 2022
After she made multiple shots, the Sparks started to play Atkins much more aggressively on screens and handoffs; however, Atkins showed great instincts to counter these strategies. Late in the third quarter, she absolutely buckled Katie Lou Samuelson with a nice misdirection, giving her room for a soft floater over the outstretched arms of Liz Cambage.
Atkins with the nice floater over the outstretched arms of Liz Cambage pic.twitter.com/k5BnRvzBhg— Josh Felton (@jfeltonnn) June 23, 2022
Atkins has been one of the most vital offensive pieces for the Mystics early on in this season. Along with Cloud, the backcourt tandem has been able to stay competitive even without Delle Donne.
In 282 minutes without Delle Donne on the court and Atkins and Cloud on the court this season, the Mystics have produced an offensive rating of 105.40, which would rank 4th in the league. Add Delle Donne back into the mix and the rating jumps up to 109.84, which is a good enough number to rival Connecticut and Las Vegas.
We’ve seen the capability of this Mystics team when they are fully healthy. Not many teams have been able to beat the Sun and Aces this season; however Washington has beaten both and made it look easy in both wins.
Atkins’ ability to maintain and even elevate the overall team’s potential when surrounded by higher-end talent makes her a very portable player who raises the Mystics’ championship equity. Her shooting and defense makes her an invaluable part of this team, which could be poised for another championship run when healthy.
Atkins ranks eighth in the league in defensive win shares per game, which is impressive for a guard. This ranking is reflected in the game footage. Notice how on this play she anticipates the screening action and rotates over to prevent Nneka Ogwumike from rolling to the basket. This leads to a help and recovery play, which highlights Atkins ready to scramble to defend the open shot before she concludes the possession with an excellent box out on 6-foot-5 center Olivia Nelson-Ododa.
Watch where Atkins starts and finishes this play, excellent defensive awareness and a very solid boxout on a much bigger player pic.twitter.com/Y0tWsMPqzy— Josh Felton (@jfeltonnn) June 23, 2022
Despite the loss, there are many positives to take away from this game for the Mystics. For Atkins, this game displayed her combination of elite shooting, off-ball movement, shotmaking ability, and defensive awareness, all of which make her an All-Star-caliber player.