When the WNBA All-Star reserves were announced on Tuesday, there was a notable exclusion. Perhaps voters didn’t think the league leader in assists warranted an all-star nod, but nonetheless, Natasha Cloud took offense and unleashed her anger out on the Atlanta Dream. Cloud had one of her best shooting performances of the season, knocking down four threes in an 18-point performance and a 92-74 Mystics victory.
After the game, Cloud admitted the all-star snub fueled her performance and that her increased playmaking role underrated the other facets of her game.
“I just think people don’t respect that I impact the full stat sheet,” she said. “I play both ends of the floor. You’ll have to prepare for me on defense, and you’ll have to prepare for me on offense, regardless of whether I’m scoring or not, because I facilitate our offense.”
Cloud is having the best scoring and playmaking season of her career. Averaging 11 points on league average efficiency while leading the league in assists, Cloud has done a great job taking on an increased load in the absence of so many players, particularly Elena Delle Donne. In her absence, Cloud is averaging close to 15 points on close to league average efficiency, a sign that she can and does ramp up her scoring volume when necessary.
Cloud is leading the league in assists with 7.3 per game, while no other player in the league is averaging seven. Her box creation estimates also rank near the top of the league as well, another sign that she does a phenomenal job leveraging her scoring and playmaking off each other to generate easy looks for teammates. One of those teammates is Ariel Atkins, who was selected for the All-Star game and had this to say about Cloud’s play.
“[Cloud] comes that way every night,” Atkins said. “Regardless of how you see her or what people are thinking, you have to game plan for her. We’re a team that you got to pick your poison … and if you want to choose her, you’re going to have to pay for it.”
Atkins had 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting on Tuesday. The Atkins and Cloud pairing in the backcourt has been phenomenal for the Mystics this year. According to PBPstats, in the 301 minutes those two have played on the court together without Delle Donne, the Mystics have produced a +8.73 Net Rating, which would contend for best in the league.
The Mystics have struggled as of late, especially on their past road trip; however, when healthy, they have shown signs that they can compete with Connecticut, Las Vegas, and Chicago.
Washington currently has the second-best defensive rating in the league. In third is Atlanta, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the way the Mystics carved up the Dream Tuesday. Cloud imposed her will and had an absolutely insane shooting performance, finishing with a mind-boggling +50.4 relative true shooting. If you are not into advanced numbers, then this may be an unfamiliar stat to you, but simply put, Tuesday’s performance wasn’t just good, it was historically great. It’s safe to say Cloud put the league on notice.
Besides just her offense, this has also been the best defensive season of Cloud’s career. She is currently on par to overtake her rookie season in defensive win shares; and while it’s not a perfect stat to gauge defensive impact, it does a decent job estimating who the impactful ones are. This season Cloud ranks third in defensive win shares for guards, trailing two selected all-stars in Rhyne Howard and teammate Ariel Atkins.
If you needed any more reasoning as to why Cloud felt disrespected by being left off the final voting, there you have it. She truly does impact the game in every facet, not just for the Mystics, but for the entire league.
The Mystics go on a brief two-game road trip before the All-Star break, facing off against two elite defenses in Connecticut and Atlanta. Both teams are very familiar with Washington and with Cloud feeling extra motivated after the all-star snub, the Mystics could be poised for yet another breakout performance from their point guard.