The 2022 WNBA rookie class has continually impressed on a
multitude of fronts a third of the way through the season.
Atypical rookies like Kristy Wallace and Rebekah Gardner, who
entered the league with a wealth of overseas play, are already
playing a fundamental role on playoff teams.
Aisha Sheppard (Las Vegas), Jasmine Dickey (Dallas), Evina
Westbrook (Minnesota), and Olivia Nelson-Ododa (Los Angeles) have
all shown glimpses as second- and third-round picks to varying
The Indiana Fever superclass has been electric. NaLyssa Smith
looks like someone who could grow into one of the best scorers in
the league. Queen Egbo has impressed me greatly, blowing away
rookie-year expectations with her stellar defense. Destanni
Henderson should have been a first-round pick (and I'll die on that
hill!). Emily Engstler has some of the most intriguing flashes and
upside in the class, and I have no idea what to project her as
going forward. Lexie Hull's minutes have been inconsistent, but the
idea of what she can be in the league is clear as day.
Veronica Burton's defense has been fantastic for a Wings team
trying to establish an aggressive scheme and mentality. The flashes
she has shown as a steady hand in the halfcourt have been
impressive as well, and her scoring and shooting are coming along
too (she has as many threes in the past two games as she had in the
There are multiple first-rounders whom we haven't even seen in
extended minutes due to rotation crunches (Kierstan Bell) and
injuries (Rae Burrell and Nyara Sabally).
Atlanta Dream forward Rhyne Howard has taken the
league by storm, already cementing herself as one of the better
perimeter players in the WNBA. She could make the All-Star team or
All-Defensive team as a rookie and I wouldn't bat an eye.
Based on the way Howard and No. 3 overall pick Shakira Austin
have played thus far, this is a trade we're going to
retrospectively debate for years to come.
Howard has been sensational for the Dream, and while Austin's
box score isn't as gaudy and she doesn't create offense in the same
way, her impact has arguably been as strong for the Mystics. I'm
not interested in pitting the two against one another and going
"____ won the trade because ____ is better than _____!"
We are not even a full year into their careers! It's too early
for that! But it's important to note that while Howard is
rightfully a runaway for Rookie of the Year at the moment, Austin
has been vital for a team in contention, earning a starting role
and showing bright flashes of her offensive upside as well.
On/off stats are imperfect. They shouldn't be taken at face
value, but they're a notable point of reference when considering
state of play. Among players who have played at least 200 minutes
in the 2022 WNBA season, only six players have an on/off swing of
+22 or higher: A'ja Wilson, Ariel Atkins, Brianna Turner, Chelsea
Gray, Sabrina Ionescu and Shakira Austin. That's pretty incredible
The Mystics' offense (+16.67) and defense (+12.44) perform
substantially better with Austin on the court, per PBP Stats.
As she showcased last night against the Phoenix Mercury, she's
adept at flowing within the offense. Her screening and rolling
along with intuitive cutting make her a remarkably effective spacer
in spite of not being a shooter out to the arc. Quick decisions and
intuitive decisions that work within the offense are arguably as
impactful as shooting, especially when a player with Austin's size
and fluidity is making them.
Austin makes some fantastic connective passes within the
offense, an incredibly important aspect for someone functioning
primarily as an offensive outlet.
Her face-up drives both off the catch and from a standstill have
impressed. Her ball control and strides at her size make her a
difficult cover for bigger 5s, but her strength to mash a smaller
defender provides an equal challenge for defenses. Her footwork is
already incredibly advanced as a rookie, both on the roll and in
the post. Her coordination at 6-foot-5 is kind of insane!
Send a blitz at Natasha Cloud or Ariel Atkins, and Shakira can
slip and cover that ground to the rim just as quickly as you took
She's made some stellar live-dribble passes on the roll and on
drives that make me extremely excited about her playmaking
potential as well.
Austin's defense has been equally adept. Off rip, the
shot-blocking and rim protection has translated (seventh in the
league in total blocks, per Her Hoop Stats), but her pick-and-roll
defense has been huge for a team built on the back of it's ability
to contain the ball. She already has shown good feel for showing
and recovering, playing near the level of the screen, and
particularly roaming weak-side.
Watch the first stab playing close to the level against Courtney
Vandersloot in pick-and-roll. Her hand activity keeps improving,
and her reaction time and recovery tools give her top-notch margin
Most of her fouls have come from overaggression or general
timing on late contests, largely on switches or against smaller
wings and guards. Austin has shown the ability to switch in a pinch
and ride out drivers to the rim, but honing that aggression will be
huge in developing that versatility.
What Austin has brought the Mystics from day one as a rookie
cannot be understated. She's played even better defense than former
First Team All-Defensive member Elizabeth Williams (who has been
very good in her own right!) and solidifed a starting spot. The sky
is the limit on what she can be, and although she's been in a more
contained role in DC, it's clear that there's a great deal of
untapped potential that continues to be excavated game by game.
Shakira Austin is already a problem in the league, and her
culmination of skills, size, aptitude and demeanor make her one of
the most exciting young players in the WNBA.