I needed to see Rhyne Howard in person.
Sure, it had only been two games, but Howard's start to her WNBA career wasn't normal. She slapped up 16 points in her debut against the Dallas Wings. That was followed by 21-point outing against the Los Angeles Sparks. Those were two wins for the Dream that I'm not sure many outside of the locker room expected them to snag.
Beyond the scoring totals, I was impressed by her level of comfort. The efficiency wasn't quite there, particularly inside the arc: she missed nine of her 11 two-point attempts in those games. But, and excuse me for not sounding profound here, she mostly just missed. You'd expect rookies to really struggle with the improved speed and physicality of the WNBA. To get knocked off their spots. To struggle to even get to their spots.
Look at some of these misses and tell me if Howard looks flustered.
So, yeah, I needed to see Howard.
The Las Vegas Aces were in town, fresh off their first loss of the season, an 89-76 loss to the Washington Mystics fostered by a 53-27 beatdown in the second half. An Aces team with the blend of athleticism and length they have? An angry Aces team off that loss with two days off?
There's a cliche in sports about teams or players getting hit in the mouth and their mettle being measured by how they respond to it. This seemed to be the perfect test for Howard. I wanted to see how she'd handle that moment against a title contender if it arrived.
I wasn't expecting to see a literal example.
Midway through the third quarter, Aces guard Chelsea Gray took and missed a contested pull-up middy. In the midst of battling for the rebound, Howard took an accidental elbow from Aces forward Dearica Hamby. But watch how this possession plays out.
That is Howard literally getting hit in the mouth, holding her mouth, blocking Hamby with her free hand, then getting the rebound with that same hand before checking out of the game. If that's her response to getting hit, figuratively and literally, the rest of the WNBA has a problem on their hands.
The Dream took their first loss on Friday, with the Aces coming out on top 96-73. Howard ended her night with a modest stat line--13 points on 4-of-10 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, and that block in a season-low 25 minutes--but the flashes were there.
Excluding end-of-clock heaves, all but one of Howard's three-point attempts came off the catch in her first two games. If it wasn't a stationary catch-and-shoot jumper. Rather, it was one where she fired coming off some sort of movement. She's shown comfort flying off a variety of screens or relocating around the arc while her drivers do work.
At 6-foot-2 with a high release point, contests don't bother her. Her fearlessness as a shooter already stands out. It's why she's able to shoot as well (45.8% from deep) and as often (eight attempts per game) as she does.
Against the Aces, we got to see her tap into her creation bag. She took a pair of threes, draining both of them. But the looks were key. On her first attempt, she called for a high ball screen, stared down A'ja Wilson in drop coverage and pulled up with no hesitation. Her second attempt was a clear-out against Hamby. The ease in which she pulls up in her face is chuckle-inducing.