A look back at an exchange, one year later
It’s rare that the WNBA has a blockbuster trade midseason, but in her first full season in DC, Aerial Powers is making the case that her midseason acquisition last year was just that. Averaging 10.6 points per game so far this season, she has topped that in each of her last three games, scoring 14 against Indiana, 20 against Minnesota, and 16 against Seattle—all wins. For the season, she is shooting 45% from the floor and 38% from 3-point range as one of head coach Mike Thibault’s primary bench options.
Powers came to Washington from Dallas in July 2018 in exchange for guard Tayler Hill and a second-round draft pick. In nine regular-season games with Washington in 2018, Powers averaged 6.1 points in 13 minutes per game and posted an excellent 21.7 player efficiency rating (the league average is 15). And although she struggled with her shot in the playoffs, she exploded for 18 points and 8 rebounds in Game 3 of the WNBA semifinals and committed only seven turnovers in nine games.
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All of that came despite the fact that she barely knew the Mystics’ plays last season and had to figure out where she fit on a team that already had veterans such as Toliver, Natasha Cloud, and Monique Currie in the backcourt, plus All-Star forward Elena Delle Donne. This season, Powers has had a chance to settle in, learn the playbook, get more minutes, and show off more of her all-around game. In the process, it’s become clear that the Mystics won the trade, at least in the short term—and it’s not particularly close.
In 2018, Hill played in seven games with Dallas, averaging 5 points but posting a dismal 3.7 efficiency rating. This season, Hill has only played in four games due to a knee injury, averaging 3.3 points on 31% shooting in about 12 minutes per game. The other asset that Dallas received in the trade was a second-round draft pick, which it used on UCLA guard Kennedy Burke. Burke was cut by the Wings in training camp (and subsequently signed by the Indiana Fever), so the Wings got no value out of that pick.
Meanwhile, Powers is averaging nearly 19 minutes per game this season, and she has started the Mystics’ last two games in place of the injured Kristi Toliver. In those two games, she is averaging 18 points and 3 rebounds in close to 30 minutes per game. She has also chipped in two steals and shot a combined 11-21 (55%) from the field. After the Seattle game, in which Powers led six Mystics players in double figures, Thibault said, “She’s been playing great. I mean, she just loves to play, and she competes at both ends of the floor every night. She has an enthusiasm about her that’s contagious, and I think it rubs off on her teammates.” Guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added, “She’s been doing a great job. … She’s our ball of energy and we feed off that.”
After the Minnesota game, Powers said that her mentality was the same whether she was a starter or a member of what Walker-Kimbrough called the “bench mob.” She explained, “If I see something, I’ll say something to [my teammates], or [if] I feel that their energy is down, I’ll pep them up. It’s just whatever the team needs, I try to do.” Three days later, after another win and another start, Powers said she was fully adjusted to being in the starting lineup, but was looking forward to Toliver’s return. (“We’re going to need her for [the] playoffs,” Powers said.) Powers explained that she had been getting extra shots up, which contributed to her feeling prepared and confident offensively.
Powers’s play on both ends of the court has helped the Mystics to an 18-7 record, best in the WNBA. In the playoffs, Powers will be a critical asset for Thibault because he can bring her off the bench to change the momentum of a game or start her—either to replace an injured player or simply to take advantage of a favorable matchup. “Sometimes bench players aren’t comfortable starting when they’ve been doing that. She’s just comfortable playing,” Thibault said after the Minnesota game. “… I give her a lot of credit. You know, when she came here from Dallas, she was completely playing in a different kind of system. And she has adapted her game and bought into what we’re doing at both ends of the court.”
When asked about the difficulty of adapting to a new system, Powers admitted that it took her some time to adjust. The Mystics share the ball so well, she said, that it took some time to figure out when she should shoot and when she should make the extra pass. “When I first … came to the team, yeah, it was a lot of thinking when it came to that, but now … I read the defense a little bit better—a lot better, actually.” That can be seen in her efficiency rating, which is nearly unchanged from last season at 21.0—12th-best in the league—despite her increased minutes.
Thibault has said several times that Powers was a player he liked as far back as her college days at Michigan State, and her play this season has shown everyone why. Her teammates also love her unfailing energy and positivity, and she seems typecast for the role of playoff X-factor. As a starter, Powers was one big reason why the Mystics could weather the Storm on Wednesday, winning 88-59 in the rubber match of the season series. And in the playoffs, Powers could be the reason why the Mystics survive the storms their opponents will try to unleash en route to a WNBA championship.
All stats are courtesy of the game box score, Basketball-Reference.com, and WNBA.com.
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