The Washington Mystics are 7-6 in the 2021 WNBA season, fourth in the WNBA standings after last night’s upset victory over the Seattle Storm. Washington has shaken off a 2-5 start and has now won four of their last five games. While the team is still looking to get more consistency from its backcourt, their most consistent performer this season is center Tina Charles, who is leading the WNBA’s scorers with 25.3 points per game.
When the Mystics acquired her last year, the hope was that she would be an additional low-post star along with Emma Meesseman and Elena Delle Donne, but neither of them has suited up this year due to international team commitments and a back injury, respectively.
While Charles was the 2012 WNBA MVP and an All-Star, she was also coming off a relatively down 2019 season where she averaged 16.9 points per game on 38.9 percent shooting for the New York Liberty. Since she will be 33 this year, it’s safe to say that many, including myself, weren’t expecting her to be the WNBA’s leading scorer and a contender for this year’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Why is that the case?
She’s taking and making more three point shots
Charles has always been a prolific post scorer throughout her WNBA career, never averaging less than 15.5 points per game in her rookie season back in 2010. However, she was never much of a three point shooter. Charles didn’t make a three until 2012 (where she only made one out of five attempts) when she played for the Connecticut Sun. And she didn’t make at least 10 threes until 2016 when she made 17-of-49 shots from long range for the Liberty. Before this season, Charles’ most prolific three-point shooting season was in 2018 when she made 31-of-95 shots at a rate of 32.6 percent in 33 games.
This season, Charles has made 23-of-66 three point shots at a rate of 34.8 percent which ties a career-high. Since she played 12 games this season, she is making nearly two per game.
Charles’ shooting efficiency has improved all around
Three-point shooting has helped Charles’ numbers, but what’s more dramatic is her improvement in two-point shooting from the 2019 season. In 2019, Charles only made 41.2 percent of her two-point shots. This season, her two-point shooting has gone up to 49.7 percent. Charles does take a significant number of shots from midrange and the three-point line.
Tina Charles' shooting percentage is a bit lower than many post players (Ex- Liz Cambage). That's partly because she shoots more midrange shots ... and this year's she's draining a lot of threes! pic.twitter.com/LKVgoqLFUF— BF_Mystics (@BF_mystics) June 23, 2021
If all that weren’t enough, Charles is also making a career-high 85.5 percent of her free throws and she’s making a career-high 4.4 free throws a game.
Ultimately, you can see all of these things come together in yesterday’s win over the Storm, where Charles scored 34 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished 5 assists. Charles also made five three-pointers. The highlights are in the video above.
Charles is benefiting statistically from Meesseman’s and Delle Donne’s absences
Last season, we were expecting to see her play with Washington’s All-Star forwards, perhaps as the player who defers and comes off the bench behind the 2019 WNBA regular season and Finals MVPs.
But with Meesseman not being here and Delle Donne still recovering from her back injury in the 2019 WNBA Finals, that debate is a moot point now. Meesseman’s and Delle Donne’s absences have given Charles the amount of playing time needed to be the WNBA’s leading scorer. She is averaging 32.5 minutes per game this season.
Hopefully, Washington gets Meesseman or Delle Donne back for the post-Olympic break part of the season, since they will likely need more talent to make a run for the WNBA Finals. Any of their additions will help with Charles’ load management since she will be 33 later this season.
Nevertheless, Charles is having a career-best season. Without her production, the Mystics would be further behind than they are right now.