Tina Charles Has Found A New Way To Dominate The WNBA

Tina Charles is on a tear. The 6’4 big is thriving in her first year in Washington scoring at a more prolific and efficient clip than ever, spreading the floor like never before, and giving D.C. fans hope that the team’s 2019 championship run was just a taste of what’s to come.

When Washington traded for Charles in 2020, she was coming off the worst season of her storied career. She shot a career-low 38.9 percent from the field to score 16.9 points per game, which was her lowest average since her rookie season. After one season off due to Covid-19, she’s bounced back and then some.

Through just eight games, Charles has scored 29 or more points four times. At 25.9 points per game, she holds a 3.7 point lead over the next-best scorer in the league, 2019 MVP Breanna Stewart, and she’s shooting three percent better (46.3). The Mystics might only be 3-5 as a team, but there’s plenty reason to be optimistic, and Charles is leading that charge.

For most of her career, Charles has been a back-to-the-basket and low-post scorer. In the first six seasons of her career, she only attempted 17 3-point shots, and in 2014 she didn’t attempt a single one. That’s why it was a curious move for D.C. — a team that’s placed in the top-4 in 3-point attempts per game in each of the last seven years — to invest draft capital and cap space on a player who operates in the ranges they’ve moved to eliminate. In 2019, Charles took the third-most mid-range shots of any player in the league.

But Charles has bought into head coach Mike Thibault’s system which focuses on perimeter ball movement, drive-and-kicking, and spacing, and it’s taking her offense to the next level. She’s launching a career-high 5.5 3-point attempts per game and making 34.1 percent of them. Best of all, she’s cut out the least efficient shots from her repertoire.

In 2019, Charles took 39.9 percent of her shot attempts from between 10 feet from the hoop and just inside the 3-point line. This year she’s taking just 21.3 percent of her shots in that range while firing 17.1 percent more shots from distance. Charles’s shot selection has improved, and she’s had more open looks than ever before.

Charles finding new life with the Mystics couldn’t have come at a better time for the franchise. Two years ago, Washington wiped the floor with its competition, outscoring opponents by 14.8 points per 100 possessions. The team looked unstoppable with an abundance of young talent to push a potential dynasty forward, but there have been a number of speed bumps along the way.

A salary cap crunch left Kristi Toliver to sign with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2020 free agency. Then Charles, Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders all opted out of the 2020 bubble season. In the 2021 free agency period, Aerial Powers left the franchise to sign with the Minnesota Lynx, and her replacement, Alysha Clark, tore her Achilles before the start of the WNBA season. Then Sanders retired, and Delle Donne is still sidelined this season since having back surgery in the winter.

But Charles has embraced her role as the now-centerpiece of the Mystics franchise until co-star Delle Donne’s return. And she has an excellent supporting cast with Cloud, Ariel Atkins and 2020 breakout player Myisha Hines-Allen back in the rotation. With Charles in the fold scoring with both efficiency and volume, the Mystics suddenly have to be considered potential contenders again.

There are loads of ifs in play, such as when Delle Donne is going to return and what she’ll look like when she does slot back into the rotation. It’s unclear when or if Emma Meesseman will return after the Olympic break, too. But if those major pieces fall into place, it’s tough not to see Washington as a serious threat given the level Charles is playing at.

Her 31 points on 9-of-18 shooting including three 3-pointers were enough to lead the Mystics over the Lynx on Tuesday without EDD or Meesseman, and even against Jonquel Jones, Charles poured in 29 points on 11-of-22 shooting in a five-point loss to the Sun. She can still be a team’s top scoring option, and her ability to take over on any given night bodes well for Washington long-term.

The Mystics have a real chance to wreak havoc in a playoff system that has six of eight teams play win-or-go-home games until it’s proven that Charles’ dominance can be stopped.