Elena Delle Donne, Myisha Hines-Allen finally getting chance to play together

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Delle Donne, Hines-Allen finally getting chance to play together originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON -- Elena Delle Donne and Myisha Hines-Allen have been teammates ever since the latter was drafted by the Mystics in the second round in 2018. That's four seasons, two WNBA Finals runs and one championship ago. Yet entering this year, the two players had only shared the court for a mere 93 minutes.

That's a little less than two-and-a-half of the over 100 games played in-between.

To put that in perspective, Delle Donne and offseason acquisition Rui Machida have shared 152 minutes in the 18 games Delle Donne has been able to play this season alone.

Now, with a more pronounced role for Hines-Allen and Delle Donne playing more regularly, we're seeing that combo together. Most of the time the two forwards are often subbed for each other in the rotation. But still, head coach Mike Thibault has been able to play them at the same time for 295 minutes this year.

Fifteen of those minutes came in the Mystics 78-69 win over the New York Liberty on Thursday. It was a display of what it looks like with the former two-time WNBA MVP and the 2020 All-WNBA Second Team honoree.

"It's fun playing together," Delle Donne said postgame. "I felt like in the second half it was almost like taking turns like you go, I'll go, whoever had the mismatch we're just trying to attack it. And yeah, hopefully we'll continue to see that lineup with us in, I think it creates a lot of problems for other people's defenses."

Delle Donne (25 points, 8-for-14 shooting with three 3-pointers) and Hines-Allen (13 points and eight rebounds) were a part of a dynamic offensive set for Washington. Both forwards can confidently handle the ball and run the offense. Each can score at all three levels. They'll set screens and roll, they'll also pop to the perimeter as well.

New York couldn't contain that attack and when paired with Washington's suffocating defense that forced 15 turnovers. It was too much.

Normally, that pairing isn't able to share minutes. Hines-Allen is often one of the first players off the bench to replace Delle Donne. This game, though, saw rookie center Shakira Austin struggle a tad. The Liberty's bigs tend to rotate out to the perimeter and it was tough to contain that threat.

Thibault bumped Delle Donne to the center spot defensively and had Hines-Allen play the four. It paid off pretty well as she slowed down the Liberty's Natasha Howard.

Consistently putting together strong performances of the two at once is rare. The Mystics are +4.5 with them two on the floor. Among the rostered players that doesn't even rank in the top-20 of possible combinations on the team.

Hines-Allen is still learning how to play with on of the best players in the game. Finding how to be successful with her game and also letting Delle Donne be the focal point is a growing process.

"I mean, it's cool playing with an MVP like [Delle Donne]," Hines-Allen said. "I'm still learning when to set screens for her so she can get that mismatch and just playing off of her, and I think that goes for like all our post players. But just knowing that you're playing with an MVP, sometimes you just want to get out her way. Like sometimes I'm in the way."

Injuries, of course, are a huge part of the equation as to why they simply haven't played together. Delle Donne did not participate in the 2020 bubble season and only played three contests in 2021 as a part of her recovery on her back. Those two years were a huge part of Hines-Allen's development into a starting-caliber player in the WNBA. The first season Hines-Allen was drafted - one of the two full years Delle Donne was healthy - she was primarily buried down on the bench and used practice time as her method of getting reps.

With the way the roster is situated now, it's okay for them to still figure things out. Veteran Alysha Clark and Austin, the No. 3 overall pick this past year, hold down the other two starting spots. Having a dynamic forward coming off the bench worked well for Washington in 2019 with Emma Meesseman, who was the WNBA Finals MVP that year.

A long-term commitment to Hines-Allen this past offseason means she's a big part of the franchise's future. She is tied for the fourth-biggest financial obligation on the roster. Playing alongside Delle Donne and doing it well is part of the gig.

"We put [Hines-Allen] in a ball-handling situation a couple of times against their big lineup and let her create for some others. She's doing what we need her to do right now off the bench," Thibault said. "And, it's a somewhat tough position sometimes but I think as we've gone the last couple of weeks it's become more of a good rhythm for her and she knows that I'll end up, at some point in the game, playing her and Elena together and not just subbing for each other."