Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault doesn’t hide the fact that Aerial Powers was one of the players he wanted to selectin the 2016 WNBA Draft. She had all the tools he was looking for in a forward coming out of college.
The Dallas Wings ended up selecting Powers with the fifth overall pick, and the Mystics took Kahleah Copper with the seventh pick out of Rutgers, but Thibault kept his eyes on Powers. Last season, the Mystics acquired her in a mid-season trade with the Wings. Powers averaged just 6.1 points and 2.7 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game as the Mystics reached the WNBA Finals.
This season, the 25-year-old Detroit native who played at Michigan State is becoming the player Thibault imagined she could be.
“I think she’s got her confidence back,” Thibault told City Paper last month. “I think that her teammates give her confidence. I think the coaches have given her confidence, and she doesn’t necessarily lack for confidence in the first place. I think she’s worked hard to get her balance back in her shooting. She’s shooting the ball better. When she came to the start of the training camp, every shot was on the front rim. Now she’s changed. She’s worked on using her legs more. That’s really helped.”
Powers’ first full season with the Mystics got off to a slow start when she injured her left gluteal muscle in the team’s preseason game against the Minnesota Lynx. She missed the first two games of the regular season, but returned on June 5 to score nine points in the Mystics’ 96-75 win over the Atlanta Dream.
Between June 9 and June 14, Powers averaged 16 points in three games. In the team’s most recent game, a 102-59 victory over the Connecticut Sun, she tallied 13 points, four steals, and two rebounds in 20 minutes of play. It hasn’t been an easy transition, but Powers is starting to feel more comfortable in Thibault’s system.
“Just trying to learn your teammates on and off the court, especially on the court, who likes to do what, who likes to pick-and-roll, who likes to pick-and-pop,” she says. “It’s just different and learning the system too, what coach wants from us and the plays. I think all of that was pretty hard when I first came to the team.”
“Right now, [it’s] just giving all I got,” Powers continues. “Coming in off the bench and providing defensively and offensively. Just giving everything I have when I’m out there.”
While recovering from her injury, she told herself to stay patient but mentally engaged. She didn’t want to rush back to the court too quickly. Instead, she says she worked on form shooting, putting up 100 to 150 form shooting shots where she wasn’t allowed to jump. Powers strengths are scoring (she is Michigan State’s all-time leading scorer and averaged 18.9 points a game in three seasons), rebounding, and being a physical presence on the floor.
With the Mystics, coaches and teammates expect her to add immediate energy.
“What we’ve been doing is bringing her off the bench, be an instant scoring threat,” Thibault saidin mid-June. “She’s a great offensive rebounder. Her defense has really improved over the last month or so. She’s gotten healthier. I expect her to act like a starter when she’s on the court. That’s kinda my expectation. All of our bench players who play a lot: Her, Shatori [Walker-Kimbrough], Tianna [Hawkins], should act like they’re starter type players.”
Hawkins, a D.C. native and a University of Maryland alumna, isn’t surprised how quickly Powers has returned to form after her injury.
“There’s no surprising me,” she says. “She’s a fighter. She’s a killer.”