Crystal Langhorne For Most Improved Player
By Ben York / @bjyork
Admittedly, it sounds strange. Could a player be awarded the Most Improved title twice? Much less, two years in a row? Is that even possible?
For Crystal Langhorne of the Washington Mystics it’s not just possible, but probable.
In 2009, in just her second season in the WNBA, Langhorne won the Most Improved Player award by increasing her scoring average from 4.8 ppg in 2008 to 12.0 ppg in 2009, doubling her rebounding average from 4.0 to 7.9, and posting career-bests in nearly every other statistical category. Because of her strong play, we at SLAM picked her as one of our top 5 breakout stars in 2010.
So far, she’s making us look pretty good.
Langhorne is averaging 17.0 ppg in 2010 to go along with career-highs in rebounds (9.8), FT% (80.7), FG’s attempted (11.8), FG’s made (7.0), assists (1.2), steals (1.2), and minutes per game (34.4).
Perhaps more amazing, she’s helped lead the Mystics to a 12-5 record in the extremely difficult Eastern Conference when the majority of WNBA fans and experts wrote them off. After losing to the Fever in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in 2009, Washington signed perennial All-Star Katie Smith to bolster their offensive consistency and defensive output. However, news would soon follow that leading scorer Alana Beard would be out for the season due to an ankle injury. Losing Beard was a big blow and many expected the Mystics to miss the playoffs entirely.
But Washington, led by Langhorne, has proven everyone wrong.
“We were all sad to hear Alana [Beard] would miss the season,” Langhorne told SLAMonline. “Once we found out, we knew each one of us had to bring more to the table individually to make up for it. We also knew we were getting Katie [Smith] which would be a big help.”
At 12-5, and with four wins in a row, the Mystics have solidified themselves as a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. Much of this has to do with a united belief in both themselves and the team coupled with Langhorne’s phenomenal play.
“Nobody really expected us to win and kind of wrote us off,” said Langhorne. “Any player wants to win even without their all-star. We just believe in ourselves, are playing hard, and want to win every night.”
Langhorne, out of Maryland, was selected 6th in the 2008 WNBA Draft and has worked hard to get better at virtually every facet of her game to better help the team. In 2009, she led the Mystics in rebounding and posted nine double-doubles which tied for third-most in the league. This year? She already has seven through just 17 games.
“I just wanted to continue working at getting better,” Langhorne said when asked how she approached the 2010 season after winning Most Improved in 2009. “I worked on my shooting a lot and really just the little things you can sometimes forget. I also put a lot of work into my defense and rebounding.”
Langhorne said head coach Julie Plank told each player on the team that they would need to step up individually to compensate for the loss of Beard; and there’s no denying Langhorne has done just that. Rather than set their goals low and accept defeat, Langhorne and the Mystics still have the goal of making the Eastern Conference Finals and proving the doubters wrong.
“As a team, we felt we could do better this year,” said Langhorne regarding their finish in 2009. “We feel we can make the Eastern Conference Finals and we believe in each other. Nobody wants to stay at the same spot and I want to get better not just for myself but for my team. I’m going to do whatever the team needs me to do and I mean that; score, rebound, anything. We each have important roles to play.”
Half-way into the season the Mystics are turning heads and putting the rest of the league on full alert. They may be short-handed but a collective belief in the greater whole continues to lead to wins. This support and confidence has led to Langhorne tallying some of the most impressive stat lines by any player in the WNBA this season.
- May 30th vs. Connecticut (W, 69-65): 17 points, 16 rebounds (7 offensive)
- June 24th vs. Los Angeles (W, 68-53): 27 points, 14 rebounds, 5 steals, 10-14 FG’s
- June 27th vs. Phoenix (W, 95-85): 31 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals, 13-18 FG’s
“We’re playing really well right now,” Langhorne said. “But we don’t want a letdown. We want the second half of the season to be just as good as the first.”
And of winning Most Improved Player two years in a row?
“I’ve never heard that before,” a surprised Langhorne said with a chuckle. “I didn’t think that was possible. Hey, if it happens it will be a great honor.”
If Langhorne and the Mystics continue playing this way, there’s a good chance it will.