The vibe following Rui Machida’s introductory press conference back in April was that of an experiment. Both for Machida and the Mystics, the 2022 season was going to be a trial on how her game translated to the WNBA.
At least for Machida, she wants that trial to be extended and play a future season in the WNBA. After a small taste, she wants more.
Bringing the star Japanese point guard to D.C. was a relatively low-risk move for both parties. First, for Machida, she wasn’t going to miss any time with her primary team, the Fujitsu Red Wave as WNBA season is during the offseason for the Women’s Japanese Basketball League (JWBL). It also is a chance for her to play in the top women’s league in the world.
For the Mystics, they brought in one of the best international point guards at a bargain of a price. She was signed for a minimum contract of $60,471, per Spotrac. It was also a position they have been thin at since Kristi Toliver left after 2019.
“To be honest, I learned too many things,” Machida said through her translator Micky Takei at the end of the season. “I can’t decide was the [biggest thing I learned] but this is like there are bad, also good things to learn. So, as well as like the moment hitting the wall. So it was a moment experience.”
She more than proved herself in her first season outside of her native country. Immediately, the team began the process of integrating Machida into the team’s culture when she arrived. They embraced her despite a language barrier.
Machida was the team’s backup point guard behind Natasha Cloud and didn’t miss a single game. That durability was a challenge for her given time zone travel (a nonissue in Japan) and the rigorous schedule of packing 36 games into four months.
With a loaded roster, the 5-foot-4 guard only averaged 12 minutes per game. But those minutes counted with 1.8 points and 2.6 assists per game. Those figures may not sound like much, but it translates to a 40.4 assist percentage which was third-best in the league (min. 10 games played). Behind only her teammate Cloud and Jordin Canada, that’s pretty good company. Also, her assist ratio was 42.5, 2nd in the WNBA.
“Individually I push myself. If I could have done like what I wanted throughout the season, but even like a minimum of minutes, I was able to execute what the coaches or other teammates told me to do,” Machida said. “So that’s what I was able to do throughout the season.”
The biggest hurdle for the 29-year-old was finding her shot. All season long that was emphasized to her. Take the open shot when it’s available.
It led to some memorable moments both at practice and in games when she would arc back into a shooting motion. The team and the fans would go berzerk when she got those to fall. Each one being some of her favorite moments during this past year.
But she only averaged 2.3 shots per game, coming at 31.0% from the field and 20.6% from 3-point range. Head coach Mike Thibault said that she’s still going to have to build on that element of her game if she wants to continue in the WNBA.
“She knows that if she’s going to make this league long term, she’s going to have to be a bigger threat offensively,” Thibault said at his end-of-season availability. ” It’s just a fact of the game. And she knows, she’s been working on stuff every day and we’ll see how that translates this winter. She’s going to try to put that into use and her team in Japan. It’s not a given that you can make all those leaps but I think she knows that that’s a big key for us to be played honestly. And that’s just a fact of the matter. You have to make shots to be a guard in this league and play big minutes.”
Her Japanese season starts in less than three weeks, where she’ll be until next April. As for next summer, she and her fans back on the island nation hope it’s once again in the WNBA.