Wednesday, August 12th, 2020

Writing Washington 2: What’s in the Mystics’ potion for success?

Published on July 8, 2019


Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver. Photo: NBAE/Getty Images.

Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver. Photo: NBAE/Getty Images.

July isn’t peaches and cream right now for the Washington Mystics.

Due to an earthquake that happened close to halftime, the WNBA postponed Washington’s July 5 game at Las Vegas. The Mystics led the Aces 51-36 at the break.

The team’s July 7 17-point 98-81 loss against Los Angeles isn’t not how the Mystics wanted to start off the month. Washington’s powerful bench presence wasn’t enough. Forward Aeriel Powers scored 24 points and pulled down four rebounds while forward Elena Delle Donne left the game in the first quarter after getting hit in the nose. She suffered a nasal fracture and is listed as day to day.

Washington is still at the top of the league with a 9-4 (0.692) record. The five-game win streak last month including a June 29 win over the Connecticut Sun made a big statement, but teams are destined to evolve as threats to Washington.

Candace Parker is back into the Los Angeles lineup. She’s progressing her game around new teammates Chiney Ogwumike and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt.

For the Phoenix Mercury, Diana Taurasi continues to recover from preseason back surgery. DeWanna Bonner and Brittney Griner have done a great job of keeping the Mercury in range with a solid 6-6 record. Rookie guard Sophie Cunningham is doing her part as well. She had a season-best 19 points, going 3-of-3 from the floor, against Indiana June 29.

Spain captured the gold over France 86-66 in the FIBA EuroBasket tournament July 7. Players across the league are due back to their WNBA team. Chicago Sky’s Astou Ndour earned the MVP award in the European tournament. Since the league landscape will have drastic changes by midseason, below are some things Washington can do to sustain their dominance and keep leading the pack.

Team Ball, Team Wins

Defense leads the Mystics this season. The team’s average win margin against teams is 21.1 points per game and their defensive ability to shut down opponents stands out. They switch on defenders to stop the ball early at midcourt while forcing teams to panic to score. It’s an effective method of limiting teams early while making more offensive opportunities. What also separates Washington from the league is their offensive abilities.

Washington averaged 21 assists in nine wins. Four or more players score in double figures too. Multiple shooting threats occupy Washington’s lineup. While LaToya Sanders and Elena Delle Donne solidify opportunities with their post work, backcourt chemistry between Kristi Toliver, Natasha Cloud, and Ariel Atkins are key to diverse scoring.

“We just have so much trust in the next pass, the next player,” Delle Donne said. “We’ve got such a talented group and we never have to force anything.”

The overall guard play from the Mystics just isn’t about scoring and moving the ball efficiently. Toliver is a testament to that. She’s tallied the most with a total 72 assists (5.5 per game) out of the three guards so far. Her offseason as an assistant for the Washington Wizards helped her grow in all areas of her game.

It’s one of the best things Toliver did to improve her abilities and help her team. Her consistency is growing Washington’s defensive abilities this year. Toliver hasn’t hit the 20-point mark in any of her games yet, Though Washington’s team ball could be the reason for it, her involvement on offense prolongs Washington’s dominance.

Elena Delle Donne’s Dominance

Say that five times fast, then watch Delle Donne blow past you for an easy lay-up or out-rebound you. The game at Los Angeles made it clear that the Mystics need her on the floor. Much of the Washington’s offense relies on teams taking the bait on her as a decoy or Delle Donne creating scoring opportunities herself.

The WNBA’s East Player of the Month for June is just getting started. After the win over Connecticut, Delle Donne described the offseason as rehabilitation, not workouts or drills.

“I feel really good,” Delle Donne said. “It was more getting my timing down since I’ve been out all off season. Then I was out again for the beginning of preseason, getting repetition and getting confident in my knee.”

The aggressive, attacking player Delle Donne is necessary for Washington.  She averaged 17 points, eight rebounds and two assists per game in June. A consistent Delle Donne is definitely the best-case scenario for Washington to rejoin the winning column.

Join the Party

This is a great time to note the Mystics aren’t at full throttle. Rookie guard Kiara Leslie is still out recovering from surgery on her right knee. This may not be the time for Leslie to get active. She’ll get her shine once head coach Mike Thibault asks for it, but for right now Washington has nine players fulfilling those roles and maybe less is more. Rhythm, chemistry, and consistency are hard to come by and Washington’s sustained it for nine wins. They’ll want to keep getting it right with just nine players in rotation.

Forward Emma Meesseman and guard Kim Mestdagh will rejoin the Mystics soon. This is Mestdagh’s rookie season in the WNBA though she’s been dominant overseas in Belgium and Spain’s EuroLeague team, Perfumerías Avenida Baloncest. She earned a bronze medal with Meesseman and Belgium during the 2017 EuroBasket tournament.

The Belgian ballers are due back mid July with the conclusion of the 2019 FIBA EuroBasket tournament. Meesseman is a gem with versatility of a post player and a guard. She can play the four position, giving Delle Donne the room to shoot and score the way she prefers. Meesseman didn’t play in the WNBA at all last year. She decided to keep her talents in Belgium and compete in last year’s FIBA World Cup tournament. Washington still finished as runner-ups in the WNBA Finals without her. It’s a no-brainer that her return is a key piece to Washington performing at the next level.

The Mystics return home July 10 for a Kid’s Day themed game against the Phoenix Mercury for an 11:30 a.m. morning matchup.


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