Nothing has been normal for the Mystics since their 2019 title run. They’ve been trying to regain their championship form amidst some pretty unstable circumstances. They took a shell of their team into the bubble in 2020. Then in 2021, the team was ravaged by injuries. 2022 saw them back in the playoffs but the team still had to manage Elena’s back injury. With all the uncertainty of recent years, 2023 feels like a new beginning. While the Mystics came out of the opening weekend 1-1, there’s plenty to build on in these first two games.
The Mystics’ off-season went relatively under the radar given what was going on around the W. The Liberty assembled the Avengers. Candace Parker told them “Hold my beer” and joined the defending champs. Aliyah Boston’s long-awaited arrival in the league finally came. And perhaps the most important moment was welcoming Brittney Griner back. Amidst all of that, the Mystics had a sneaky good off-season. Mike Thibault moved upstairs full-time and handed the reins over to his son, Eric. GM Thibault got right to work and picked up Brittney Sykes and Kristi Toliver. Sykes is one of the most versatile defenders in the league, hell to deal with in transition, and gives the Mystics another slasher and playmaker. Toliver is a veteran with championship experience who is familiar with the organization and also can give them good minutes at PG. And the thing that everyone is happy about (or sad depending on what it says on the front of your jersey) is Elena Delle Donne appears to be back to 100%. One of the most efficient scorers in the league getting a clean bill of health makes this team that much more dangerous.
The ‘Stics got things started with a statement win over the Liberty in the season opener on Friday. They showed exactly how menacing they can be defensively. ESA is already a tough place to play when it’s rocking like it was on Friday night. Trying to fight through that atmosphere with a brand-new team while getting harassed relentlessly will likely result in a 16 pt loss and a terrible shooting night. Sabrina Ionesco, Jonquel Jones, and Breanna Stewart shot a collective 11-40 from the field and the Mystics forced the Liberty into 22 turnovers. They held off the coming out party but only for a day because Stewie came for blood against the Fever on Sunday. The Mystics weren’t lights out on the offensive end themselves but their ability to stifle the Liberty and get out in transition offset the poor shooting. Elena took a conservative 9 shots but she was moving extremely well and looked like every bit of her former MVP self.
Ironically the biggest indicator that the Mystics are ready to do damage came in a loss. They fell to the Connecticut Sun 80-74 on Sunday but Shakira Austin showed out. She had a stellar rookie season and transitioned to the W better than most but there was still a learning curve, which is to be expected. The talent was never in question. She just needed to adjust to the speed and physicality of the W and figure out the game at this level. A year of experience and a championship run overseas to boost her confidence has done wonders for Shakira. She went to work against one of the toughest frontcourts in the WNBA. Going for 21 pts and 11 rebs while having to deal with Bri Jones, Alyssa Thomas, and DeWanna Bonner is a good day at the office for anyone. Her game looks to be more rounded as she displayed some great footwork, nice touch around the rim, and improved midrange ability to go along with her defensive prowess. Shakira looks poised to take that All-Star leap this season. And if she does, that would turn the Mystics into a completely different animal. A healthy EDD and Shakira at level 2 definitely makes them one of the best big duos in the league and with Sykes, Cloud, and Atkins on the perimeter opposing coaching staffs are going to have a lot of sleepless nights trying to gameplan for this squad. Shakira’s development might be the most important piece to the Mystics raising another banner. Should they climb the mountaintop again, I can only imagine how crazy the parade will be since they have to make up for missing out on the 2019 celebration.
The Mystics have an opportunity for some retribution as they take on the Connecticut Sun on Tuesday, this time in the confines of ESA. This season is shaping up to be a good one. There is a lot of excitement around the franchise and with the added pieces they’ve put themselves in prime position to be right in the thick of things when the smoke clears.