News & Politics

Five Things to Know About the Washington Mystics, DC’s Best Basketball Team

DC tips off the 2023 WNBA season with a familiar new coach, stingy defense, and Elena Delle Donne.

This WNBA off-season was nothing if not competitive. The Las Vegas Aces, fresh off a dominant championship run, added future Hall of Famer Candace Parker to their star-studded roster. The New York Liberty added two former league MVPs in Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart to their fun young core, and the Indiana Fever had an excellent draft night.

With the strong getting stronger and the 2023 WNBA season tipping off on Friday, what can we expect from DC’s best basketball team? Here are 5 things to know about the Washington Mystics:

Elena Delle Donne is so back

One of the most talented scorers in league history, Mystics forward and two-time WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne is planning to play her first full season in over two years. Having missing time due to Covid-19—Delle Donne has Lyme disease and elected to sit out—and back injuries, she’s feeling fully healthy and will again be the team’s first option on offense.“The offseason went great,” Delle Donne said. “It was my first offseason in a really long time where I wasn’t rehabbing and I was actually able to train. I’m by far the strongest I’ve ever been.” Delle Donne already showed signs of returning to an All-Star level in an abbreviated season last year; if she’s truly stronger than ever, the Mystics will be dangerous.


DE-FENSE (Clap-clap!)

The Mystics had the best defense in the league last year, holding opponents to a measly 97.8 points per 100 possessions. This year, it might be even better. Perimeter stoppers Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins are back, and the addition of ballhawk Brittney Sykes should make opposing guards very worried. “It just feels really, really, really good to look to my right and look to my left and know that I can give a defensive assignment away and trust that they’re going to handle that defensive assignment with just as much intent and care as I would,” Sykes said.

Closer to the rim, the Mystics are looking for second-year Center Shakira Austin to take a leap defensively, and for offseason signee Amanda Zahui B. to play valuable backup minutes.

New(ish) guy on the sideline

The new leadership on the Mystics’ bench has a very familiar face. After longtime coach Mike Thibault moved into the front office as the team’s general manager, the organization kept his replacement in-house and literally in the family by appointing his son, Eric, as its new head coach.

After ten seasons as a Mystics assistant, Eric will be looking to build upon his father’s success while adding more variety to the offense. “We’re going to do everything we can to play with the type of fire and passion that [fans] expect and deserve,” he said in his introductory remarks.   


New jerseys!

In March, the Mystics unveiled their 2023 Nike Rebel Edition jerseys. The design is inspired by civil rights activist and educator Nannie Helen Burroughs, who started one of DC’s first women’s basketball teams at her National Training School for Women and Girls. The words “struggle, battle, overcome” are imprinted across the jersey, while “think loudly, think boldly” is on the waistband.


Are we … underdogs?

The Mystics’ 2019 championship wasn’t that long ago, was it? While the team has been pretty competitive since 2013, this is the first time in a long time that the WNBA has had legitimate “superteams” in the aforementioned Liberty and the reigning champion Aces. And with all the deserved hype around those squads, Washington has fallen off most people’s championship radar.

“I understand that there are two good teams out there that everybody’s talking about, that’s cool,” said Mystics point guard Kristi Tolliver on Media Day. “We’ve always thrived under having an underdog approach.”

But are the Mystics actually underdogs? The roster still features most of the players from 2019, as Tolliver is back to provide steady playmaking; Cloud looks to keep leading the league in assists; Atkins should again be a jack-of-all-trades who makes winning plays on both sides of the ball. Add that championship pedigree, to a rejuvenated Delle Donne, and the Mystics should be a formidable challenge—even for opposing superteams.

Malcolm Ferguson
Editorial Fellow