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Analysis: How will the Mystics adjust with Elena Delle Donne not at full strength?

Elena Delle Donne is listed as questionable for Game 3 of the Mystics’ WNBA semifinals series against the Dream. We take a look at which players will have to step up.

For the Mystics to win Game 3 against the Atlanta Dream on Friday, Kristi Toliver will have to become the go-to scorer Washington.
Photo by Steve Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne injured her left knee on Tuesday in Game 2 of the team’s semifinals series against the Dream. Fortunately, the Mystics announced that Delle Donne’s injury is only a left bone bruise and she is listed as questionable for Game 3 on Friday.

Even though Delle Donne may very well play on Friday, she is unlikely to be at full strength and she will probably be a bit tentative. Assuming Delle Donne does play Friday or in other games this series, here’s a breakdown of the changes fans should expect from Delle Donne’s game, the impact these changes will have on the team’s performance and a list of Mystics’ players who will need to step up theirs.

Delle Donne will probably drive less to the basket

Delle Donne was injured while driving to the basket late in Game 2. This is likely going to affect the number of free throws she attempts per game. And when Delle Donne is creating less attention driving to the hoop or crashing the boards, that also means that other teammates, like Kristi Toliver, Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud, won’t be as open either. Because of that, Delle Donne may be a bit more of a spot-up shooter if she plays on Friday.

Delle Donne may look to pass the ball more

In three playoff games so far, Delle Donne is averaging 3.7 assists per game including 6 dishes in Game 2 against the Dream. If there is a particular area in Delle Donne’s game that has noticeably improved in the 2018 season, it’s her ability to get the ball to an open teammate for a basket. Before this season, Delle Donne never averaged more than two assists per game in the playoffs and averaged closer to 1 assist per season. Therefore, she can and will still open up the floor because she’s still an elite shooter who shot 40 percent from deep in the regular season.

Who are the players that can be expected to step up with Delle Donne not at full strength?

Regardless of whether Delle Donne plays on Friday, her teammates will have to shoulder more of the load. Here are the players who can expect to have more attention paid to them.

Kristi Toliver — Toliver is the Mystics’ top option from the perimeter. She is only averaging 11.7 points per game so far in the postseason and is in a shooting slump of sorts. For the Mystics to advance, she will have to hit her prime form, just as she did in the second round last year against the New York Liberty when she made a WNBA record nine three-pointers in the game.

Natasha Cloud —Cloud is averaging career highs in points and assists in both the regular and postseasons. She has also shot at a career-high 43.6 percent from the field overall in the regular season and is now a dependable scorer.

Ariel Atkins — Atkins is averaging over 50 percent from the three-point line and seems to be the player who benefits the most when defenses are focusing heavily on both Delle Donne and Toliver. She may be a rookie, but Atkins is playing as fearlessly as any veteran out there.

LaToya Sanders — Sanders averaged a career-high 10.2 points per game in the regular season while making 60.7 percent of her shots. Her efficiency is bound to take a hit with more exposure on her if Delle Donne is out. But Sanders is still a very crafty scorer from mid-range and further in.

Tianna Hawkins — If Delle Donne cannot play, Hawkins will likely get the start and be the biggest beneficiary of additional playing time. She is averaging seven points per game in the playoffs despite averaging just under 13 minutes per game.