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Mystics update: Shakira Austin is making the year two leap; Washington off to 2-2 start

The Washington Mystics followed up their back-to-back losses to the Connecticut Sun with a thrilling win against the Chicago Sky. The shooting is still a major concern; however, some players have left their marks to start this season.

Washington Mystics v Chicago Sky
Shakira Austin
Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

After starting the season with an impressive 16-point win over the heavily favored New York Liberty, the Washington Mystics have tapered off a little bit. After back-to-back losses to the Connecticut Sun, they bounced back with a narrow win against the Chicago Sky. The Mystics are 2-2 to start the season, which isn’t bad, but it could be better. Here’s a recap of this past week of basketball for Washington:

Mystics 81, Sun 88

The second consecutive matchup with Connecticut was more of the same. Washington jumped out to a slow start and struggled to shoot from the field. Washington is shooting 40 percent from the field, which isn’t bad, but the 3-point shooting has been abysmal. They are only shooting 27 percent from three as a team. Shooting and spacing issues manifested themselves in the seven-point loss to Connecticut. Washington shot 28 percent from three in the loss.

Elena Delle Donne had a very efficient performance; however the lackluster shooting of the entire Mystics team also affected the spacing she was working with in the low post. DeWanna Bonner was doubling off whoever her matchup was almost the entire second half, which made it much harder for Delle Donne to get quality looks.

After the game, coach Eric Thibault talked about the importance of getting Delle Donne better touches.

“I’ve got to get her some easier looks. She’s seen a lot of people jumping on top of her and not letting her use screens. We’ve got to get some counters in for that.”

Lastly, if Washington wants to see an improvement, the bench must be better. They tallied only seven points in Tuesday’s loss, which is certainly not good for a team that seeks to be a championship contender. It is still early, but the bench being a huge cause for concern only echoes more of the same issues that plagued Washington last season.

Mystics 71, Sky 69

Friday’s nail-biting win over the Chicago Sky was a defensive slugfest, one where Washington prevailed thanks to huge fourth-quarter intensity. Of course, the win didn’t come without its own dramatics as Washington saw a 16-point third-quarter lead get neutralized in just a few minutes, largely due to careless turnovers. The Mystics are one of the lowest turnover teams in the WNBA to start this season, but Friday’s 15 turnovers marked a season high, and they came at inopportune times.

With 3:45 remaining in the third, Washington committed a careless inbound turnover after giving up a wide-open three on defense. The turnover led to an uncontested layup by Rebekah Gardner, which was part of a 16-0 run to undo what looked like was going to be a runaway Mystics victory.

Washington, being an experienced team, was able to respond well. Late in the fourth, Ariel Atkins grabbed an offensive rebound off her own miss and found Delle Donne for a clutch 3-pointer that gave Washington the lead for good.

After the game, Shakira Austin spoke about the play and how poised the team remained down the stretch.

“I think we recognized we were in that moment before with Connecticut. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to and we know those last couple minutes really we need to leave it all out there. I think we recognized it at the five minute mark and pushed on from there.”

What isn’t being talked about enough is how impressive Austin has been to start this season. She has truly taken the sophomore leap, improving all of her averages from last season. Through four games, she is averaging 14 points, eight rebounds, and two assists.

Perhaps the biggest improvement for Austin has been her finishing at close range. Last year she shot just under 40% from three to 10 feet, which was well below league average; however through four games this year, she is shooting a dangerous 59 percent from close range. Her uptick in shots from that region has increased as well, going from 46 percent to 55 percent of her shot diet, a sign of great improvement.

In Friday’s win against Chicago, she sealed the game with a huge sweeping left-handed layup, a true testament to how well she has improved that aspect of her game since entering the league.

Another huge bright spot for Washington this season has been Brittney Sykes. Her natural ability to get to the rim has done wonders for Washington’s offense. Sykes is one of the best guards at getting to the rim, and because of that, Washington’s 3-point differential reflects this value.

The sample size is still small; however, with Sykes on the court, Washington is shooting just under 38 percent from three. Without her, it is a dreadful 7 pecent. These numbers do reflect the eye test for Washington. Sykes’ ability to collapse defenses has led to some of the highest-quality looks for the team. It is still early, but Sykes has been the best on-ball initiator for Washington’s offense to start the year and I expect her to get a lot more minutes in that role as the season progresses.

To no one’s surprise, Washington’s defense has been stifling thanks to the communication and awareness of Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, and Brittney Sykes, who make up the best defensive backcourt in the association. With Austin making improvements as a rim protector and help defender, the potential of this Mystics’ defense could project even better than last season, which may be a tall task, but is certainly realistic given the roster.

In the week ahead, the Mystics will host a back-to-back against the Dallas Wings (Friday, 7 p.m. ET) and Minnesota Lynx (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET).