Mystics

2024 WNBA Season Preview Part 2: Sparks, Sky, Mystics

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The 2024 WNBA season tips off on May 14. Some teams have revamped their rosters from last season, while others have made few changes. Teams will be previewed from worst (Phoenix) to first (Las Vegas) based on the 2023 regular-season standings. Each team had defining statistics — one on offense and one on defense — that affected their level of success last season. How has each team addressed weaknesses or continued to build on strengths?

9. Los Angeles Sparks (2023 Record: 17-23)

Defining Stats from 2023: eFG% (11th), STL% (1st)

No roster was as decimated from last year to this year as the Sparks’. Gone is franchise staple Nneka Ogwumike, the 2016 MVP and eight-time All-Star. Gone is 2023 First Team All-Defensive member Jordin Canada who led the league in steals. Gone is three-point ace Karlie Samuelson, who shot an incredible 60.2% eFG% last season on 177 attempts (49-115 from 3pt).

Needless to say, the Sparks’ revamped roster has a lot of holes to fill. They add Monique Billings, a solid role player who can protect the rim and clean up the boards. Her 4.8 points per game from last season, however, is not going to help their shooting woes.

The diminutive Aari McDonald has not been able to find consistency from three which limits her offensively. Teams have taken advantage of her size on the other end.

Rookies Cameron Brink and Rickea Jackson will be able to contribute right away. They will be afforded game experience to learn how to adjust to the WNBA.

Brink, the second overall selection in the 2023 draft, brings a strong defensive presence from Stanford. She led the nation with 127 total blocks in 2023-24, good for 3.7 blocks per game. She was named to the NCAA AP All-America Team the past three seasons, including a first-team selection last season. The physicality of the WNBA will present problems for Brink on both ends. She struggled with foul trouble throughout her career and is more finesse than power offensively.

Jackson, the fourth overall selection in the 2023 draft, is a physical 6-foot-2 forward and two-time All-SEC member after three seasons at Mississippi State and two seasons at Tennessee. The conference leader last season with 20.2 points per game, Jackson is a matchup nightmare for opponents. Surrounding her with enough shooting will be a challenge for the Sparks.

The Sparks will take a big step back this season and look to build towards the future through their new young core of potential stars.

8. Chicago Sky (2023 Record: 18-22)

Defining Stats from 2023: 3PM (4th), DREB% (11th)

Another team that has been revamped from last year is the Chicago Sky. Eight different players started for the Sky last season. Only three of those eight return this season – Elizabeth Williams (40 starts), Marina Mabrey (39 starts), and Dana Evans (1 start).

Five of Chicago’s 14 players from last season will be suiting up for the Minnesota Lynx this season. Losing rim protector Alanna Smith to Minnesota will hurt, but the Sky will be able to replace her defensive production with draft picks Kamilla Cardoso from South Carolina and Angel Reese from LSU.

The Sky particularly had trouble rebounding defensively last season. They had the second-worst defensive rebounding percentage in the league (74.6%). The 6-foot-7 Cardoso and 6-foot-3 Reese will help bolster the boards on both ends.

Chicago was effective offensively, finishing fifth in the league in offensive rating (103.3). This was largely due to some sharpshooting from the perimeter. Chicago made 8.3 threes per game (fourth in the WNBA) and connected on 37.2% (third – only 0.2% lower than league leading New York).

Though Chicago does bring back Mabrey (80 3PM, 39.0%), they lose 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper (69 3PM, 40.4%) and Courtney Williams (47 3PM, 43.7%). Former Utah and Gonzaga guard Brynna Maxwell, the 13th pick in the draft, shot a blistering 42.7% on 882 three-point attempts in her five-year college career. The Sky will look for her to replace some of that production.

It’s easy to see what the Sky were doing in the offseason. By re-tooling their roster, building on their strengths and filling in their holes, Chicago has a young team and a dynamic first-year head coach in Teresa Weatherspoon.

Although they may not fill up the win column this year, the Sky will set themselves up for future success.

7. Washington Mystics (2023 Record: 19-21)

Defining Stats from 2023: OREB% (12th), OPP TO% (3rd)

After fighting their way to a 19-21 record last year, the Mystics lost key pieces heading into the new season. Elena Delle Donne decided to step away from the game and spend adequate time recovering from past injuries. A two-time MVP and a five-time All-WNBA member, Delle Donne led the team in scoring with 16.7 points per game, though she only played in 23 regular-season games.

Natasha Cloud signed with Phoenix on February 1st. Named to the All-Defensive team twice in her career, Cloud has also been in the top ten in assists per game. She led the league with 7.0 assists per game in 2022.

Already last in offensive rebounding percentage (18.7 OREB/gm), the Mystics lose Tianna Hawkins, their most productive offensive rebounder. She accounted for almost a fourth of the entire team’s total for the season. Hawkins spent eight of her ten seasons playing for Washington. She enjoyed the best season in her career last year – playing a career high with 23.1 minutes per game. In April, Hawkins announced her retirement.

Back is defensive dynamo Brittney Sykes. She has been named to the All-Defensive Team for the last four seasons. Last year, she was a major reason that Washington’s forced turnover rate was third in the league. She was second in the WNBA in steals after leading the league the previous two seasons.

With the sixth pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, the Mystics selected Aaliyah Edwards out of UConn. The 6’3” forward will be tasked with replacing Hawkins’ production, something that fits her skill set. Edwards is a solid rebounder and interior defender. She should be impactful right away for Washington.

Look for the Mystics’ defense to continue to be strong. Their offense will take a major hit in the absence of Delle Donne and Cloud, but the development of Edwards will be essential for Washington in the future.

About Kenyon Wingenbach

High school girls' basketball head coach and educator at West Fargo Public Schools (North Dakota).

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