When Leilani Mitchell signed with the Washington Mystics last February, she was joining a team fresh-off the WNBA title, with one of the strongest groups of players in the league, not to mention managed by the winningest coach in WNBA history. It also didn’t hurt that she also had a previous stint with Washington in 2015.
At 35-years-old, and a two-time winner of the Most Improved Player award, Mitchell assumed her role was going to be commanding the point for the second unit. Instead, she started all of the Mystics’ 22 games in their Florida bubble.
With Tina Charles and Elena Delle Donne sitting out the season for medical reasons, and Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders also not playing, citing social justice and personal reasons, respectively, the Mystics were left with one starter, Ariel Atkins, from their championship-winning team.
With a vacancy at the starting point guard position, Head Coach Mike Thibault leaned heavily on Mitchell. Even as a new member of the team, Mitchell’s experience as an 11-year veteran of the league was invaluable to a young squad that was still developing.
Driving straight through pic.twitter.com/UR8fVzlMXN— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) September 16, 2020
Mitchell’s calming presence clearly influenced other players on the team, notably Myisha Hines-Allen, who is one of the favorites for the award Mitchell won twice.
Thrust into the starting lineup, life in the bubble began with a bang. Mitchell and the Mystics soared to 3–0, scoring an average of 94.7 points. Despite a fast start, the Mystics struggled in the subsequent games, going 1–12 in 13.
For Mitchell, there was a bit of an adjustment period. Her season statistics can, effectively, be broken into first half and second half — looking at an 11-game sample size for each half.
Through the first 11 games, Mitchell averaged 8.8 points, 4.4 assists, shot 28-percent from three (40 attempts) and shot 40-percent from the field (81). Life in the bubble was not easy, and I have nothing but respect for the players who competed in Florida, as well as those who opted out. In this crazy season, every player had the right to do what they felt was best.
If Mitchell wasn’t as sharp as she usually is in the first half of the season, she started to get more comfortable in Thibault’s offense around late August/early September, and it showed.
In the second eleven game stretch, Mitchell put up averages of 10.2 points, 6.4 assists, shot 32-percent from three (55) and 42-percent from the field (98). At the end of 22 regular season games, Mitchell’s totals were as follows: 9.5 points, 5.4 assists, 30-percent from three, 41 from the field in 30.6 minutes.
Mitchell was instrumental in a second half of the season that saw the Mystics finish winning five of their last six games and qualifying for the postseason. During that span, she averaged 11.3 points and 8.3 assists, commanding the offense and coming up with late-game, clutch shots to keep the Mystics’ playoff aspirations alive.
IT'S GOOD pic.twitter.com/WB4jtUc807— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) September 16, 2020
Perhaps the game that epitomized Mitchell’s 360-vision was a 79–69 win over the Chicago Sky on September 4 — the game that started an incredible finish to the season — in which she put up a season-high 12 assists. Mitchell connected on passes that made your head hurt, as she consistently found teammates who looked to be completely guarded.
ZOOMING down the floor!! ⛹️♀️ pic.twitter.com/rh0RJG17ym— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) September 6, 2020
Despite her three-point shooting struggles and occasional defenses mismatches, Mitchell was asked to do a lot in this offense. She was the soft-spoken yet fearless floor general the team needed, and was constantly relied on by Thibault in late-game situations.
With one year left on the two-year deal she signed this past offseason, Mitchell will look to run the second unit for the 2021 season. Though Cloud is also a free agent, she is expected to return as the team’s presumed starting point guard. That means Mitchell won’t have as much of an offensive burden on her shoulders next season, but she again will be a steady and veteran voice on a team that will look to win a second title in three years.