2020 Mystics Player Evaluations: Stella Johnson will help offset a lack of draft picks in coming years
On April 17, 2020, Stella Johnson became the first-ever player from Rider University — a member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) — to be drafted into the WNBA. Taken with the 29th overall pick by the Phoenix Mercury, Johnson entered the league with a distinguished collegiate resume.
In her fourth season at Rider, Johnson averaged 24.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.9 steals en route to player of the year honors and a unanimous selection to the All-MAAC First Team (her fourth consecutive selection).
Despite a transcendent collegiate career, Johnson was waived by the Mercury before the season began. After being waived by Phoenix, Johnson signed with the Chicago Sky on June 29, 2020. She made her WNBA debut on the 28th of July against the L.A. Sparks.
Only two weeks later, however, Johnson was waived by the Sky after having played in only four games for the team. During her time with Chicago, Johnson played a marginal 1.5 minutes per game, averaging 0.0 points, 0.5 rebounds and 0.3 steals.
The turbulent start to Johnson’s career continued, as she signed with the Mystics a day later; Washington was her third WNBA team in just four months. While she was never given an opportunity with the Sky, The Mystics were issued an emergency hardship by the league after a series of injuries, allowing Johnson to sign with the defending champions. Johnson managed to play five games for the Mystics before a left ankle injury forced her to miss the remaining 10 games of the season.
In just her third game with Washington, Johnson received news that she would be starting against the Atlanta Dream — it wound up being the highlight of the season. Against the Dream, Johnson played 30 minutes and scored a career, game and season-high 25 points, three rebounds, three assists and one steal. She connected on six of nine attempts from behind the arc, was 8 for 13 from the field and a perfect three for three from the free-throw line. The rookie out of Rider set the WNBA and Twitter universe on fire with her unbelievable breakout game, as the Mystics won 98–91 to end a seven-game losing streak.
In five games and two starts with Washington, Johnson averaged 18.8 minutes per game, 9.2 points, 2.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.0 steals. She also shot 49-percent from the field (6.6 attempts per game) and 64-percent from three (2.8 attempts per game).
What Johnson will have to work on heading into next season is consistency. After erupting for 25 points against Atlanta, Johnson failed to score in the subsequent match versus the Dallas Wings, a game in which she played almost 21 minutes. Johnson clearly has game-changing skill, she just needs to work on bringing that sizzling scoring touch on a nightly basis.
A small sample size, nine games (four of which she hardly played), and a debilitating injury make it difficult to fully evaluate Johnson’s rookie season. While her future with the team is unclear — mainly due to the sheer volume of impact players returning in the 2021 season —a rookie contract with two years remaining makes Johnson an interesting player for GM/Head Coach Mike Thibault.
Without a 2021 first round draft pick — which was sent to Dallas in the Tina Charles trade — Johnson’s familiarity with Washington’s game plan and schemes makes her a candidate who can help balance the lack of future picks. At only 22 years old, Johnson has a considerable amount of development ahead, but has shown she can be a contributor in this league. Let’s hope it’s with the Mystics.