About two weeks ago, following a 12-point win over the Minnesota Lynx, Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud had this to say:
“I’m a shooter. I’m putting the whole W on point. I’m a shooter this year.”
Against the Lynx, Cloud went 7-for-13 from the field and 4-for-7 from three. And while the 19 points represent a season-high for the seventh-year guard, she has yet to lead the team in scoring this year, and that’s fine.
The Mystics are 6-2 and have had three different players lead the team in scoring through eight games. Forward Elena Delle Donne has been top four times, and guard Ariel Atkins has paced the offense thrice. Rookie forward Shakira Austin rounds out the high scoring with one game.
Last season, Washington leaned heavily on forward Tina Charles, now with the Phoenix Mercury, for scoring. That was due to injuries and a lack of scoring threats.
This season, despite losing its leading scorer from a year ago, Charles averaged a league-best 23.4 points per game, the 2019 champions are better off offensively.
The attack is much more balanced. This season, the 10 players who figure to log the highest share of minutes are Atkins, Austin, guard Kennedy Burke, forward Alysha Clark, Cloud, Delle Donne, forward Myisha Hines-Allen, guards Rui Machida and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and forward Elizabeth Williams.
After missing all but three games last season due to back issues, Delle Donne, whose career average in scoring is 20.1 points per game, has gone off for 45 points in her best offensive game.
Granted, that came in 2015, and while she leads the team in scoring this season, head coach Mike Thibault won’t ask the former Delaware standout to shoulder the offensive load each night. Scoring depth will give Thibault a chance to manage Delle Donne’s minutes to prevent further injury.
While the Mystics don’t have any other player who has a career-high north of 40, they do have a pair of players who can get hot at a moment’s notice. A 2020 All-WNBA second team member, Myisha Hines-Allen averaged 17 points per game in 2020, and her career-high is 35. Then there’s Atkins, who has reached double-digit scoring in seven of eight games this season and has a career-high of 32 points; she also was an All-Star in 2021.
Cloud, who has upped her 3-point game this season, making 10 of 27 threes, has flashed improved scoring with at least 10 points in four of six matches. Her career-high is 26, and Walker-Kimbrough has reached 24 points. Walker-Kimbrough also scored double figures in almost one-third of her games last season.
Alysha Clark and Elizabeth Williams, both known for their defensive abilities, can also put the ball in the hoop with 23 and 22 points, respectively. Burke, who has played only four games with the team, has reached 23, which came in 2020 with Seattle. And in the infancy of her professional career, Austin has games of 20, 14, 13 and 10 points.
The only other player new to the WNBA set to see regular minutes is first-year guard Rui Machida. And while her points-per-game numbers might be the lowest of the 10, she did average 7.2 points and 12.5 assists at the 2020 Olympics and helped Japan to a silver medal.
And while she is playing just 14 minutes a night, forward Tianna Hawkins has a career-high of 24 points.
Though the season is still young, Washington has averaged 80.3 points per game. And with Clark and Delle Donne still getting the feel of the game after extended absences due to injury, and Williams’ return from finishing second with Fenerbahçe in the EuroLeague, the attack can only become more dynamic.
And while not every player will have a career game on a nightly basis, the Mystics have scoring depth to the point where at least two or more players should show up, making them a dangerous team to play.