The Washington Mystics just completed a very complicated 2023 season that saw them swept in the first round of the playoffs by the New York Liberty. Given the amount of injuries that transpired during the season, it’s hard to qualify the end of the season as a complete disappointment, but I think there are some lessons from this season that the Mystics need to consider going forward if they want to move back into contention.
First, let me not sugar coat things, in my opinion, even if this team was fully healthy, they were not a contender this season. The issues that this team had this season are less about talent, less about health and instead this is about the ability to maximize the talent that exist with the team.
The Mystics’ fatal flaw is their inefficiency on the offensive end. For the season, the Mystics finished 9th in field goal percentage, 7th in offensive rating, 8th in effective field goal percentage and 6th in true shooting percentage. There are times where their offense looks clunky, involving a lot of forced shots and very little ball movement. Game to game, there was very little consistency or any sense of an identity that existed within the offense.
During the halftime show of Game 2 of the New York Liberty series, ESPN analysts alluded to the “ball not moving from side to side” often enough to sustain the Mystics’ offense. They spent a good portion talking about the moments where they were able to get quality shots with great ball movement, that lead to them staying in the game, and then stated that they needed to get back to that. The point was being to explain what lead to New York building a 11-point lead at the half. I believe there were many times during the season that this all could have been said.
At times, the offensive sets the Mystics run look amazing. They are able to take advantage of the talented roster that they have with a diverse set of skills that allows them to play inside and outside, but there are times where their offense seems to lack a clear identity and it starts to get away from what worked during times in the game.
When you look at the contending teams this season like the Liberty, the Las Vegas Aces and the Connecticut Sun, these teams were at the top of the league in Top 4 in nearly every offensive category. That isn’t to say that offense is all you need to win, but there is a correlation with the success of those teams and their ability to generate efficient offense. If you are going to compete with these teams, you are going to have to win some shootouts, when your defense doesn’t have the answers for their best players.
The Mystics showed in the first round series, even without Shakira Austin, that they could hang with the Liberty, including forcing an overtime, in a game that looked like, at times, was going to end with them stealing a win in New York. Clearly their defense will keep them in games, but they need more offensively to put teams away. There were times in the 4th quarter of that game where it looked like the Mystics could put the Liberty away but they could not get the big shot that was needed.
There are questions that the Mystics will need to think about fixing their offense in the future. How can you generate more spacing? Can Shakira Austin and Elena Delle Donne play together and still provide the spacing needed on the court? Can they find more consistent shooting around their star bigs? What players night in and night out are in a position to exploit match ups? These some key questions that I think if addressed can help the Mystics turn back into a contender even with the same core in place. The goal is to win now and they have to take advantage of the talent they have now, but it starts with figuring out how to make these players maximize their talent.