“Their guards, they’re annoying,” Brondello chuckled. “I really like them, however they’re simply tough-minded. They play huge minutes. They compete. They love that aspect of the ball, and so they have actually good chemistry with one another. They’ve obtained publish gamers that may cowl them after they want them with their size — [Elena] Delle Donne that may shot-block and Elizabeth Williams. To be a terrific defensive staff, it’s 5 gamers on the courtroom doing what they should.”
Brondello is way from the one one within the WNBA to be pushed to nervous laughter by the Mystics’ protection. Three-time all-star guard Kayla McBride of the Minnesota Lynx just lately tweeted, “I want I may clarify to y’all what sucks in regards to the clark, cloud, atkins combo however you gotta go through it to grasp … actually.” She added the hashtag, “I simply wanna take an open shot.”
“They’ve undoubtedly hung their hat [on defense],” Lynx Coach Cheryl Reeve stated earlier than the Mystics held them to a season-low 57 points Sunday.
Washington (17-11) has championship aspirations and can lean on its protection because it strives to perform that objective. Getting into Friday’s video games, the Mystics led the league in factors allowed per recreation (75.zero), ranked second in defensive ranking (94.three), stood fourth in three-point proportion allowed (33.three) and had been fifth in discipline objective proportion allowed (42.7). All of these numbers are enhancements from the Mystics’ 2019 title-winning squad.
If protection wins championships, the Mystics are in an enviable place. Earlier than final season, when the Chicago Sky completed eighth, 11 straight WNBA champions had ranked within the high 4 in factors allowed. The highest-rated staff has gained the title in three of the previous six seasons: the Seattle Storm in 2020, the Lynx in 2017 and the Los Angeles Sparks in 2016.
Mystics Coach Mike Thibault is fast to level out that everybody talks about Washington’s prolific 2019 offense however overlooks that it had top-of-the-line defenses in the course of the season’s second half. The winningest coach in WNBA historical past is understood for offense, however he anticipated 2022 to be completely different.
“This time we’re a bit of extra bodily,” Thibault stated. “We’ve got extra dimension within the lane so far as bodily dimension. Shakira [Austin] is larger than Emma [Meesseman] — not so much however larger and longer. We’ve got huge wing gamers in [Natasha Cloud, Alysha Clark and Ariel Atkins] — all of them have respectable dimension about them. And we’ve tweaked just a few issues, too, simply to regulate to how groups are taking part in. Actually, we haven’t gone right into a recreation the place you’ve stated we’re outmatched.”
Brondello and McBride had been speaking in regards to the trio of Cloud, Clark and Atkins. All three have obtained all-defensive staff honors, with Atkins the one participant in league historical past to be named to one of many groups in every of her first 4 seasons. Delle Donne believes Clark ought to have been named defensive participant of the 12 months in 2020. Delle Donne is an underrated defender, too; she averages a block per recreation. Cloud (second), Clark (fifth), Delle Donne (seventh) and Atkins (10th) rank within the WNBA’s high 10 in defensive win shares per game.
“It undoubtedly helps when you may have a whole lot of above-average, actually good defenders,” Clark stated. “It undoubtedly helps your defensive chemistry. It makes video games so much simpler. You don’t have to actually overthink. You possibly can simply sort of play to the strengths of what you may have on the ground night time in and night time out. And that helps us to have the ability to be so constant on the defensive aspect. So, yeah, it’s simply so simple as having a number of defenders at each place, and it makes your job simpler night time in and night time out.”
Williams was first-team all-defense in 2020 and this 12 months leads the league in defensive rating (86.four) amongst those that have performed greater than 12 video games. She was anticipated to be the starter this season, however the play of Austin, the No. three draft choose, has pushed her right into a reserve position. Austin is 20th in defensive ranking (93.four) — that work in opposition to a few of the league’s high gamers earned her the beginning position. Thibault stated she instinctually is aware of the place to be and when to assist. Austin has been capable of battle in opposition to opponents a lot stronger than she confronted in school, and Clark known as her fearless. At 6-foot-5, she has the mobility to change and guard a number of positions.
The defensive ability of Delle Donne, Austin and Williams within the paint permits the guards and wings to be additional aggressive on the perimeter.
“My dad has at all times put a defensive mind-set onto me from a younger age,” Austin stated. “So just about all of what I’ve been doing is intuition. A few of it’s studying what participant tendencies are, however, truthfully, most of it’s simply me going on the market and understanding what most individuals need to do.”
It seems the rookie has discovered from Clark, who is understood for memorizing opponents’ tendencies. Her movie work is famend within the WNBA, and her basketball IQ usually has her teaching protection throughout exercises proper together with Thibault’s workers.
Past the starters, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, Myisha Hines-Allen and Tianna Hawkins are versatile defenders with Williams on the second unit. The Mystics have gotten extra observe time just lately because the schedule has slowed. They’ve used that point to work on defensive particulars — and have allowed greater than 74 factors simply twice of their previous seven video games.
Washington’s offense has been inconsistent, however its protection has stored it in competition. If latest historical past holds true, it may deliver the franchise its second championship.