Leilani Mitchell has the 16th-highest 3-point percentage in WNBA history. | Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images
The Washington Mystics will benefit from Leilani Mitchell’s 3-point shooting with hopes she can be a key piece to another championship run. Mitchell was named the WNBA’s Most Improved Player in 2019.
The Washington Mystics have signed guard Leilani Mitchell, the team announced on Thursday. Mitchell began her career with the New York Liberty, signed with the Phoenix Mercury in 2015 and played for the Mystics in 2016 before heading back to Phoenix in 2017, where she played for three seasons.
Mitchell, 34, replaces 33-year-old Kristi Toliver who is returning to the West coast to play for the Los Angeles Sparks — the team with which she won her first championship in 2016.
Toliver is a two-time All-Star (2018 and 2019), while Mitchell has yet to make an All-Star appearance.
Yet, Mitchell is a phenomenal 3-point shooter. She averaged 43 percent made baskets from beyond the arc in 2019 for a career-high 74 threes for the season. She averages 39.6 percent 3-point shooting for her career.
Mitchell played a bigger role for Phoenix in 2019 with superstar guard Diana Taurasi out most of the season following back surgery. Mitchell notched career highs with 30.3 minutes, 12.8 points and 4.0 assists per game last season.
Mitchell will aim to be a go-to 3-point option and team with Mystics point guard Natasha Cloud, who will do most of the distributing. Toliver averaged a career-best 5.9 assists last year, well above Mitchell’s average. However, Mitchell may be able to replace what Toliver leaves behind in the scoring column. Toliver played 29.5 minutes per game last year and averaged 13.0 points.
On Tuesday, Washington re-signed 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne to a four-year extension and that was the franchise’s No. 1 priority in free agency after Delle Donne led the team to a WNBA championship last year. Delle Donne, 30, began her career with the Chicago Sky, won her first MVP award in 2015 and is one of the elite players in the WNBA.
Delle Donne played in the Finals with three herniated discs in her back. She underwent successful surgery in the offseason and is expected to play at the start of the 2020 WNBA season.
The Mystics have made the WNBA Finals twice in Delle Donne’s three years with the team, losing the series to the Seattle Storm in 2018. Delle Donne alone will be able to keep the Mystics relevant, and she also will have help from Ariel Atkins, a reliable scorer, and Cloud, a rising star among the league’s floor generals.
If Washington can bring back WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman, an unrestricted free agent, the team’s chances to contend for a second-straight title will be solidified.