In the first round of pickup games Wednesday with her new Washington Mystics teammates, Elena Delle Donne received a pass along the baseline, pump faked to draw a defender in the air and scored on a up-and-under shot off the glass.
The sequence led Tianna Hawkins, who had given up the basket, to mutter an expletive. Watching from a nearby seat at the Verizon Center practice court, Mystics Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault empathized.
“Welcome to the club,” he said, smiling. “That’s what I was saying the entire game when whenever we played her.”
During one stretch, Delle Donne made four shots in a row, including two difficult floaters after spinning by her defender. She also made her share of three-pointers from NBA range, each time eliciting a smile from Thibault, who orchestrated the trade for Delle Donne in the most significant move in franchise history.
Delle Donne was named WNBA MVP in 2015 and last season finished tied for first in the league in scoring, averaging 21.5 points per game for the Chicago Sky. The Mystics acquired Delle Donne from the Sky, which drafted her No. 2 overall in 2013, in exchange for the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, center Stefanie Dolson and guard Kahleah Copper.
“I feel good,” Delle Donne said. “We all were a little winded. Obviously that’s how it is the first time getting up and down with one another, but some really good things I’ve seen. Obviously some things to work on, and I think coach is itching to get out there and coach us.”
While Delle Donne was the centerpiece of the Mystics’ offseason transactions, Thibault also added other players expected to contribute significantly, including point guard Kristi Toliver. The former Maryland star, however, was not at Wednesday’s workout because of overseas commitments.
Toliver plays for UMMC Ekaterinburg, the same Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League team as Emma Meesseman, a first-team all-star two years ago with the Mystics. UMMC Ekaterinburg is in the RWBPL finals beginning Saturday, and both players are expected to miss a majority of training camp.
Other Mystics players, including two-time all-star guard Ivory Latta and free agent signing Krystal Thomas, are scheduled to arrive later this week, with the majority of the team assembling for the first practice of training camp Monday.
“I already like what I see in just pickup,” said point guard Natasha Cloud, entering her third year with the Mystics. “This is our first time playing since coming back from overseas and kind of having down time, getting back in shape. We’re already clicking.”
Guards Tayler Hill and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, the No. 6 overall pick in last week’s draft who didn’t have far to travel to join her new team, also stood out Wednesday. Walker-Kimbrough played at Maryland, where she was a three-time first-team all-Big Ten selection.
Hill made six shots in a row at one point, all from long range, illustrating the potential matchup issues opponents figure to face when guarding the Mystics, who have three of the WNBA’s top four three-point shooters from last season.
Walker-Kimbrough also has shown an ability to make three-pointers consistently, shooting 55 percent from beyond the arc as junior to lead all Division I players.
“It was definitely a challenge, but the most exciting part is I feel myself getting better,” said Walker-Kimbrough, the fourth all-time leading scorer for the Terrapins. “The girls are great. They’re encouraging me, just going at me, making me better, so it was a great day.”