When Scott Brooks works out, he gets a close-up view of the best basketball team in the city. No, not his Washington Wizards. The WNBA’s Mystics.
The fitness room at the Southeast Washington practice facility shared by the Wizards and Mystics borders two full-sized courts. Whoever’s on the elliptical — Brooks’s preferred machine — can peer out of the large windows and watch a team practice. This summer, those courts have belonged to the collection of players who have been breaking WNBA records and are now projected to win the league championship.
The Mystics, with a league-leading 24-8 record, play a desirable brand of basketball and own the WNBA’s highest margin of victory (20.0). This season, the Mystics have set an example of how great teams operate. Brooks, the Wizards coach, has noticed.
“I like how they play,” Brooks said. “I think the biggest thing when I watch [the Mystics], I look at them and say, ‘Wow, these athletes really care about one another.' They’re competing for one another, and we’ve been trying to instill that with our [Wizards] group and now we have so many new players and I think we can get there.”
During the slow summer months, several Wizards, including all-star Bradley Beal and center Thomas Bryant, have also taken in Mystics games. What these NBA players have witnessed could potentially help them during their 2019-20 season, as there are lessons to be learned from the Mystics’ unselfish basketball.
While getting in his cardio, Brooks watched Mystics training camp. Even then, the team displayed the tenets of its eventual success: an offense that flows and turns down good looks for great ones. From those early practices to the last weekend of the WNBA season, the Mystics have become offensive titans, leading the WNBA in points per game (89.0), field goal percentage (. 470) and total three-pointers (229). The team is also on pace to break their own record for the highest free throw percentage in WNBA history at 85.8 percent.
Besides smart shooting, the Mystics pass — a lot. Heading into Friday night’s matchup with the Dallas Wings, Washington averaged 21.8 assists per game, which would rank within the top three in the WNBA since 2000. Washington has also surrendered the fewest turnovers per game (14.8) in the league.
Mystics Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault has spent seven years building one of the best offensive teams in WNBA history. Even more, Thibault has constructed a roster that meshes well, as evidenced by the team keeping up its historic pace throughout injuries to guard Kristi Toliver, who has missed nine games with a right knee bone bruise.
“In what I understand in talking with [Wizards GM] Tommy [Sheppard] and those guys, they would like to, with their young guys, teach them how to be an unselfish, move-the-ball team with space and three-point shooting and all that,” Thibault said. “Their players have watched us play and came to our games. I think everybody would love to play that way, it just takes a while to get the right players and the right chemistry to do that.
“We have as good of chemistry as I’ve ever coached, male or female,” he continued. “This is the best team, from top to bottom, for chemistry that I’ve ever coached.”
With the creation of Monumental Basketball, the organization that includes the four basketball properties operated by Ted Leonsis and the Monumental Sports & Entertainment ownership group, collaboration should exist between the teams. This ideal of teamwork was evident even at the announcement of Monumental Basketball, when Thibault sat on the dais along with new Wizards hires Sashi Brown, John Thompson III and Daniel Medina.
While Thibault’s role in Monumental Basketball, at least as it relates to the Wizards, has not been determined — he has his own team to worry about at the moment — he should have a seat at the large table during major moments.
“My impression of it, and talking with Ted and talking with Tommy and Sashi, is that big basketball decisions throughout the organizations are going to kind of require input from different people,” said Thibault, who previously worked in the NBA and the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association before moving to coach in the WNBA in 2003.
“I’m hoping that I can quietly give some perspective when it’s asked for. I’m the oldest person in the room,” the 68-year-old said with a smirk, “so I can look back a little farther than some people can but the rest of it is to be determined. I’ll do whatever they ask me to.”
But during one of Washington’s final regular season practices, it was Thibault and his team who commanded the room.
On Thursday, Mystics practice drew a small audience of Wizards players as injured all-star John Wall, occupying one of Brooks’s favorite machines, watched the team work on its defensive pressure. Wall’s music blasted from inside the weight room while Thibault tried to instruct players on defense. Eventually, someone closed the door so that Thibault no longer had to compete with the thumping bass.
Later, new Wizards point guard Isaiah Thomas showed up at the facility and gave the Mystics his complete attention while standing and watching from the dining room. Whether from their court side view at games played inside Entertainment and Sports Arena or their front-row seats at practices, the Wizards have observed basketball greatness.
“I try to watch as much as I can. I think Coach Thibault’s an outstanding coach. He’s very disciplined, he’s organized and his practices are very enthusiastic,” Brooks said. “Their team is really fun to watch. They practice exactly how they play. They play hard and they play together.”