Sykes signing is about her potential more than accomplishments originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Brittney Sykes has achieved quite a bit in her six-year WNBA career. A three-time All-Defensive team member, leading the league in steals twice, who has a polished, reliable offensive skill set that made her a starter for four straight seasons.
While all that is impressive in its own right, it’s actually what the Washington Mystics see in her future that made her such a valuable free agency target this year. There’s a lot more to come from the versatile guard.
When Sykes was drafted in 2017 by the Atlanta Dream, she entered the league as an off-ball scorer who couldn’t be stopped when attacking downhill. She never really shed that profile. It was only recently that she developed into a facilitator, which she labeled as a priority playing overseas in Spain. Her per-36-minute assist numbers were her highest this past year with the Sparks (4.6) and nearly doubled that of her rookie season (2.7).
It’s something that helped Sykes secure a three-year deal and the reported largest monetary contract of her career.
“We have a prime of her career guard who’s like she said, still experimenting with parts of her game,” general manager Mike Thibault said at Sykes’ introductory Zoom call. “There’s things that she feels she can do better and get better at a critical part of her career but a critical time for us (too). We haven’t had a guard necessarily on our team that has been able to do some of the things she does.”
This will be Sykes’s age-29 season. A continued upward trajectory – statistic-wise – suggests she’s still in her prime with several more relevant seasons ahead. She will be the fourth-oldest player committed to the Mystics roster behind Kristi Toliver (36), Elena Delle Donne (33) and Natasha Cloud (30).
But this year in D.C., she will have something she hasn’t had before: Eric Thibault. That difference alone could be crucial in unlocking Sykes’ potential as a Mystic.
The younger Thibault, now entering his first year as a head coach, has a proven track record of developing guards and getting them to the next level. Cloud was a second-round draft pick back in 2015. In a league where it’s rare for second-rounders to even make an opening-day roster, he helped transform her into the WNBA assists leader this past year. Ariel Atkins – the seventh overall pick in 2018 – is now a key member of Team USA who also entered the league as an off-ball scorer.
There were even flashes with Rui Machida last year. Her best play as a scorer came in the final month (2.0 ppg, 44.0% FG, 33.3% 3FG) of the year (1.8 ppg, 31.0% FG, 20.6% 3FG) with less playing time than the months prior.
“I think the biggest thing for me was going into the situation just wanting to be in an organization where I didn’t feel like I will be put in the box and to be able to be used the right way,” Sykes said of her free agency choice.
“I feel like in my six years in the league, I haven’t even scratched the surface of my capabilities that I can bring to the court,” Sykes said. “So I wanted to be in a place where, again, I can be used correctly.”
Already she’s at a great starting point after what she accomplished in L.A. Her 12.7 points per game was third on the team with a respectable 43.3% mark from the field (26.9% from three). That’s improvement from the player she presumably replaces on the roster in Alysha Clark.
What won’t be in development in Washington will be Sykes’s contributions to the defense. The league’s steal leader joins the reigning No. 1 defensive unit in the league. Last year, that success was predicated on limiting quality shots and not allowing offensive rebounds. The hope was that the dominant defense would lead to an easier offense on the court. That simply wasn’t the case.
The Mystics were sixth in team steals (7.6 per game) and last in fastbreak points (6.9 per game). Sykes will bridge the team to that missing element which they hope will make the defense even better. Ideally, it also leads to easier baskets and a more flowing offense.
“She is one of the best in our league at getting to the basket in traffic and finishing at the rim and a defense collapses and helps that she can find teammates on the perimeter or behind the defense,” Mike Thibault said. “That’s a unique skill that, players that can go get their own shot off the dribble are really, really valuable players. The fact that she can get out in transition with her speed when you think about her and Ariel and Tash and Shatori and what can happen with our roster in another month or two.”
Altogether it has the Mystics excited about the season ahead with Sykes as an integral part. The defensive supremacy will continue once again and Sykes will be the key to unlocking the missing part of the offense.