May 14, 2021 

Could Sydney Wiese solve the Washington Mystics’ backup guard dilemma?

The Mystics acquired Wiese and waived Sug Sutton on Thursday

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Los Angeles Sparks guard Sydney Wiese drives to the basket against the Phoenix Mercury on July 25, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

At the eleventh hour on Thursday afternoon, the Washington Mystics made a change to their 12-player roster. Just before the 5pm deadline to finalize their roster for Saturday’s season opener, they acquired fifth-year guard Sydney Wiese from the Los Angeles Sparks in exchange for their second-round pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft and waived second-year guard Sug Sutton.

The Sparks drafted Wiese at No. 11 overall in 2017 out of Oregon State, where she averaged 13.8 points, 4.7 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game while shooting 41.0% from 3-point range. She averaged just 6.6 minutes per game in her first two seasons in the WNBA, but she broke through in 2019 and started 31 regular-season games over the past two seasons. 2020 was her best statistical season to date: she averaged 6.8 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists in just over 19 minutes per game, and her 3-point shooting percentage skyrocketed to 47.2% on nearly three attempts per game.

“Sydney is a veteran guard with a winning background at every level,” Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault said in the team’s announcement. “She can play three positions and perfectly fits our style of play. She had an excellent season with Los Angeles last year and we are looking forward to her bringing veteran experience to the Mystics.”

As Thibault alluded to, Wiese led Oregon State to a Final Four as a junior and to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in each of her four seasons, and she is skilled enough and big enough at 6’ to play point guard, shooting guard or small forward in the WNBA.

“Sydney’s the type of person that championship teams have, right? … Because she makes winning plays,” Sparks head coach Derek Fisher told The Athletic early in the 2019 season. “She dives on the floor for loose balls. She leaves who she’s guarding to go help somebody else without worrying about if who she’s guarding is going to score. She just does the right things. And those are the type of players that you need in order to win.”

With the trade for Wiese, Sutton became the odd player out, as the Mystics already had the maximum 12 active players entering Thursday. Sutton, a 5’8 point guard whom the Mystics drafted at No. 36 in 2020, averaged 2.8 points and 1.0 assists on 36.4% shooting in 12 games last season. This season, she had already beaten out three other guards on training camp contracts but fell just short of making the final roster.

Thibault had praised Sutton during training camp for her growth in the offseason, noting specifically her shooting and her understanding of the Mystics’ system. In the team’s two preseason games, she ran the offense when starting point guard Natasha Cloud was on the bench, pushing the pace and playing tough defense. However, she struggled with her shot, making just one of eight attempts for a total of five points.

Wiese will pick up where Sutton left off: battling to be the first guard off the bench for the Mystics behind Cloud, Leilani Mitchell and Ariel Atkins. The other contenders for that role are veteran Shavonte Zellous and young up-and-comers Kiara Leslie and Stella Johnson. Wiese is another big guard who can play on or off the ball and switch defensively, whereas Sutton was purely a point guard. Wiese’s shooting is also a big plus, as Thibault said on Monday that “we’ll be most concerned right now about our offense until we add a couple people.”

On Wednesday, the day before the trade, Thibault said none of the backup guards had separated themselves and that he wasn’t sure which one would play the most in the season opener against Chicago.

“Some of it will depend on matchups, whether you want to play a bigger player or a smaller player,” he said, “… but they’re all roughly the same size, other than maybe Sug. I’m just kind of trying to get through the next day or two and figure that out.”

A day later, associate head coach Eric Thibault named Johnson, a 5’10 second-year guard out of Rider University, as the player who had elevated her game in recent days. She “has really started to be more aggressive, which her coaches and veteran teammates have encouraged,” he said.

The stakes of this battle are especially high because there will soon be at least one more cut to make. If you look at the Mystics’ roster, you’ll see 13 names, one over the maximum. That’s because the team temporarily suspended forward Myisha Hines-Allen’s contract to be able to add another player.

Hines-Allen hasn’t yet reported to training camp, as she is still playing for the French team Basket Lattes Montpellier Association (BLMA). In 22 games for BLMA, she has averaged 16.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals while shooting 41.2% from 3-point range. On Thursday, she hit the game-winner in the league semifinals and finished with 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting and 11 rebounds.

Hines-Allen will return to the Mystics after playing in the French league championship game this weekend but will miss at least the first two games while she goes through COVID-19 protocols. Mike Thibault may cut a forward when Hines-Allen returns, or he could go with a bigger team and cut another guard, as he likely doesn’t have enough minutes to go around for seven guards anyway.

Meanwhile, the Mystics have just one practice before Saturday’s game to welcome Wiese and start to develop chemistry with her, and it’s likely to be light, according to Thibault. That timing isn’t ideal for Wiese, but it’s also not unprecedented: last season, Thibault signed another sharpshooter, Jacki Gemelos, less than 24 hours before an August game against Atlanta. Gemelos played over 13 minutes in that game, and Wiese could similarly be thrown into the fire on Saturday.

The hope is that Wiese will fire in a 3-pointer or two and make some of the winning plays Fisher referenced back in 2019. If she does that, she could be a critical X-factor as the Mystics chase their second WNBA championship in three seasons.

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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