March 13, 2024 

Stefanie Dolson returns to Washington Mystics, seven years after being traded

Dolson will give Mystics a different look in the paint — and outside it, too

On Jan. 31, the eve of WNBA free agency, Washington Mystics general manager Mike Thibault wrote a letter to season ticket-holders. It warned them that some players would be leaving who “contributed significantly to our past successes.” Most notably, those players ended up being Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud, both starters on the 2017 championship team and fan favorites.

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But on Tuesday, Thibault brought back a piece of the franchise’s past success, signing veteran center Stefanie Dolson. The Washington Post’s Kareem Copeland first reported on Feb. 14 that Dolson and the Mystics had reached a broad agreement but that the terms were still being finalized.

“We are extremely excited for our reunion with Stef,” Thibault said in the team’s announcement.

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The Mystics drafted Dolson sixth overall in 2014 out of UConn, and she played three seasons with the franchise before being traded in 2017 as part of a package for Delle Donne.

In 10 WNBA seasons with the Mystics, Chicago Sky and New York Liberty, Dolson has averaged 8.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.9 blocks in 22.6 minutes per game. She is high-risk, high-reward defensively, ranking in the 80th percentile or better in block rate in nine seasons but also ranking in the 11th percentile or worse in foul rate in each of the last five seasons.

In an Instagram video the Mystics released on Tuesday featuring clips from Dolson’s previous stint with the team, a younger Dolson described her role as “setting the tone in the paint as our big, having that high energy.” That still holds true now.

The 6’5 Dolson was an All-Star in 2015 with Washington and in 2017 with Chicago, and she won a WNBA championship with Chicago in 2021. She also won an Olympic gold medal with Team USA in 3-on-3 in 2021.

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New York Liberty center Stefanie Dolson shoots a right-handed hook shot over Washington Mystics center Shakira Austin, whose hands are down.
New York Liberty center Stefanie Dolson (31) shoots over Washington Mystics center Shakira Austin during a game at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on May 19, 2023. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

At age 32, Dolson gives the Mystics a seasoned center with championship experience to complement 23-year-olds Shakira Austin and Queen Egbo. She also gives the Mystics more depth at the position as Austin recovers from hip surgery, and she is already familiar with head coach Eric Thibault because he was an assistant coach during her first stint in Washington.

Dolson can also shoot 3-pointers, making 38.7% of her career attempts and shooting over 40% in two of the past three seasons. Her ability to stretch the court will allow Eric Thibault to try different looks offensively than with Austin or Egbo.

Austin and Egbo both took at least 75% of their shots within 8 feet of the rim last season, and roughly another 20% came from 8 to 16 feet. Dolson’s shot distribution was much different from theirs in 2022: She took 37% of her shots from at least 16 feet, which includes 3-pointers as well as long 2-pointers. (I use Dolson’s 2022 numbers here because she took 229 shots that season, compared with just 68 in 2023, when she missed nearly half the season with an ankle injury and saw her role drastically reduced when healthy.)

Shot DistanceStefanie Dolson (2022)Shakira Austin (2023)Queen Egbo (2023)
0-8 feet50%75%78%
8-16 feet13%21%18%
16-24 feet10%4%5%
24+ feet28%0%0%
Data is for the most recent season each player took at least 100 shots. (Source: WNBA Stats website)

“[Dolson’s] versatility as a post player adds an important dimension to our lineup,” Mike Thibault said. “She can play both inside and on the perimeter because of her 3-point shooting and she is also one of the best passing and screening post players in the league.”

However, if Austin is healthy, the Mystics are looking at a somewhat imbalanced frontcourt, with three centers and just one power forward in Myisha Hines-Allen. Longtime Mystics power forward and current free agent Tianna Hawkins is not expected to return, according to Copeland.

The Mystics will likely look to add depth at power forward — a position with ample All-WNBA talent leaguewide — through the draft or by rostering Emily Engstler. Engstler is currently on a training camp contract and nearly made the roster last season, losing out to Hawkins. She has also been playing well in Athletes Unlimited this offseason, ranking fifth overall and first among forwards on the leaderboard through Tuesday.

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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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