Mystics’ frontcourt duo building chemistry to begin 2023 campaign

Mystics’ frontcourt duo building chemistry to begin 2023 originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Heading into their second year as teammates, Mystics sophomore Shakira Austin and veteran Elena Delle Donne have been finding their groove together to start the 2023 season.

Coming off a very strong start to her rookie year, in which Austin was named to the WNBA All-Rookie Team, the Mystics were more than confident they had themselves a tenacious tandem down low with the former No. 4 pick and a two-time MVP and six-time All-Star in Delle Donne. To make matters even better, entering year 10, this was one of the first offseasons in a while where Delle Donne began the season healthy.

Austin has been off to a strong start to begin her sophomore season, notching a career-high 21 points and 11 rebounds [her first career 20/10 game] during the second game of the season against the Connecticut Sun. Despite dropping two straight games to the Sun, Austin played well again Tuesday night tallying 14 points, eight rebounds and three steals.

Even Delle Donne put up another impressive performance, scoring 27 points, the most she has scored since 2019. Playing alongside Austin has proven beneficial for Delle Donne since it opens up more chances for her to get to the rim thanks to the attention Austin commands.

Playing in the paint alongside Delle Donne, Austin could not ask for a better mentor and teammate. Delle Donne has been seeing great chemistry on the floor with Austin, which is high praise coming from one of the best to ever play the game.

“Just two good basketball players,” Delle Donne said regarding her and Austin’s chemistry. “Having a year under our belt together, talking a lot, trying to just stay on the same page. Sometimes I'll send her some clips to look at. Just continuing to communicate with one another. She's so versatile, and I am as well, we're able to do things that make other bigs uncomfortable.”

Delle Donne and Austin will have ample opportunities this season to go up against dominant frontcourt duos and prove they are just as good. The New York Liberty’s Jonquel Jones and Breanna Stewart, as well as the Las Vegas Aces' Candace Park and A’ja Wilson, are just a couple of duos Delle Donne and Austin will be battling this season.

An important part of basketball is being able to make quick counters on the fly and fill in gaps created by defensive rotations or react to double teams to find an open teammate. This is something that makes Delle Donne and Austin’s chemistry so strong and has been noticeable through the first three games of the season.

There have been times when Delle Donne will get double-teamed on the post and Austin will make the correct read to cut to the basket. Part of having good chemistry with your teammate is being able to get them out of uncomfortable situations on the floor and this duo has been doing just that.

“This is year two of our little duo and we’re continuing to build,” Austin said during her postgame interview Tuesday night. “I think by the time we figure it out and really perfect it there’s not a lot of things anybody will be able to do to stop it. We just keep feeding off each other, you know trying to get our teammates involved too.”

When Delle Donne entered the league in 2013, after being drafted second overall by the Chicago Sky, she found herself in a very similar situation that Austin finds herself in right now. Delle Donne got to learn from and play alongside one of the league's greats in Swin Cash.

It’s a domino effect, as now it’s Delle Donne’s turn as the savvy vet to teach and build chemistry with younger players coming into the league. Before we know it, Austin will have the same opportunity to pay it forward.

New head coach Eric Thibault likes his team to play through its frontcourt, and Austin's maturity in being able to gel quickly with Delle Donne has not gone unnoticed.

“You know, she acts like a big kid, but I think she's actually a pretty mature brain about the game,” said Thibault. “She picks stuff up quickly, she figures out how to play off people, she knows where space is. She uses space well in terms of when Elena is being doubled or she's off the ball and her main help, she has a natural feel of where to go on the floor.”

The frontcourt tandem has been off to a strong start but they are going to need to put together a strong showing come Friday night if the Mystics wish to get back in the win column and hand the Chicago Sky their first loss on the young season. Austin and Delle Donne’s chemistry will continue to grow, and Austin makes sure not to take a second for granted playing alongside one of the league’s all-time greats.

“Since day one, since the moment I came to the training camp last year,” Austin said on growing up watching Delle Donne. “I’ve just been watching and soaking everything in. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to come in and not be thrown into the fire…Coming in this was the perfect opportunity. She’s a great person to watch and look after. Just her work ethic, her fight to get back on the floor after so many things that’s happened. It’s just great, every day I take advantage of it honestly.”