2020 rookie vision: Jaylyn Agnew raises one big question for the Mystics

How the Creighton sharpshooter can blend right in with a high-powered offense

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Yesterday’s piece took a look at grad transfer Destiny Slocum and how she can merge the best of what she did at Oregon State with the very different style she’ll be playing at Arkansas.

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Mike Thibault and the Mystics don’t have many decisions left to make in shaping their 2020 roster. They return nine members of last season’s championship team, signed unrestricted free agent point guard Leilani Mitchell and acquired Tina Charles in a trade with the Liberty. They won’t have room to carry a 12th player right away. But for today, with second-round pick Jaylyn Agnew in mind, we’ll at least consider the question of whether Thibault should keep a guard or a big with that 11th spot. 

Some swing factors are still at play. Elena Delle Donne had back surgery earlier in the offseason. Would Emma Meesseman be delayed or prevented from coming over altogether if the season starts up at some point? Kiara Leslie essentially will be the team’s first-rounder this year. The 2019 No. 10 overall pick had surgery in May to repair a torn meniscus and ended up missing the entire season. 

Washington would carry six bigs if they elect to stand pat: Delle Donne, Meesseman, Charles, LaToya Sanders, Tianna Hawkins and Myisha Hines-Allen. Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins and Aerial Powers would round out the backcourt with Mitchell and Leslie. In a vacuum, lots of teams are keeping five bigs rather than six. The makeup of this team is much different. Delle Donne, Meesseman and Hawkins bring enough shooting to make big lineups successful, not just possible. Hines-Allen will be circled as Agnew’s primary competition for this exercise, raising the fundamental question of where Thibault might prefer to have some additional depth. 

Agnew has some similarities to Kitija Laksa, another versatile wing shooter from this draft class. The Creighton alum really elevated her game as a senior, nearly doubling her scoring average while shooting 37.4 percent on 8.7 3-point attempts per game. She was an efficient scorer coming off screens, managing 1.023 points per possession per Synergy Sports. Allie Quigley, who used the same number of possessions off screens this season (130), tallied 1.115 points per possession. 

Agnew is the kind of shooter you can run plays for thanks to her deep range and quick release. Here’s a look at Agnew and the departed Kristi Toliver running through some elevator doors out to the left wing: 

The Mystics didn’t rely too heavily on set pieces for wing shooters. What we did see in that department was usually scripted for one of their established stars. But every team can install little wrinkles to help their shooters get some separation. Quick flares are a staple at every level. 

Agnew’s game is smooth. You really have to extend yourself to run her off the line. She’s efficient with her movements when those opportunities arise, quickly attacking your outside shoulder to secure an advantage. She doesn’t over-dribble or over-penetrate. She makes good decisions—when to pull up, when to keep probing and when to give it up. 

In a sense, her life would get easier offensively with the Mystics. She’d be option No. 4 or 5, not the first item on every scouting report. Washington generated the most spot-up opportunities in the league last season (810). Indiana was second in overall volume at 695 per Synergy Sports. Agnew knows when to cut and how to relocate to catch her defender napping. The Mystics have two natural screeners in Sanders and Charles that won’t get guarded closely as spot-up threats. Either one could do some head-hunting to free up a 3-point shooter on the weak side when Delle Donne or Meesseman is working one-on-one. 

Washington’s best shooters are natural partners in any two-player action with Delle Donne or Meesseman because both stars are such magnets. Simple screens or handoffs generate open looks because teams are so focused on staying attached to Delle Donne and Meesseman. Agnew’s shooting and decision-making would make her an excellent dance partner. 

Her biggest adjustment would likely come on the defensive end. She’s long and did use that to her advantage to come up with some impressive blocks. She’s also very slight, a little jumpy and wasn’t an imposing on-ball defender in the Big East. The jump in athleticism and strength, even just among guards, is a big one to process. 

Agnew is worth a real look. I can see this truly becoming a 50-50 call for the Mystics. One thing we have to keep in mind with Hines-Allen: Will she ever actually get to play real minutes? That kind of role wasn’t there last year when everybody was healthy and they just added Charles, a shoo-in for 20-plus minutes per night, into that mix.

The 2020 Mystics will be experimenting with different combinations all season. Charles is a massive piece to integrate. Mitchell’s skill set is a fantastic fit but she is still new to the current group. Leslie hasn’t logged her first minutes yet. This feels like a year in which most coaches will lean more on experience.

Thibault may also make this decision with 2021 and beyond more in mind. Six players are set to hit unrestricted free agency. What do the futures of Hawkins and Sanders look like with the franchise at this point? That may set the fate of Hines-Allen for better or for worse. The team probably has a grip on who they’ll be prioritizing. But which players are most likely to receive lucrative offers they’ll have a hard time matching? That’s impossible to know for certain at this point.

Washington’s future needs are unpredictable with what we know now. The scales could easily tip in either direction—big or small. They shipped all three of their 2021 picks out in the Charles sign-and-trade. Sustainability is the name of the game now. They’ll need to develop young players or find a diamond or two in the rough. The player in that 11th roster spot just might be the one they lean on to produce in an important role as the roster changes and evolves over the next two years.

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You can email me (SplitThePost@gmail.com) or reach me on Twitter (@Ben_Dull) with your questions, feedback, etc. We’ll be back tomorrow.

More on the Mystics: What Tina Charles means to a Washington Mystics title defense

More Agnew highlights: