Washington Mystics get younger by adding rookie Sug Sutton

Veterans Essence Carson, Shey Peddy waived with an eye toward 2021

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The Washington Mystics had the day off on Sunday, but Mike Thibault still had work to do. On Sunday evening, the team announced that it had signed point guard Sug Sutton, the No. 36 pick in the 2020 Draft, and released wing Essence Carson.

A day later, Winsidr’s Aryeh Schwartz first reported and The Next’s Lauren Rosenberg confirmed that the Mystics had waived point guard Shey Peddy. Thibault also indicated on Monday morning that he would re-sign rookie guard Stella Johnson, who was added to the roster last week using an emergency hardship exception.

These moves effectively swap out two veterans for younger players, giving Thibault a chance to evaluate players during the second half of the season who could vie for spots on the 2021 roster. “We've had discussions with our staff from the very start [of the season] about, hone in on what's the most important,” Thibault said on Monday. “So player development is of utmost importance. It starts with our players that are going to be here for a long term. …I would rather look at the young players for the balance of this season than just try to keep a veteran here if it made us win one or two more games.”

Thibault also discussed this long-term approach in depth before the team’s game against the Las Vegas Aces on Saturday and stated that developing players is more important to him right now than making the playoffs. The Mystics currently have an uphill battle to make the playoffs, as they sit in tenth place—two spots out of the final playoff spot—with a 3-7 record.

Sug Sutton is a 5’8 point guard from St. Louis, Missouri, who averaged 10.4 points, 4.2 assists, and 1.8 steals per game as a senior at Texas last season. She was a top-10 finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award, which recognizes the nation’s top point guard, for two straight seasons and earned Second Team All-Big 12 honors last season. Sutton also doubles the number of Texas Longhorns on the Mystics roster, joining second-leading scorer Ariel Atkins.

On draft night, Thibault said that Sutton has “the right demeanor” to play in the WNBA and praised her ability to push the pace and find open teammates. He referenced her pace of play again on Monday: “We're trying to learn how to play fast and that's one of the things that Sug does well.”

Forward Myisha Hines-Allen said she didn’t know much about Sutton beyond the connection to Atkins, but she looked up Sutton’s highlights on YouTube after hearing the news. “She just looks like she's a great leader,” Hines-Allen said. “She can definitely lead her team, she [brings] energy, and that's definitely someone we need and we're going to definitely feed off of her. … She's here, my new teammate, [and] I'm excited.”

Thibault will be “patient” as Sutton settles in on the court and will give her opportunities to play and receive feedback that she can take into her offseason training. However, Thibault noted that Sutton was able to familiarize herself with the team’s playbook and be on team Zoom calls for about a month after she was drafted until the Mystics had to finalize their roster and waived her, so her learning curve may not be as steep as one might think.

Sutton is currently quarantining in the WNBA bubble and, if all of her COVID-19 tests come back negative, will be available for Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Dream.

The 5’10 Johnson has played in the Mystics’ last two games and seems to have left a positive impression—particularly on Saturday when she had 7 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and a block in 20 minutes, all career highs. Thibault said postgame that Johnson “showed some really good things.

She had some great instincts for the game, not just the shooting part but that she made the right passes on swinging the ball when she had the ball in pick-and-rolls or the right kind of pass to a post player rolling to the basket. We need guards that really can make those plays…This is now an opportunity for her to make an impression with us and see if this is something that works down the road.”

Carson was in her 13th WNBA season and her first in Washington, DC, as she was signed after Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders opted out of the 2020 season. She played in all ten games this season off the bench but struggled to get into a rhythm, averaging 4.3 points per game on just 29% shooting. Her best game was also the team’s top performance: on July 30, she scored 8 points on 3-of-6 shooting and added 4 rebounds and 2 assists to help Washington beat first-place Seattle.

Despite her relatively short stint with the Mystics, Carson clearly made an impression on her younger teammates. Hines-Allen praised Carson’s veteran leadership and basketball IQ on Monday, and center Alaina Coates told the media last week, “[Carson is] just really dope and she's really down to earth, and she knows how to be a relatable person. She knows how to talk to people. She's funny. I'm really glad I met her—I'm so glad I had this opportunity and I was able to meet her because I feel like we genuinely have formed a friendship.”

Garden State natives Hines-Allen (left) and Carson (right) celebrated National New Jersey Day on July 27.

Peddy played for the Mystics for parts of the last two seasons, making her WNBA debut in 2019 at age 30 after years of playing overseas. Last year, after being cut midway through the season, she accepted Thibault’s offer to join the coaching staff as a video and analytics assistant and was part of the 2019 WNBA championship team. “She just felt like a good person, a good fit for the organization,” Thibault said last year of the decision to add Peddy to the staff.

Peddy played overseas again last winter and re-signed with the Mystics in June to replace Cloud. She missed the Mystics’ most recent game with a hip injury but averaged 3.6 points and 1.2 assists in just under 13 minutes per game this season. In the season opener against Indiana, Peddy recorded a career-high 10 points and 4 rebounds and added 2 assists and 2 steals.

After their off day yesterday, the Mystics practiced today, with Sutton watching via Zoom from quarantine. They spent much of practice working on what Thibault called “refresher courses,” including on defensive coverages and offensive reads. Thibault has also met with his players and will meet again with the veterans, to ensure that everyone is bought into his long-term plan.

“Yes, we're going to get frustrated with losing. Nobody likes to lose,” Thibault said on Monday. “But also, when we walk through the door next year and those other players are back with us, have we done the work this summer to make us potentially the best team in our league again going into next season? …

“It’s not giving up on this season; it's understanding the reality of where we are. We don't have three superstars here like the best teams do…You need three stars, I think at least, to win a championship. If we make the playoffs, if we can contend and beat some people, then great. And we will put every effort we have into it. We're still doing scouting reports, we're still doing all the things that you try to do to win every game. But we've been dealt a tough hand, so let's deal with it and get better.”

At times this season, Thibault’s strategy may feel to fans like a step backward. But just as Thibault had a blueprint to bring a championship to DC, he is hard at work on other plans to keep the defending champions on top in seasons to come.