When the Washington Mystics won the 2019 WNBA championship, they had an elite backcourt to help facilitate the offense to the variety of superstars on the roster. But ever since Kristi Toliver left the team for a better-paying contract, a second playmaking guard has been tough to find for Washington.
Perhaps the answer for Washington is new training camp signee Rui Machida from Japan.
Machida will come to D.C. to compete for a roster spot this summer after being a fan favorite for her home 2020 Toyko Olympics. She broke the single-game Olympic record for assists with 18 in her team's semifinal victory over France. For the course of the tournament, the now 28-year-old averaged 7.2 points and a whopping 12.5 assists per game.
Many in the basketball community regard her as one of the best point guards in Asia basketball. The Olympic performance was her awakening to the rest of the world.
Head coach and general manager Mike Thibault sees her as a perfect fit for what the Mystics need to get back to championship form.
“Rui is a very exciting signing for us. She is one of the most dynamic point guards in the world and perfectly fits our style of play,” Thibault said in a release. “She pushes the tempo offensively and creates great opportunities for her teammates both in transition and in the half court. We can pair her with any of our guards to give us different looks with our lineups. Her teammates will love playing with her and our fans will love watching her play.”
Machida presents a new opportunity at the secondary point guard position that the last options haven't displayed. She's a pass-first guard, similar to Natasha Cloud, and content to not receive a bunch of shots. Her elite speed will also be another great element to go with the already quick Natasha Cloud.
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Leilani Mitchell was initially signed to fill in the Toliver void before the 2020 season. Mitchell was a cheaper option and provided another 3-point threat to the Mystics' high-powered offense. Getting Mitchell into a flow as a traditional point guard who could attack when necessary but also distribute the ball never transpired in her two seasons.
It left youngster Sydney Weise seeing an increased playmaking role as a backup in 2021. But, again, Weise is also another 3-point specialist that thrives in catch-and-shoot opportunities.
There were no lack of stars and scorers over the past three years, just a lack of players that could get them the ball. It left Cloud mostly alone as the primary PG. She's more than capable of carrying that load by herself, but an ideal situation that led to the Mystics winning a championship is when there are two dynamic playmakers in the backcourt. Statistically, Cloud's best season was in 2019, when she shared those duties with someone else.
"I'm humbled and thrilled to be offered this incredible opportunity to play for the Washington Mystics in WNBA," Machida said in a Mystics' tweet. "I want to express my deep appreciation to all who supported me in accepting this new challenge. I will do my best for new team in America. This is my first time joining an international team."
Now, Machida's roster spot is not guaranteed. She is one of four Mystics on a training camp contract with potentially one roster spot available when factoring in the 2022 No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft. She must earn her contract in the two-week buildup to the regular season and prove her fit with the roster.
She joins fellow training camp signees Megan Gustafson, who was on the roster last season, and international players Kang Lee-seul and Klara Lundquist.