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Delle Donne's return fuels Mystics's 97-76 rout over Dream

Delle Donne's return fuels Mystics's 97-76 rout over Dream

Elena Delle Donne had 15 points and 10 rebounds in her return from a bone bruise in her left knee and the Washington Mystics forced a decisive Game 5 with a 97-76 win over the Atlanta Dream in the WNBA semifinal series.

Delle Donne started, played 34 minutes, sank 3 of 5 three-point attempts and scored 11 points in the second half after sitting out Friday's 81-76 loss. She suffered the injury in the final minutes of Atlanta's 78-75 Game 2 victory.

The 2015 WNBA Most Valuable Player award winner sported a bulky brace on her left knee. She failed to score until less than four minutes remained in the first half, but her presence immediately helped open the floor for teammates.

Washington shot 50 percent from the field overall. Ariel Atkins scored 19 points, Natasha Cloud 13 and LaToya Sanders 10.

Kristi Toliver led the Mystics with 22 points as all five starters scored in double figures. Washington pulled away with a 28-10 run in the second half for its largest lead at 90-67 after Atlanta closed within five points.

The series shifts back to Atlanta for the finale of the best-of-5 series on Tuesday. The Mystics have never reached the WNBA finals in the franchise's 21 seasons.

Tiffany Hayes and Renee Montgomery each scored 12 points for the Dream.

Atlanta remains one victory away from the franchise's fourth finals appearance and first since 2013. Brittney Sykes and Jessica Breland also scored 12 points.

The Mystics raced out to a 26-12 lead in the second quarter and entered halftime up 44-35. Toliver, who had only seven points on 3 of 15 shooting in Game 3 topped all scorers with 12 points in the first half.

Delle Donne's second of three 3-pointers stifled Atlanta's momentum after the Dream's 10-0 run cut Washington's lead to 62-57 with 2:04 left in the third.

TIP-INS

Toliver and Cloud, Washington's starting backcourt, combined to make 13 of 26 shots after finishing 4 of 22 in Game 3. The Mystics outrebounded the Dream 40-31. Atlanta shot 14 of 25 on free throws. Washington turned Atlanta's nine first-half turnovers into 12 points while the Dream scored one point off the Mystics' eight miscues.

WHAT'S NEXT

The teams split the first two games in Atlanta, though Washington held a double-digit lead in Game 2 before losing. Delle Donne averaged 29.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in Atlanta.

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2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year tracker: How does Rui Hachimura compare to Ja Morant, other elite rookies?

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2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year tracker: How does Rui Hachimura compare to Ja Morant, other elite rookies?

When it became apparent that Zion Williamson's knee injury would keep him sidelined for the first month-and-a-half of the season, the Rookie of the Year race opened up substantially. 

Williamson was the heavy favorite to win before the year tipped off, and now a few surprising young players have earned themselves consideration. The top pick in this year's draft may reclaim the voter's favor once he returns in early December, but don't count these five players out. 

Obviously production will be valued over everything else. You don't want to disregard a player's stats if he's on a bad team, because usually, the best rookies are on bad teams. But this season is a little different, as we have two rookies both producing eye-popping numbers while being key contributors to a sure-fire playoff team. 

5. Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards

The Wizards received a fair amount of criticism for taking Hachimura ninth overall in June. His ceiling of a modern-day forward who could guard multiple positions, space the floor and attack mismatches is very enticing. However, questions about his shooting range, lateral quickness and strength inside had plenty of draft experts skeptical. 

So far, Hachimura has looked really good. His three-point stroke hasn't come along yet, but he's shooting 50 percent from the floor and currently ranks seventh among rookies in scoring.

His pull up jumper looks legit, he's far more mobile than he was given credit for, and once Hachimura learns how to finish through contact and figure out his spots on the floor, he's going to be dangerous screening for Bradley Beal. 

Stats as of 11/19: 27.7 mpg / 13.1 ppg / 1.7 apg / 5.5 rpg

4. Tyler Herro, Miami Heat

The Heat currently hold the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, and much of their success can be credited to rookies Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn.

Outside of Jimmy Butler, Miami doesn't have many ball-handlers who can create offense for themselves and their teammates. Herro has played with the ball in his hands a lot more than people expected coming out of Kentucky and hasn't really been phased by it. 

So far, he's displayed sneaky-good playmaking, exceptional shot-making and an impressive level of poise. What he lacks in size and length he makes up for in flat-out skill. 

Stats as of 11/19: 28.9 mpg / 13.3 ppg / 2.1 apg / 4.5 rpg

3. Eric Paschall, Golden State Warriors

As a second-round pick out of Villanova, Paschall was brought to Golden State to learn from Draymond Green and hopefully develop into the two-way combo-forward this franchise first unleased on the NBA. 

But then Stephen Curry broke his hand, and with Klay Thompson out for the year as well, the Warriors needed immediate help scoring alongside D'Angelo Russell. 

Paschall, seemingly out of nowhere, took on that responsibility and is now averaging 16.7 points per game on 52 percent shooting. It's hard to expect Paschall to keep this up, but he'll have plenty of shots throughout the season. And if one thing is true about Jay Wright-coached players, is that they simply know how to play good basketball. 

Stats as of 11/19: 31.1 mpg / 16.7 ppg / 1.3 apg / 4.8 rpg

2. Kendrick Nunn, Miami Heat

Nunn has been the NBA's biggest surprise so far this season. He was an undrafted free agent a year ago, spent last season with the Warriors G-League affiliate and was signed by the Heat this past April. He apparently made a good impression on the organization after dropping 40 points on them in the preseason. 

Once Nunn got his shot at NBA minutes, all he's done is score and help the Heat win. He's averaging 17.8 points, shooting 47 percent from the floor, 38 percent from three and is third among all rookies in NET rating who play at least 15 minutes a night. 

The Heat tend to find players like Nunn and they end up playing for a long time. We'll see if Nunn can take it to another level to become the favorite in the Rookie of the Year race. 

Stats as of 11/19: 30.7 mpg / 17.8 ppg / 3.2 apg / 2.5 rpg

1. Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies

By far the most electric player in his rookie class so far, Morant is playing at a high level and he's still realizing his true powers at the point guard position. 

Williamson may have been the headliner of the 2019 NBA Draft, but the second pick that night is looking like a future All-Star. Morant is scoring 18.4 points, dishing out six assists per game and is shooting 47 percent from the floor and a very impressive 42 percent from three (11-26). 

It'll be difficult for Morant to hold onto the lead once Zion-palooza begins in December, but the Grizzlies must be thrilled with what they've seen out of their rookie guard. 

Stats as of 11/19: 27.2 mpg / 18.4 ppg / 6.0 apg / 3.3 rpg

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN:

RJ Barrett, New York Knicks
Coby White, Chicago Bulls
PJ Washington, Charlotte Hornets

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Ted Leonsis indicates Scott Brooks will be judged by player development, not wins and losses

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Ted Leonsis indicates Scott Brooks will be judged by player development, not wins and losses

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards have set modest goals for this season after a summer full of organizational change and the evaluation of head coach Scott Brooks will be in accordance with those expectations, managing partner Ted Leonsis said on Tuesday.

Leonsis addressed the media at a court unveiling in Southeast Washington, the latest charitable effort by Monumental Basketball, and he was asked if Brooks' job performance will be based on player development this season, instead of purely on wins and losses.

"Yeah," Leonsis said. "I think this is the happiest Scott has been since he's been in the organization. All coaches want is effort and coachability."

Leonsis explained in further depth how the team's expectations are different now and exactly where he will be looking for Brooks and his staff to make an impact.

"We had much different goals going into this season than we had in the past. In the past it was 'make the playoffs, win 50 games and go to the Eastern Conference Finals' and that plan failed. We admitted that and did a total reboot. I said 'why can't this reboot be fast?' We have over-indexed now on a lot of young players and the only way you will find out what you have built culturally is to let them play," Leonsis said.

"Now it's just learning to communicate, learning how to break out of the offensive system to go back on defense and that will come from coaching. We've certainly made a big enough investment in our coaching and staff, so I expect to see improvement across the board."

The Wizards have played to a 3-8 record in their first 11 games, which puts them second from the bottom in the NBA. Only the 2-12 New Orleans Pelicans have been worse.

Defense has been the main culprit, as they rank 29th out of 30 teams in defensive rating. Their offense, though, has been a surprise with the third-best offensive rating according to NBA.com.

The offensive success allowed Leonsis to take some jabs at the media.

"So, we're doing better offensively than I thought we would be doing. I think most of the experts said 'how are you going to score the ball?' That's what I heard going into the season. Well, that's not an issue. We're doing a little bit worse than I expected defensively because the effort is there," he said.

The offensive numbers certainly reflect well on Brooks. The defense, though, appears to be a problem that has no signs of going away. And long-term, the Wizards will need to improve drastically on that end of the floor to become a winning team.

As for Brooks' job status, it sounds like he could be in good standing if the young players on the team continue to develop. He is currently in the fourth year of a five-year contract worth $35 million. If the Wizards wanted to part ways before the end of those terms, they would have to buy him out.

"We don't have any expectations this year about wins and losses. It's more about culture, identity and what players will be with us on a long-term basis," Leonsis said.

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