When Brittney Sykes was introduced as a Washington Mystic back in February, the anticipation of her potential impact on the organization was distinct. They didn’t just think that the speedy guard who has an innate ability to get steals was just going to be successful in D.C. Both sides were professing her impact on the squad as a statement of fact.
After just year one of a reported three-year contract with the Mystics, everyone else got to see what Sykes and the front office had in mind.
All it took was one season for the seven-year veteran to get acclimated to a new system and set franchise records. Her two-way ability earned her the franchise’s single-season record in points (636) and steals (84). The former was set by former WNBA MVP Tina Charles in 2021. The latter record was set by Alana Beard over a decade ago.
Sykes (aka Slim) believed from the jump that she could do this. While her breakout season in Washington may come as a shock for others, there was never a lack of confidence on her end.
“I think my first year in DC was very much like I kicked the door open a little bit. I won’t even say I kicked it. For some people, it might be a kick because they just never knew about my offensive prowess,” Sykes told Monumental Sports Network. “People [who] knew who I was, but now I get to kind of crack the door a little bit more and show them what I could do offensively and I’ve been in a place and a space where I have supreme confidence in the shots I take. [Explective], I mean, even there’s some shots that I take and I’m like, ‘What the [explective], we did that?'”
Again, this isn’t a surprise season for her. Sykes strongly believed that by signing with the Mystics, the franchise and the coaching staff would allow her to become the complete player that she knew that she was. D.C. was an environment where she could be used the right way and not put in a box like she was with the Los Angeles Sparks and Atlanta Dream.
Combine that with her increased responsibility of playing as a point guard. This offseason she used her overseas play to “sharpen [her] point guard eyes” as now, alongside Natasha Cloud she’s one of only two natural point guards on the roster with the loss of Kristi Toliver for the season.
Some of the success Sykes had throughout the 2023 season could easily be overlooked by the pile of injuries and 80+ games missed. But while the team was either full or without starters, Sykes competed for a full 40-game season.
“I mean, first of all playing- shoot, to bring somebody in to play all 40 games. I mean, that’s a great place to start. We needed her,” head coach Eric Thibault said. “She’s made an impact on both sides of the ball the way we hoped. Obviously, we’ve talked a lot about encouraging her to shoot the ball and she’s done that and she’s done it well. She’s given us a second point guard, her and [Cloud] have kind of been able to trade off the ball-handling part of it and we’re just gonna stay on her about getting better. I don’t think she’s satisfied where she’s at and we’re not. And as long as she’s here, we’ll keep trying to push the needle.”
The big shift in her game with Washington as opposed to the rest of her career was her presence behind the arc. Over the previous two seasons she averaged less than two 3-point attempts per game. This season she shot four 3-pointers a game (a career-high) and shot it at a 35.0% clip (another career-high). It helped open her game to make her a full threat on every end of the court.
And while she was high on herself getting her 3-point game to a competitive spot, Sykes’s progress there has even surprised her teammates.
“I always knew she was a scorer, but I feel like this year, the way she’s added in her 3-point attempts and her 3-point makes and percentage, it’s been the most impressive to me, along with everything else,” Shatori Walker-Kimbrough said. “Because before you would kind of sag off her when she was on other teams. Now, I don’t know how you guard her. She’s getting to the rim, she’s getting to her pull-ups, she’s shooting great from the 3-point line, getting to the free-throw line, like she’s literally doing it all. So I’m glad she’s on our team now.”
Not only did Sykes set team records, but she also set new career highs in nearly every statistical category. Points per game (15.9), steals per game (2.1), rebounds per game (5.0), assists (3.8) all in addition to her 3-point numbers, the list is never-ending. She’s made an emphatic case to be the first guard to win Defensive Player of the Year since 2018.
There could be quips at her new records as the league expanded the schedule to a full 40 games for the first time. Her 15.9 points per game is far below Charles’ 23.4 ppg mark in 2021, but Sykes is just the 11th Mystic ever to average 15.9 points or more across a season. The other 10 players have combined to do it 22 times, including Elena Delle Donne five times.
Sykes produced with a competitive fire night in and night out. With Delle Donne, without Delle Donne, with Austin, without Austin. Sykes was there. Seven of her 13 career 25+ point games were this season. She also had six games with five or more steals.
“She makes stuff happen and we were on the other end of it a couple times in the past but you try to picture somebody in a different situation and how you would use them,” Thibault said. “And there’s some things, the shooting that we encouraged and we’ve tried to put her in good positions, but at the end of the day, it’s the player wanting to make plays, bring an intensity every night, being disruptive every night. That’s hard to do, a lot of times the difference between the great players and the average players is consistency and bringing it all the time. She brought 40 games straight.”
While the injuries might be a distraction from the overall picture of Sykes’s 2023 season, it’s also prevented her from appreciating everything she’s done. A compact schedule and fighting tooth and nail for two months to improve their playoff picture provided a big diversion.
She had no idea she broke the franchise points record prior to being interviewed for this story. She was informed by the media of the steals record earlier in the season.
And this is coming from someone who sets tangible statistical goals for herself and is well-informed on her place in history.
“Honestly, no,” Sykes responded when asked if she has been able to appreciate her season. “And, and it’s bittersweet that I haven’t I mean, with everything that’s been going on, you kind of get in this mode where I’m just trying to make sure I’m making it to the next game and the next game and the next game… I want to be more intentional on celebrating those small victories because I think those are what helps us carry ourselves into the next opponent, to the next game, especially when we’re feeling down. It’s like, hey, remember, you did some [explective] this year, though. Like you’re capable of what you’re doing. It might not be right now, but like don’t let this one moment take away and negate everything that you did this season.”
When history is written on the 2023 season, there will be a chapter on Sykes. Perhaps there will be a couple of chapters. It will be near the front of the book, but it will continue to get buried by what the Mystics had to overcome collectively as a unit. That’s unfair given the year that she’s had but so are sports – just ask Sykes about the Defensive Player of the Year voting over the previous two years.
What won’t be overlooked is how this season is just the beginning for the Sykes era in Washington, D.C. She didn’t have the pedigree of two former league MVPs and former champions who made dramatic, league-altering moves this offseason. But her lasting legacy with the Mystics is just getting started.
“She’s a dog,” Natasha Cloud said. “She’s made us more grittier. She’s made us tougher, which I thought is what we needed in this organization is just to be a little bit more of like, you got to run through [explective] us if you’re gonna win the game. And so I think that she’s brought that dog and it’s brought all of our dogs out too. That was our best pickup in the offseason that we could have done is bringing in a player and a person like Slim. Someone that can have impact, can score in bunches, can defend in bunches and just really shift the momentum of the game herself. That’s huge. So Slim has been amazing and she’s gonna continue to be in this series too.”