The Washington Mystics went 2-1 in their last week (June 22-28) of play. They defeated the Los Angeles Sparks at home 84-80 on national television last Tuesday, lost on the road to the Atlanta Dream 72-69 last Friday and blew out the Chicago Sky 86-71 at home on Sunday. The end result is a 6-3 record where they remain second in the Eastern Conference.
Here are some things I'm thinking about now that the WNBA season has lasted a good month.
1. You can effectively kiss the Mystics' chances of winning the 2016 WNBA Draft Lottery goodbye
When the Mystics are playing well despite projections that they'd likely .500ish, this is obvious. The Mystics aren't tanking this season for UConn senior Breanna Stewart. Given some of their veteran moves, I was fearing a season where the team would be .500ish, the veterans would be taking the majority of the significant minutes, and the young players just sit on the bench. Fortunately, Washington hasn't gone all-out with veterans on a team with eight players on rookie contracts. However, they have been a bit too reliant on vets in the backcourt this season, even though part of that is because of Bria Hartley's absence.
Now that Washington is above .500 and has a good chance to have a 20-win season, what should the goal be? Go all in to win now no matter what? My answer is not exactly. The Mystics should win as many games as they can -- and really, every team tries to do that -- but they need to look up to their younger players to win those games more than the older veterans. If the 2015 Mystics team goes to the Eastern Conference Finals or further with Emma Meesseman, Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley (who's injured...sigh), and Tayler Hill leading them there, I'll be extremely thrilled! That should be their goal for the rest of this season.
If you're wondering which teams look like potential suitors for Stewart at this point in the season, the Indiana Fever's last in the East with a 3-6 record while the Atlanta Dream have a 4-6 record. In the West, the Los Angeles Sparks are 0-7 (!!!) while the San Antonio Stars are 2-6 and the Seattle Storm are 2-7. With the exception of L.A. and to some extent Atlanta, I'm not surprised that Indy, San Antonio, and Seattle are performing poorly this season.
2. Keep Stefanie Dolson starting alongside Emma Meesseman!
Kia Vaughn has sat out all but one game this season due to injuries. Her absence has allowed sophomore center Stefanie Dolson to start most of the year, where she's averaged 11.6 points and 7 rebounds per game this season.
We've already swooned a good amount about Emma Meesseman, but we're seeing that she works really well alongside Dolson on the court this season. When Vaughn fully recovers from a concussion earlier this season, the Mystics would be foolish to put Dolson back on the bench. The Meesseman-Dolson frontcourt is a joy to watch, and they are still years away from their primes. Either way, Vaughn should play off the bench for the remainder of the season, even though I'm sure she'll have her fair share of minutes.
3. Bench Kara Lawson and give Tayler Hill a starting spot, especially now when Bria Hartley can't play
In the backcourt, sophomore guard Bria Hartley's absence has allowed veteran guard Kara Lawson to start alongside Ivory Latta every game this season. Lawson's field goal percentage has been poor all season, but she is averaging nearly five assists per game.
Even though Lawson is known as professional's professional throughout the WNBA, her shooting performance is more of a liability than an asset at this point. Considering that Tayler Hill has been consistent throughout this season off the bench, it's time to give her a chance to start again for the first time since early in her rookie season in 2013. Hill is the team's only young draft lottery pick for a reason, and it's time to give her the starting role that she should be in at this point. As for Hartley, I want her back on the court as soon as possible, but stress injuries on the feet aren't something that should be taken lightly. She should get that healed first before getting back on the court.
4. Mike Thibault is the Mystics' winningest head coach in franchise history
Sunday's win over Chicago sealed the deal for Coach T. Granted, 39 wins in a little over two seasons seems pedestrian, but remember that the Mystics won a total of 11 games in 2011 and 2012 with the coaching regime before he arrived. Given how they have played since he arrived, he has done a fantastic job coaching the team. There's still a lot of work to do to make this team a legitimate contender, but the Mystics have come a long way as well. Nothing is going to be solved overnight with turning this team around.
BF's Mystics Player of the Week (June 22 to 28): Ivory Latta
The Mystics' starting point guard averaged 15.7 points per game and made 10 of 21 three-point shots (47.6 percent) during the week. If you include the Mystics' June 20 win against the Fever, Latta made 16 of her last 29 threes, or 55.1 percent of them.
I was harsh on Latta last week for being inconsistent, but it is good to see that she answered the bell with three strong scoring performances since that post. Keep it up.
Who do they play this week (June 29 to July 5)?
The Mystics have only one game this week. They will play the 3-6 Indiana Fever on Thursday, July 2 at 7 p.m. ET. As long as they don't sleep on Indy, the Mystics should win this one.