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Keys to the Palace: Tayler Hill begins breakout season, Kahleah Copper also impresses early

Stewart W. Small

With four games in the books, the Washington Mystics have slumped to a 1-3 record. On a macro-level, there aren't too many things to be impressed about. The Mystics are turning the ball over too much, have been quite poor at converting their free throws, and perhaps they also lack the star talent to beat many of their opponents.

But despite the slow start, some players still enjoyed some decent success individually, which should help the team in the longer term. With that in mind, let's get to the Keys to the Palace.

How Keys to the Palace works

Like what we've done with Wizards' weekly evaluations over the years, we'll give a weekly evaluation on each Mystics player's play over the past week. Players who exceed expectations are given a "key" to the "Palace of Good Play," in the words of former Wizards interim head coach Ed Tapscott. Players who have good but inconsistent weeks are given guest passes. Players who do not play well are locked out.

When handing out keys, guest passes, or locking them out, we will use context based on the role each player has on the team.

For example, Stefanie Dolson must do more on the court to get a Key to the Palace than Tianna Hawkins. Tayler Hill must do more on the court than Zoi Dimitrakou. And Emma Meesseman has to do more than Hill to get a Key. Make sense?

There will also be some players who we won't evaluate because of injury, or perhaps because they hardly played meaningful minutes.

Players with the Keys!

Two players have earned keys from me. Let's get to them first!

Tayler Hill

If one player deserves a key, it is Hill. She averaged 18 points per game in the Mystics' first four games and has quickly emerged as the go-to perimeter scorer. What I've been most impressed with is her ability to get to the line. Hill is second in the league in the quantity of free throws made and attempted. She attempted more than 10 free throws in two games this season.

I'm impressed with Hill's all around game as well. She is second in Washington for assists and has handled the ball more than she ever has in her pro career. I wish that I would have seen this type of a four-game stretch from Hill back in 2013 and 2014. But better to see it now than never.

Kahleah Copper

Copper averaged 6.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in the Mystics' first four games. Her field goal percentage is just 40 percent, and her turnovers need to go down. But as a rookie, I can give Copper a pass for now, because she is making the most of her opportunity to perhaps become Washington's long-term starter at the small forward position.

Guest Passes

Emma Meesseman - You could give Meesseman a pass for a 1-of-7 shooting performance during the Mystics' season debut. She was just a few days removed from relaxing in Belgium after an exhausting EuroLeague Women season with UMMC. I didn't.

Either way, her poor first half against Connecticut on Saturday is more than enough to prevent her from getting a Key. Three turnovers in the first half? That was sloppy. Not to mention that jet lag should be over with now.

Sure, Meesseman scored in double digits every game since the season opener, but whether you are Flemish, Dutch, Russian, or American, we expect more out of Meesseman than everyone else on the Mystics.

She hasn't been aggressive enough to get foul shots during the Wings and Sparks losses, and Meesseman still appears to be happier being a third option like she is in Ekaterinburg than in Washington where she has to be number one.

If I could say that the Mystics are playing the Netherlands or Poland every game and give the opposition orange or red/white jerseys, I would. But at this point, it's up to Meesseman to determine whether she wants to embrace the challenge of being elite rather than be "just another good player."

Bria Hartley - If you look at her 17 point performance vs. the Liberty two Saturdays ago and her 16 point performance vs. the Sun last Saturday, she would get a Key. However, she was quiet during the losses to the Wings and Sparks as a scorer and she has been a bit foul-prone early this season.

Tianna Hawkins - Hawkins averaged 4.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 11 minutes per game over the last week. She is also averaging 57 percent of her field goal attempts. However, her free throw shooting percentage (50 percent) is not where it should be, and she hasn't been on a closing unit yet.

Kia Vaughn - Vaughn averaged 7.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in all of the Mystics' games. Of all of the Mystics' posts, Vaughn has played the best over the past week, but I don't think she has been an X-factor yet, hence why I'm not giving her an all-out key.

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt - Ruffin-Pratt played just two of the Mystics' four games, and scored nine points in their win over Connecticut on Saturday. Don't count out TRP as a longer-term starter at the small forward position either folks!

Natasha Cloud - Cloud shot 20 percent from the field, but she only played two games and shot 2 of 7 in her second game against Dallas. There's no doubt that her shooting efficiency must improve but Cloud has been a strong rebounder though, where she averaged five per game in the young season.

Locked Out

Stefanie Dolson - Dolson averaged 8 points and 4.3 rebounds in all of the Mystics' games. However, her 40 percent free throw shooting percentage and 1.8 turnovers per game are major negatives. But there are some more low lights that compelled me to lock her out this week.

Furthermore, Dolson didn't grab one rebound in 23 minutes of play against the Sparks last Friday. And she missed a potential game winning free throw on Saturday against the Sun. If she missed both of them, the Mystics would likely be 0-4.

It's early, but Dolson can't continue to play poorly like this. And as I mentioned earlier, Kia Vaughn had a better week...

Ally Malott - Any player who shoots 12.5 percent from the field in this league over a 30-minute sample size in three games clearly isn't doing herself any favors.

Too small of a sample size

Zoi Dimitrakou - Dimitrakou played a total of 11 minutes in two games. Not much I can say here.

Not evaluated due to injury

Ivory Latta - Missed every game this season due to knee surgery recovery. Get well soon!