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The Mystics have struggled so far, but they're not headed in the wrong direction

Stewart W. Small

The Washington Mystics have not started their season on the right foot so far as they have stumbled to a 3-6 record. On the surface, things aren't looking good at all. The team's run of three consecutive playoff appearances may end, and their player leadership isn't totally settled. Though there are sightings.

But that doesn't mean that they are heading in the wrong direction like ... the 2012 season when Albert went ballistic. In fact, they are headed in the right direction. Their struggles this season are just a bump in the road for the current young core.

Let's take a look at some reasons why they have struggled.

The 2016 WNBA season is an Olympic year which interfered with the beginning of the season

The season was pushed up three weeks, with some teams - including the Mystics - missing a number of important players in training camp that ended on May 8. Joining them days before the season started.

Literally a vacuum of leadership from the jump. Something notable, is in the slow start of another WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, with several European Champions - and former Emma Meesseman teammates - reporting late to their team. And starting just as poorly, with a much larger talent pool than the Mystics. [Funny how Taurasi and Meesseman ended up on the same team in EuroLeague play.]

Veteran departures and young players growing into new roles

As far as the Mystics go, there is no reason for Coach Thibault to panic. These growing pains were bound to catch up to such a young team, they have two players over 25 on the roster. Players like Tayler Hill and Bria Hartley are both getting accustomed to playing together. They also have been the starting backcourt for much of the season after Ivory Latta missed the start of the season due to injury and Kara Lawson announced that she would sit out the start of the year to focus on her ESPN duties.

Stefanie Dolson is not playing up to par

I have to wonder what is going on with Stef Dolson. The UConn alumna has come out of the gate completely flat. Clearly, playing with Ivory Latta in the off-season for Edirne was not helpful at this juncture. Literally everyone is trying to get her open looks and it is improving her numbers at a snails pace. But she showed what she is capable of in the Mystics win against Atlanta. Twelve rebounds, countless contested shots.

I do wonder if Coach T will give Kia Vaughn a chance to start over her at some point. Vaughn is very quietly producing, with her 17 minutes per game, fourth in win shares behind Meesseman, Hill, and a fraction of a difference behind Dolson.

Emma Meesseman is getting adjusted to being the number one option

Now every team is focusing their effort on last year's All-Star. I would say it is the 'if everyone else is shooting 28 percent let's make sure she doesn't get hers' approach/strategy. Meesseman is still 'quietly' averaging double figures and a 56 percent effective field goal percentage, the highest win shares, rebounding, etc.

Besides Kahleah Copper, Meesseman has been the only consistent bright spot for the team.  #Awwshegotthevelcro really says it better than I can about the team right now, but here's a highlight between the two of them: Copper directing traffic to get Meesse the ball down low against the Sky. Very Lawson like, she can bring out the best in Meesseman, and that makes me think they can be competitive.

A video posted by Elle (@ellelovesbb_) on

Meesseman also scored a career milestone in the first quarter against the Dream, at twenty-three. Well done Emma!

Looking forward to the next thousand !

The Olympics are in August in Rio -- which delays LaToya Sanders' return

And that matters to the Mystics because Latoya Sanders is a Turkish naturalized citizen and will be playing in the Olympic qualifiers this month. If they win, they will be playing in the Olympics in August. That means that Sanders, the defensive juggernaut that many of us fell in love with last year, will not be with the team until September.

Even if the Mystics miss the playoffs, this isn't a bad thing per se

I have said before this year could be feast or famine for the Mystics. Right now it looks like famine, but it is certainly fun to watch the team grow up together. In addition, this is the only WNBA team without a Top-3 draft pick in any year on the roster, so they can use another high draft pick with the hard-working roster they have right now.

There's still plenty of time for the Mystics to get back in the playoff race, but it's important to be patient with this roster because they are still far from their collective primes.