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Evaluating the Mystics midsesason and determining who answered Mike Thibault's "10 percent challenge"

Ned Dishman, NBA/Getty Images

Head Coach and GM Mike "Yoda" Thibault mentioned a couple of times in the preseason that he wanted his players to come into the 2016 WNBA season '10 percent better' than last year.

So it seems fitting that we examine who is 10 percent better, and at what, mid-way through their calendar.

For the sake of brevity, I am taking into account the general stats, not advanced, as it were. And I am summarizing. In the most basic sense, it is easiest to account for scoring, it goes in or not.. Every other category is subjective, because it reflects effort and fitness, and that has merit in and of itself, albeit, not precise.

I have collected the 2015 and 2016 averages of all of the players that have enjoyed that tenure with the Styx, below. I have sorted the raw data by current starters.

W Stats Min Pts M 2 Att 2Pt% M 3 Att 3Pt% FTs M Ft Att FT% Off Reb Def Reb TOTAL Assists Steals TO Blocks Fouls
Meesseman 2015 27.2 11.6 5.2 9.4 55.3% 6 13 46.2% 1 1.2 83.3% 1.8 4.5 6.3 1.7 0.9 1.3 1.3 2.8
2016 30.3 14.6 5.1 9.4 54.3% 17 32 53.1% 1.8 2.2 81.8% 1.6 3.9 5.6 2.1 1.2 1.2 0.7 2.5
3.1 3 -0.1 0 -1.1% 11 19 7.0% 0.8 1 -0.01515 -0.2 -0.6 -0.7 0.4 0.3 -0.1 -0.6 -0.3
CHG 11.4% 25.9% -1.9% 0.0% -1.9% 183.3% 146.2% 15.1% 80.0% 83.3% -1.8% -11.1% -13.3% -11.1% 23.5% 33.3% -7.7% -46.2% -10.7%
Dolson 2015 24.7 10.6 4.1 8.2 50.0% 10 21 47.6% 1.6 1.8 88.9% 1.4 4.2 5.6 1.6 0.5 1.9 1.1 2.9
2016 22.5 8.4 3.1 6.1 50.8% 0 9 0.0% 2.2 2.6 84.6% 1.6 3.5 5.2 1.2 0.4 1.3 1.1 2.6
-2.2 -2.2 -1 -2.1 0.8% -10 -12 -47.6% 0.6 0.8 -0.04274 0.2 -0.7 -0.4 -0.4 -0.1 -0.6 0 -0.3
CHG -8.9% -20.8% -24.4% -25.6% 1.6% -100.0% -57.1% -100.0% 37.5% 44.4% -4.8% 14.3% -16.7% -7.1% -25.0% -20.0% -31.6% 0.0% -10.3%
Cloud 2015 19.3 3.6 1.8 4.9 36.7% 9 38 23.7% 1.8 2.6 69.2% 0.3 2.5 2.8 3.4 0.9 1.4 0.1 1.7
2016 22.6 6.9 1.1 3.1 35.5% 16 34 47.1% 2.8 3.4 82.4% 0.1 3.2 3.3 3.2 0.7 1.2 0 1.9
3.3 3.3 -0.7 -1.8 -1.3% 7 -4 23.4% 1 0.8 13.1% -0.2 0.7 0.5 -0.2 -0.2 -0.2 -0.1 0.2
CHG 17.1% 91.7% -38.9% -36.7% -3.4% 77.8% -10.5% 98.7% 55.6% 30.8% 19.0% -66.7% 28.0% 17.9% -5.9% -22.2% -14.3% 0.0% 11.8%
Ruffin-Pratt 2015 23.9 7.4 2 5.3 37.7% 14 43 32.6% 2.1 2.7 77.8% 0.8 2.2 3 2.1 0.8 1.3 0.3 2.6
2016 24.3 5.9 1.8 4.8 37.5% 2 15 13.3% 1.9 2.6 73.1% 0.8 3 3.8 2.8 1.1 1.9 0.1 2.6
0.4 -1.5 -0.2 -0.5 -0.2% -12 -28 -19.2% -0.2 -0.1 -0.04701 0 0.8 0.8 0.7 0.3 0.6 -0.2 0
CHG 1.7% -20.3% -10.0% -9.4% -0.6% -85.7% -65.1% -59.0% -9.5% -3.7% -6.0% 0.0% 36.4% 26.7% 33.3% 37.5% 46.2% -66.7% 0.0%
Hill 2015 17 7.5 1.3 3.5 37.1% 1.2 3.6 33.3% 1.4 1.9 73.7% 0.3 1 1.3 0.9 0.9 0.9 0.1 1
2016 29.5 15.6 2.8 7.2 38.9% 1.6 4.8 33.3% 5.3 6.4 82.8% 0.5 2.4 2.9 2.7 1.2 1.3 0.2 2.1
12.5 8.1 1.5 3.7 1.7% 0.4 1.2 0.0% 3.9 4.5 9.1% 0.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 0.3 0.4 0.1 1.1
CHG 73.5% 108.0% 115.4% 105.7% 4.7% 33.3% 33.3% 0.0% 278.6% 236.8% 12.4% 66.7% 140.0% 123.1% 200.0% 33.3% 44.4% 100.0% 110.0%
W Stats Min Pts M 2 Att % M 3 Att % FTs M Ft Att % Off Reb Def Reb TOTAL Assists Steals TO Blocks Fouls
Vaughn 2015 17.8 5.7 2.3 5.1 45.1% 0 0 0.0% 1.1 1.7 64.7% 1.1 3.1 4.2 1 0.4 1.3 0.4 2.1
2016 20 6.5 2.8 5.3 52.8% 0 0 0.0% 0.9 1.1 81.8% 1.3 3.2 4.4 0.6 0.6 1 0.7 1.6
2.2 0.8 0.5 0.2 7.7% 0 0 0.0% -0.2 -0.6 17.1% 0.2 0.1 0.2 -0.4 0.2 -0.3 0.3 -0.5
CHG 12.4% 14.0% 21.7% 3.9% 17.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% -18.2% -35.3% 26.4% 18.2% 3.2% 4.8% -40.0% 50.0% -23.1% 75.0% -23.8%
Latta 2015 27.3 13.4 1.9 4.4 43.2% 2.3 6 38.3% 2.6 2.9 89.7% 1.6 1.8 2.5 2.5 0.7 1.7 0 1.9
2016 20.5 9.2 1.1 3 36.7% 1.7 4.9 34.7% 1.9 2.1 90.5% 0.5 1.5 2 1.7 0.5 1.3 0 1.6
-6.8 -4.2 -0.8 -1.4 -6.5% -0.6 -1.1 -3.6% -0.7 -0.8 0.8% -1.1 -0.3 -0.5 -0.8 -0.2 -0.4 0 -0.3
CHG -24.9% -31.3% -42.1% -31.8% -15.1% -26.1% -18.3% -9.5% -26.9% -27.6% 0.9% -68.8% -16.7% -20.0% -32.0% -28.6% -23.5% 0.0% -15.8%
Hartley 2015 12.2 4.2 0.9 2.6 34.6% 0.4 1.8 22.2% 1 1.4 71.4% 0.2 1 1.2 1.6 0.5 0.8 0 0.9
2016 18.4 6.9 1.5 3.6 41.7% 0.8 2.5 32.0% 1.6 2.1 76.2% 0.5 1.8 2.3 2.3 0.4 1.4 0 1.9
6.2 2.7 0.6 1 7.1% 0.4 0.7 9.8% 0.6 0.7 4.8% 0.3 0.8 1.1 0.7 -0.1 0.6 0 1
CHG 50.8% 64.3% 66.7% 38.5% 20.4% 100.0% 38.9% 44.0% 60.0% 50.0% 6.7% 150.0% 80.0% 91.7% 43.8% -20.0% 75.0% 0.0% 111.1%

What I have done is use the cumulative stats from the 2015 season via Basketball-reference.com, and through a little over the first half - nineteen games - of the 2016 campaign.

Below, I have included the numbers themselves from both seasons and the percentage change. In the snapshot below, I have sorted the data by minutes, increase to decrease. Starters are named in bold.

As you can see above, Hill and Hartley have had the biggest increase in playing time. To their credit, they have made good use of the opportunity. In particular, I think Hartley's overseas assignment helped get her shooting out of the basement. As an interesting counterpoint, I believe that Hill coming back to the States last winter, early, to work diligently with assistant coach Eric Thibault was the right move for her, she has improved in every category except turnovers and fouls, and that is to be expected.

And below, I have sorted the data by an increase in point percentage. The team's regular starters are in bold.

There are several noticeable things to me in the snapshot above.

1. Kia Vaughn Veteran efficiency

This is an absolute stealth performance. The veteran coming off the bench is no joke. Her shooting percentages have gone up well over 10 percent. And with an increase in minutes, her turnover and foul rates have gone DOWN. A EuroLeague Champion/MVP in 2015 has paid the Mystics dividends.

2. Natasha Cloud and Emma Meesseman's three-point shooting

Their efficiency is off the charts. In fact, both lead the WNBA in three-point percentage. Having an increase of 98 and 15 percent respectively is legit. Sure, Cloud was in the basement, and Meesse was already around 47 percent, BUT STILL. Scary efficient, and messes defenses up.

3. Four players have regressed from last season

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Stefanie Dolson, Ally Malott and Ivory Latta are clearly under-performing. Two are starters.

Frankly, how the Mystics have been this competitive with the numbers turned in by these players is perplexing to say the least.

How do the Mystics do it?

I know that Mike Thibault has led the Mystics to .500ish records in each of his three years in Washington. However, the roster has changed and the young players who he drafted early on are now the starters and all stars, you see today, and they have reached the playoffs in every single year.  How Thibault has not won Coach of the Year for each of his last 3 seasons is beyond me.

The numbers you see above and the numbers you see here, just DO NOT tell the story of the Washington Mystics.

With a huge lead, this is the kind of attention to detail that makes for a great team*.

Bench goes NUTS !! Meesseman with the extra effort : ). #Wnba #Mystics Blow out!

A video posted by Elle (@ellelovesbb_) on

*Meesseman saw her playing time increase by 11 percent over last season, but she has improved her scoring by 26 percent. And if you were wondering, like Albert has as to whether she is a superstar in the making, the WNBA.com highlight should answer that for you right away.

I don't have numbers on how many players have perfect quarters with more than 5 attempts, but 7-for-7 and 16 points seem like a good start. I, like Mystics color analyst Christy Winters-Scott had goosebumps, because the play she ended the quarter with, was as good as the first: aggressive.

Hill and Hartley make the Mystics great when they're on, bad when they're off

Hartley and Hill have had the biggest jump in minutes and numbers and have improved in roughly 70 percent of the 19 categories that are listed in the first spreadsheet I listed. That seems normal, considering their draft positions in terms of their production.

But Hill has turned a corner in finding a way to contribute on offense and is in the conversation for Most Improved Player in the association, for sure. But the doubters have mentioned at length about her actual shooting percentage. We'll talk more about her next week.

Hartley has definitely contributed some late quarter heroics and has been much more consistent off the bench. And they have been terrific, except when they aren't. Which of course has created problems, they are 9-10.

So how do the Styx maintain their competency?

I have asked myself this question multiple times.

My unscientific assessment is this: Meesseman is the most respected player on the team, and leads by composure. Defenses have to respect her, and the Mystics are taking her lead as well.

She is a super pro [Meesse and Vaughn have EuroLeague titles, and that gig pays way better] and EVERY game is an away game for her. Meesseman literally played one game in her home country in the last year. And that game against Poland in February was awesome, 29 points and 15 rebounds. The lack of emoting that Albert described here, is not what a veteran journey-woman does. Celebrate when you win. Simple. Efficient.

Tayler Hill has absolutely adopted this philosophy. Her intensity this year is palpable. I have seen no trace of self-congratulations.

Copper has been a welcomed surprise and Tianna Hawkins has stopped fans cold in their tracks. A true 'power' forward that knocks down three's on a tear. Hitting 3-for-3 against the Lynx was intimidating.

What I would like to see is UConn champion Stef Dolson command the same attention. And I believe L.W. has more on that.

Wrap-Up

Only Vaughn has improved in over half of the categories we are considering, besides Hill, Hartley, and Meesseman. At 30 years old, that is impressive, particularly turns and fouls. She has been the bench presence that really gives the Mystics a chance when they need a boost.

I expect that Latta will get going, and rookie swing-woman Kahleah Copper will continue to contribute. But I am overall disappointed that more players have not answered the bell for Coach T. We all know it can't be 'money', distracting them.

***

PS: And finally, the Hi-Lo executed by Dolson and Meesseman was a thing last year, they were both all-stars, and as much as I love Vaughn, she isn't 6'5", this is a weapon.