Other writers have made the point that the Mystics don’t have enough talent. I think it is worth examining a little closer in terms of expectation.
What I have done is rank the team according to 'disappointment' this season.
For me, “disappointment” is a metric. I will provide more numbers before the Mystics get back to business in another post on how to define disappointment, but the relative term works for now.
There is a great quote by the actress Lily Tomlin: “When I said I wanted to be somebody, I should have been more specific.”
I think this applies to Coach Mike Thibault asking last year's team to come back 10 percent better. Perhaps he was more specific with them. I am confident he will be this year in exit interviews.
Now, I will cut to the chase and start out with the most disappointing player and work my way to the least disappointing, which seems pretty obvious, but I should state that this is not a referendum on the talent of each player.
This is a young squad with terrific pedigrees. And it would be disingenuous to suggest that their aren’t Becky Hammon type players, un-drafted, that don’t make an impact on teams through sheer will and smarts.
So who has had the most under-whelming performance so far this year?
1. Stefanie Dolson (2014, 6th overall pick from UConn)
- I want to say that this is a total shock, but really it isn’t. I was not able to catch all of the Euro games that she and Ivory Latta played for Edirne last winter, but I did catch a few. To put it frankly, there was nothing to brag about.
- Her numbers translated into what anyone of her size and experience would expect in a somewhat smaller EuroLeague/Cup. The team's record was middling, and I did not see anything during the games that made me think - Great, now there is some new attention to detail. I saw the same Dolson from the 2015 season: Good, not great at anything in particular.
- And, maybe it was just me, but I got the sense over the 7 month winter season that she was not that happy about being away from the USA. Add those things together and you have a player selected to the USA Basketball women’s Select team based largely on the perception of talent. Dolson is having a really awful 2016 season compared with expectations: eight points and just over four rebounds. For me, this is the reason the Mystics are struggling, and as a fan of hers, incredibly disappointing.
2. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (2013 undrafted rookie from North Carolina)
- This is very tough for me. I thought TRP showed real promise last year. Her prescient defense and offensive spurts were enough for me to consider her 'reliable' for a starter role. Though I admit that there were a number of people that let me know that I was wrong.
- So yup, I was wrong and they were right this year. Watching her has been a lot like the one step forward, two steps back game, no one likes. Although the one step forward is actually pretty generous.
- The Mystics’ defense, which they hung their hat on last season, is in the basement, 10th in the WNBA. I don't know if it is scouting reports or what, but I am not seeing what I saw from her last year.
Ball-handling has been atrocious. As soon as I see her with the ball, I instinctively hold my breath now, and that distinction went to Bria Hartley last year. TRP’s lack of focus is a huge disappointment, I did not see that coming. And it translates into situations like having a tie game against the Sky in the final seconds, only to see her turn it over and watch the opponent score for a win. Oh Hi, July.
3. Natasha Cloud (2015 15th overall pick from St. Joseph’s)
- Her consistency last year as a rookie was terrific. She totally met expectations offensively under the tutelage of Kara Lawson, and played good defense. This year she has disappeared.
- Six points and 3 assists a game for a starter is terrible. She seems a step off, and even though there have clearly been moments when she was playing more efficiently, overall, her lack of offensive production has hurt the Mystics this season. And for her size and talent, fans expect more.
4. Ivory Latta (2007 11th overall pick from North Carolina)
- This is absolutely not the spark-plug we saw last year as a starter or coming off the bench. Last season we saw her execute 15 games with 15 points or more. This year, to date, ONE. She had 16 points in her first game back from knee surgery, May 26. That was a long time ago. And her inconsistency and rocky shooting percentage has been devastating to the Mystics record.
5. Ally Malott (2015 8th overall pick from Dayton)
- I really thought Malott was poised to have a better season in 2016. She played a little bit overseas, and like Dolson, didn't seem to like it very much. This gave her plenty of time to work with Assistant Coach Eric Thibault, like Tayler Hill was able to do last winter, and she looked decent in the preseason.
- In the first game of the regular season, versus the Liberty, she had her shooting elbow dislocated and that hijacked her progress. She was out a game or two, then came in with a sleeve on that arm, but you could see her motion was off and so was her confidence. Super bummer. With her height and lightening fast shooting motion, I really expected her to have more positive impact coming off the bench and that has not materialized.
6. Bria Hartley (2014 7th overall pick from UConn via Seattle)
- Hartley’s ball handling and decision making have improved incrementally this season, and if you factor in the increase in her minutes this year, so has her offensive production. She has been consistent in her end-of-quarter heroics, usually just driving to the basket and getting a couple free throws. But hey, the Mystics need all the offense they can get.
- She had six games with 10 points or more, but she needs to add a floater and get her jump shooting percentage together if she ever plans to start running an offense in the W.
7. Kia Vaughn (2009 8th overall pick from Rutgers)
- My only real criticism of Vaughn is something she has no control over: her age. Watching younger, quicker opponents read her move and block her into the stands is sad to see on occasion. She has been excellent off the bench this year, though. Regardless of her age, teams know she can be a legit threat in the paint and that definitely helps keep other posts honest.
8. Tianna Hawkins (2013 6th overall pick from Maryland — drafted by Seattle )
- I happen to love her game. If Hawkins was Dolson's height, she would be an All-Star sooner than later. Her hard-nosed, blue collar style down low has caught teams off-guard not only defensively, where she will literally fight you for the ball, but most certainly when she pops out and drains a three point shot, which she did against the Lynx on June 26, going 3-for-3. That, and she, are the definition of a pleasant surprise.
9. Kahleah Copper (2016 7th overall pick from Rutgers)
- Like Dolson, Copper was a USA Basketball Select Team member. Evidently, Geno Auriemma and the selection committee can see what Mystics fans have this year: the rookie Copper has speed, length and no fear. Like Cloud last year, she has been impactful in a good way with the minutes Coach Thibault has allowed her this season off the bench and starting a couple times.
- I like what I see in terms of the connection between herself and Emma Meesseman. She plays with Meesse like Kara Lawson did. They both were always aware of when Meesseman has finagled a mismatch down low to her advantage. Just bread and butter basketball. No other backcourt player seems to be able to see that as quickly as Copper seems willing to do and that is refreshing.
- And oh yeah, she’s going to Belgium this fall with several of Meesseman’s teammates, so that is awesome.
10. Jamie Weisner (2016 17th overall pick from Oregon State — originally picked by Connecticut and signed midseason)** She has been waived for LaToya Sanders** But I stand by this:
- Her minutes have been so low this year. It would be impossible to say for sure what she is capable of, but as far as I can see, this was a great pick-up by Coach T. She seems to get the speed of the game and that in and of itself is encouraging.
11. Tayler Hill (2013 4th overall pick from Ohio State)
- Hill has shown real promise this season. She started on fire, which in all likelihood would have led to an All Star berth had there been a game this year. As the season has worn on, opponents have scouted her appropriately and she has had to work harder to get her points.
- It has been encouraging to see her dedication in the off season with Assistant Coach Eric Thibault turn her into more of an offensive threat, but a field goal percentage of 34 percent leaves a lot of room for improvement. But it’s still a good thing to see that Hill is not hesitant to shoot the ball, like she was early in her career.
12. Emma Meesseman (2013 19th overall pick from ESB Villeneuve-d’Ascq in France)
- Meesseman has improved from last season. Last year, only Latta out-scored her. Though Hill was leading early, Meesseman is now the team’s leading scorer and should finish the season that way. What is remarkable is that her scoring has improved month to month even with teams double and triple teaming her. The number one advantage she has over opponents is that they don’t know what she will do.
- She has the deepest pockets on the team in terms of moves. Meesseman will make you pay on an inbounds play, cutting behind the post, jab stepping you, spinning in the paint, the finger-roll, the shot-put launch (new), the hook-shot, the 3 ball and of course, the jumper from anywhere, and, just to rub it in, everything left or right handed. She even did a fake on the Lynx’s Natasha Howard in the paint that sent her into the photographers that I had never seen her do before this year.
- I did not see her launching the three-ball like she has this summer, having seen all of her Euro games. It must have been something she was working on in the gym. Yes, fans did see her go 6-for-13 at the end of last season, but there was no indication in Euro play that she would be 26-for-47 two-thirds of the way through the WNBA regular season. She was ostensibly ‘saving’ it for the Mystics.
So that brings me to my point.
I believe that if you can get yourself on a WNBA squad, there is an inherent amount of talent just to be able to accomplish that. However, what separates the ‘Meessemans’ and ‘Dolsons’, in this case, in the WNBA is dedication.
We saw what time and effort have been able to do for Tayler Hill, and that was no small thing. It is clearly to her credit. But if the Mystics are going to be a threat in the East, which is important, and then in general in the playoffs, they need players who are willing to set time aside to improve not just the things they can do, but the things they can’t and have never tried.
Hearing a commentator say at the beginning of a Dallas Wings game matter-of-factly, “Stef Dolson likes to go over her left shoulder with the hook” and then watch her do it and get stuffed, speaks volumes about where her game is right now. Of course she can improve, and she has a long career ahead for her. But she, and more members of the team have to dedicate themselves to improving their skillsets.
So to me, the Mystics have to be smart enough to know their talent isn’t enough. I think they are.
And to be honest, I personally had lower expectations because of the Olympics. And not having Latoya Sanders — a veteran and defensive juggernaut — could have made a big difference in the first 24 games, and may still, in the final ten.
But even though she was one of the Olympics’ best scorers, it is clear that this is still Meesseman’s team.
How will the Mystics bounce back in the last ten games?
If anyone on the team is coming back really
pissed focused from what transpired in July, it would be Ivory Latta. She has been the emotional soul of the team and they feed off her energy. Meesseman is going to do Meesseman, but Latta is the eye of the tiger on this team.
The Mystics have also built a reputation of being a perennial playoff team in the Thibault Era. Missing it is a possibility, but the season is still far from over right now.