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2017 WNBA Draft Lottery Preview: Mystics hope to move up in draft position for the first time ... ever

The Mystics are probably ending up with the 4th pick in the draft. But whoever they pick could still make an impact on this young team.

Emma Meesseman is about to pass the ball on a fast break.
Emma Meesseman certainly hopes she’ll have some more help next season in the form of a higher than expected draft lottery pick.
Stewart W. Small

The Mystics will head to the 2017 WNBA Draft Lottery after missing out on the playoffs in the 2016 season. It will help shape how the team will look next season and beyond.

Where and When

Halftime of Game 1 of the WNBA semifinals between the Minnesota Lynx and Phoenix Mercury. The lottery results will be held at about 9 p.m. ET. You can watch it on ESPN 2.

GM and Head Coach Mike Thibault will also be on the telecast to provide analysis. He also was on a podcast with ESPN’s LaChina Robinson. Coincidentally, if you didn’t know, Robinson graduated from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia and was a basketball star for them back in the day.

If you’re not familiar with the D.C. area, that’s the high school where the “Remember the Titans” movie was based on.

What are the Mystics’ chances for a number one pick?

Of the four teams with a lottery pick: Mystics, Sparks (via the Sun), Wings, and Stars, the Mystics have the lowest odds of winning the lottery, with a 10.4 percent chance of getting the pick.

What should we expect?

The Mystics will most likely pick fourth in the 2017 WNBA Draft because they have the lowest odds of getting the number one pick. But since they have a 10.4 percent chance of being the first pick, there’s still a good chance that they may end up better than fourth. If nothing else, it’s better than the Wizards’ chances of getting the first pick in the 2016 NBA Draft Lottery.

If the Mystics move up in this Draft Lottery, this would be the first time that that has ever happened for them in franchise history. And it should be known that some unlucky draft bounces or a lack of moving up in draft position prevented them from picking some of the best players in WNBA history.

For example, the Mystics had the highest chance of picking first in 2002 when they would have picked Sue Bird to be their franchise guard. Except that the balls fell another way so the Seattle Storm picked her first and the Mystics ended up third.

And in 2013, the last time they had a chance to get a franchise player, they had the highest chance of picking first when they could have had Elena Delle Donne or Brittney Griner as their franchise frontcourt player. If they fell to third, they would get Skylar Diggins as their franchise guard.

Well ... they ended up fourth that year to pick Tayler Hill which really deflated their chances of developing new fans over the last several years. This isn’t meant to be a knock on Hill, but there is no doubt that there was — and still is — less excitement from Mystics fans because of that result.

The Mystics had the second highest chance of getting the number one pick in 2004 when they would have picked Diana Taurasi or 2009 when they would have picked Angel McCoughtry. They remained second in those years — and the players they did pick are no longer in Washington due to various reasons.

The lottery has been very unkind to Washington over the past 15 years. After all the heartbreak, maybe things turn around this time. No one thinks the Mystics are a bad franchise anymore. They are doing most of the right things you want to see a team do — and many of the same things you wish that Ernie Grunfeld would have done with the Wizards. But they still don’t have the talent to really see the rewards of their efforts.

Are there any pressing personnel needs?

The Mystics may have finished last in the Eastern Conference, but they don’t really have a sore positional weakness. Most players on the team can play multiple positions which also helps with roster flexibility.

This is most apparent with the “point guard” position, where there is no dominant floor general. Natasha Cloud is more or less the starting point guard, but she has the size of a small forward and was originally drafted to play that position. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt was also a point guard in college. And other players like Hill, Emma Meesseman, Stefanie Dolson, Ivory Latta, and Leilani Mitchell can also distribute the ball effectively. It’s not like they have one “point guard” on the floor — sometimes it seems like they have five. And that’s a good thing to be honest.

Give GM and Head Coach Mike Thibault credit for building a deep homegrown roster over the past several years. Very few would have predicted that the Mystics would have made three straight playoff appearances despite no Top-2 picks in any season during his tenure. And this past season, the Mystics had no Top-3 pick from any year. In fact, they were the only team in the league without any Top-3 picks.

Though the Mystics have been able to play well together, the lack of a high draft pick from any season has lowered the team’s ceiling and it leads me to their primary need.

The Mystics lack — and they need — a franchise superstar. Of the four teams with a pick, the Mystics are the only one without that player, assuming that you consider Kayla McBride of the San Antonio Stars is for them. Some believe she is, while others don’t.

To this point, Washington has compensated for this by having their system be a “European-like” or “Spurs-like” basketball team with plug and play parts. The point I mentioned about many ball distributors points to that. It has worked to a good extent, and the Mystics’ bench in recent years has performed better than most teams. But even in such a system, someone must stand out in a league of just 12 teams when most teams already have a superstar or someone they can definitively point to as “the one.”

For the Mystics, Meesseman has been the closest to being a franchise player. It’s already amazing that the 19th pick in the 2013 Draft would likely be a Top-3 or Top-4 pick in the class if we had to do it all over again. However, she ultimately hasn’t broken through to be THAT player yet. Meesseman’s efficiency is superior to many superstar frontcourt players, but her overall production still lags behind them.

Also, Meesseman has never been a bonafide franchise player on a professional team over the last several years whether it’s the Mystics, Sparta&k Moscow, or UMMC Ekaterinburg where she is now during the NBA season. There’s no doubt Meesseman has outdone her draft position. But ultimately, it’s up to her as to whether she really wants to be a WNBA franchise player or not.

Other players like Hill or Dolson have that “relentless motor” or the gregarious personality that is conducive for the American audience. However, they also don’t have the efficiency or the ceiling Meesseman has.

Most of the remaining players on the team have been primarily mid first round or second round picks who have carved themselves solid roles on the roster. Though they may play significant roles in Washington, it is questionable as to whether most of them would be in similar roles if on other teams in the league. For example, I don’t think Tierra Ruffin-Pratt would be a starter for any other team besides the Mystics even though she has developed into a solid role player.

Who are some players that the Mystics could select?

Unlike the 2016 Draft when it was clear that UConn forward Breanna Stewart would be the first pick regardless, the 2017 Draft doesn’t appear to have such a player of her caliber. Still, there are a good number of players who they could select.

Here are some of the bigger names:

  • Alaina Coates, 6’4 C, South Carolina – With Tennessee declining in the years after the late Pat Summitt retired due to Alzheimer’s Disease, South Carolina has now turned into the team to beat in the SEC. Coates averaged 12.1 points and 10.3 rebounds last season when the Gamecocks advanced to the Elite Eight. She was a Wade Trophy finalist and All-SEC First Team winner.
  • Kelsey Plum, 5’8 G, Washington – Plum led the Huskies (they’re Huskies too) to their first Final Four last year. As the country’s fourth leading per-game scorer (25.9 ppg) last season and one of the catalysts for Washington’s tourney run, she will be in the conversation for being a higher first round pick. The Mystics have a plethora of guards on their rosters like Hill, Bria Hartley, Ivory Latta, and maybe Leilani Mitchell. But the Mystics are in a position to just take the best player available, so if she really is, they need to pick her.
  • Lindsay Allen, 5’8 G, Notre Dame - Allen is the starting point guard for the Fighting Irish where she averaged 9.3 ppg and 5.8 apg last season. She’s actually from Mitchellville, Maryland, a suburb in eastern Prince George’s County. Local ties aside, she’ll be one of the top point guards in this draft, but her lack of a three point shot would be a concern for Thibault. Therefore, I doubt she’ll be in a Mystics uniform.
  • Nina Davis, 5’11 F, Baylor – Her scoring averages have jumped up and down in each of her seasons, but she’s still one of the best players in the Big 12 and the Mystics’ weakest position in and of itself is small forward.
  • Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, 5’11 G, Maryland - Another local player. But before you cry “Our Girls’ Syndrome” -- or wondering why the Mystics would pick a player from a nearby college — it’s because she’s a damn good player. Walker-Kimbrough averaged 19.5 points, 6 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game last season after leading the Terps to their second straight Big Ten title. I’ll also add that she led the nation in three point shooting percentage, like Meesseman last year. She was also a major part of the Terps’ Final Four teams in 2014 and 2015. Walker-Kimbrough should be in the lottery conversation this season.

Are there players who may declare early?

In the WNBA Draft players are eligible once they are four years out of high school. If they are college sophomores or juniors but four years out of high school, they can still declare early like their NBA counterparts.

The biggest star who could declare early is redshirt junior Tennessee forward Diamond DeShields. She was the national Freshman of the Year at North Carolina in the 2013-14 season before transferring to the Lady Vols program. Last season, her numbers went down a little, but a bounceback season is in store. DeShields may have a more solid chance of being the number one pick if she does very well this season for Tennessee and declares afterward.

Now, we wait

There isn’t much we can do now except wait and see if the Mystics can defy the odds and move up in the draft.

Let’s be honest. The Mystics are doing a lot of the right things you want to see a franchise do. They draft the best players available for their system. Their players do well in the system for the most part and get their fair share of wins. Yet they just don’t have enough to be a serious contender. And the 2013 Draft Lottery still hurts the Mystics to this day.

If there’s a God, the Mystics will move up in the lottery for a change. I’m not counting on this player saving the franchise, but she will be a much needed boost for a team that desperately needs a high pick who can provide an impact right away. Hopefully, it happens later tonight.