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Krystal Thomas is the Mystics’ most improved player this season

Thomas may not win the WNBA’s Most Improved Player Award, but she still made some major strides in 2017.

Mystics center Krystal Thomas signed an offer sheet with the Mystics last winter after being a reserve on the Storm, Mercury, and Fever during her WNBA career. We didn’t know what to expect from her this summer. But she came out swinging and was one of the WNBA’s best rebounders this season.

In fact, Thomas should get consideration as one of the WNBA’s most improved players this year though she’s a long shot to win the award. In fact, Jonquel Jones of the Connecticut Sun won the AP’s WNBA Most Improved Player of the Year award earlier on Tuesday.

Here are three reasons why she is at the very least, the Mystics’ most improved player:

Thomas rebounded at career high rates in the 2017 season

Mike Thibault announced that rebounding was the Mystics’ top priority heading into the 2017 season. Thomas did just that in the 2017 season, where she averaged a career high 9.6 rebounds per game.

If you’re someone into more advanced statistics, the gross number of rebounds Thomas grabbed was great. But what about her rebounding rate and percentage? She also got career highs in both this past season with 13.3 rebounds a game per 36 minutes played, and she had a career high total rebounding percentage of 21.1%. Both figures were also career highs by significant margins, even when you take into account that Thomas started most games in 2017 while she was a reserve most of her early career:

Krystal Thomas’ rebounds per 36 minutes and total rebound percentages

Season Team Reb/36 minutes TRB%
Season Team Reb/36 minutes TRB%
2011 Storm/Mercury 3.6 6.10%
2012 Mercury 1.9 16.60%
2013 Mercury 10.6 17.10%
2014 Fever 9.6 16.80%
2016 Storm 8.7 15.10%
2017 Mystics 13.3 21.10%
Basketball Reference

Thomas has a career high individual rating differential

This past season, Thomas had an individual offensive rating of 112 and a defensive rating of 102. That’s a differential of 10, higher than every regular starter’s other than Elena Delle Donne, who had a rating differential of 24. Thomas’ offensive rating was also at a career high of 110. Here’s some perspective on how Thomas’ individual offensive, defensive, and rating differentials fared over her career:

Krystal Thomas’ individual offensive, defensive, and rating differentials

Season Team Off Rating Def Rating Differential
Season Team Off Rating Def Rating Differential
2011 Storm/Mercury 82 106 -24
2012 Mercury 90 109 -19
2013 Mercury 87 101 -14
2014 Fever 97 98 -1
2016 Storm 110 103 7
2017 Mystics 112 102 10
Basketball Reference

There’s also a positive trend over the years with Thomas’ differential in each and every season over the course of her career. It went from a lackluster -24 in 2011 to +10 this summer. Granted, she was a reserve and did not play as many minutes as she did in 2017. But it’s very pleasant to see that the Mystics are consistently doing better with Thomas on the floor than off of it.

Thomas has shown the ability to get hot and take pressure off of Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman

Opposing defenses will always keep their first set of eyes on Delle Donne and Meesseman. But when they’re occupied, it’s important to be a reliable scorer when her number is called. Thomas had some big games, including a 17 point showing against the Liberty on August 25, and a 20 point outburst against the Indiana Fever on August 12.

Scoring has never been Thomas’ strongest suit and her shooting percentage of 59.7 percent of shots within five feet of the basket are still behind All-Star posts like Candace Parker (63.5 percent), or other WNBA starters like Crystal Langhorne (73.7 percent).

That said, not every center is going to be an All-Star or a high usage player. Thomas’ usage rating was just 13.2 percent last summer. However, she has made the right cuts to the basket when defenses were focused on Delle Donne and Meesseman, and that has given her opportunities to get easy scoring opportunities.

Will Thomas win the WNBA Most Improved Player of the Year Award (or get close to it)?

If I could vote, I would vote for Thomas because of Mystics fan bias. But she’s not going to win the Most Improved Player award this season.

Connecticut Sun post Jonquel Jones is generally regarded as the favorite. She averaged 6.8 points and 3.7 rebounds a game last year as a reserve, but averaged 15.4 points and 11.8 rebounds a game this season, while also becoming a three point shooting threat.

That said, Thomas should get some votes for the award. She is just the latest “diamond in the rough” success for Mike Thibault during his tenure in D.C. and there will certainly be more to come.