The first round: Ariel Atkins (seventh overall pick)
Atkins is a 5’11 athletic guard with a sweet 3-point shot. She hit 42 percent of her 3.4 attempts per game from beyond the arc during her senior year, as well 85 percent of her free throws. She’ll give head coach Mike Thibault the option to play stifling perimeter defensive lineups and help space the floor for less capable shooters like Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Natasha Cloud.
Playmaking is a weakness for Atkins. She averaged 1.9 assists as a senior, but also 2 turnovers per game (both career highs), but for the Mystics that’s not such a big deal: Elena Delle Donne, Kristi Tolliver, and Tayler Hill (depending on how her ACL recovery goes) will likely lead the team in usage, and Cloud can supplement the playmaking duties. Atkins will probably start her career in a 3&D role, and her shooting gives her the opportunity to cement a spot in the rotation at shooting guard and small forward.
In addition to fitting the Mystics’ roster needs, Atkins sounds like an ideal pupil for Coach Thibault. The Las Vegas Aces quoted Texas head coach Karen Aston in their draft prospect profile of Atkins: “She’s not afraid to talk about her weaknesses, and she’s not afraid to ask questions.”
Second and third rounds
The Mystics rounded out their draft night with Myisha Hines-Allen (the 19th overall pick from Louisville) and Rebecca Greenwell (the 31st overall pick from Duke). Hines-Allen is a 6’2 post player who averaged 9.6 rebounds in her final year of college. She’s also shown hints of long ranging shooting ability, making six of her fourteen threes.
Greenwell is a 6’1 wing player and All-ACC team regular. Continuing the night’s trend, she is an excellent shooter (43 percent from three this year). She’s also an active defender, averaging 1.8 steals per game.
Both Hines-Allen and Greenwell will have to work hard to make the team. The Mystics will have seventeen players at camp competing for twelve roster spots. However, they have intriguing skillsets that help their chances, and many of the Mystics’ veteran role players have limitations lowering their ceilings.
State of the roster
The 2017 Mystics were an enigma: They had top-tier talent with former MVP Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman, an All-Star guard in Kristi Toliver, and plenty of youth and depth on the roster. But they lacked an identity and they really lacked consistent defense.
With the return of LaToya Sanders and the addition of Atkins, free agent Monique Currie, and perhaps Greenwell and Hines-Allen, you can start to see a coherent idea of a team form. The theme of the night was size and shooting. Thibault will have the option to play credible lineups with four above average defenders on the floor alongside Delle Donne or Toliver. On offense, the game will be all about making it as painful as possible for defenses to collapse on Delle Donne. Thibault has added enough shooters to do that. An offense built around Delle Donne creating from the mid-post surrounded by floor spacers might not sound exciting, but it can certainly be effective. The Mystics already shoot a lot of threes, but maybe this year they’ll make them at a high clip, too.
The wildcard on the roster will be last year’s first round pick, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. She has a similar profile to Atkins as a big guard who can shoot threes. It’s hard to imagine steady minutes for both of them with several established veterans already playing on the wing. On the other hand, both have higher upsides than the players currently ahead of them in the rotation, and a future that includes both Atkins and Walker-Kimbrough playing up to their potential is an exciting one for the Mystics.