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The Mystics Make Winning Moves On Draft Night

Mike Thibault pulls off another shocking draft trade by moving Stephanie Soares for two potentially valuable future picks

Connecticut Sun v Washington Mystics Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

On September 17, 2021, the Washington Mystics traveled to the Barclays Center to take on the New York Liberty with a chance to clinch a playoff spot. Even with Head Coach Mike Thibault absent due to COVID, the Mystics could see the playoff coming into view against the sputtering Liberty, losers of 8 straight. But Washington lost the game, then llost to Minnesota a couple of days later, and found themselves outside the playoff picture and in the draft lottery. Considering what the Mystics did with the lottery pick they earned that season, it is looking like one of the most productive losses in franchise and, perhaps, league history.

The Trade

After winning the 2022 draft lottery, the Mystics traded the first overall selection to Atlanta for the third pick that turned into potential franchise center Shakira Austin and Los Angeles’ 2023 first-round pick that ended up being the 4th overall selection. On Monday night, now-General Manager Mike Thibault used the pick to select Stephanie Soares before trading her to the Dallas Wings for Dallas’s 2024 second-rounder and Atlanta’s 2025 first-rounder.

The move seemed to come out of nowhere. Soares was in the mix for the 4th overall pick according to some draft prognosticators, while others (like yours truly) saw her going later in the first round. She has a very high ceiling in theory but has not played much at the D1 level. She will also miss this entire season with an ACL injury, which may have actually made her more attractive to Dallas.

Still, the real surprise wasn’t that Soares was a lottery pick but how badly Dallas wanted her. This year’s draft featured great players but wasn’t viewed as particularly strong from the outside. In stark contrast, the 2024 and 2025 WNBA draft classes seem loaded with elite talent. Just to illustrate that, I put together a list of some of the players that will be coming out in those years.

In the 2024 draft, these players will be out of eligibility in college: Jacy Sheldon, Ohio State; Rickea Jackson, Tennessee; Charisma Osbourne, UCLA; Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech; and Endyia Rogers, Oregon. These players are eligible to enter the 2024 draft and will be out of eligibility in 2025: Angel Reese, LSU; Caitlin Clark, Iowa; Paige Bueckers, UConn; Cameron Brink, Stanford; Haley Van Lith, Transfer Portal State; Jewel Spear, Wake Forest; Georgia Amoore, Virginia Tech; Aaliyah Edwards, UConn; Maddy Westbeld, Notre Dame; Deja Kelly, UNC; Kennedy Todd-Williams, Ole Miss; and Alissa Pili, Utah. The Class of 2025 has no COVID year option because they started college after the 2020-21 season (except Olivia Miles but it looks like she will be done in 2025 regardless). The following players will be out of eligibility in 2025: Olivia Miles, Notre Dame; Azzi Fudd, UConn; Sonia Citron, Notre Dame; Aneesh Marrow, DePaul; Shyanne Sellers, Maryland; and Rori Harmon, Texas.

Those 25 names are just a taste of the players I believe could be WNBA players. More prospects will emerge over the next couple of seasons. Both draft picks that the Mystics received in this trade could yield a better prospect than the pick they sent out. If the 2024 draft is extra loaded, they may get an impact player in the second round. If more players defer to 2025 and the Atlanta Dream disappoint, the Mystics may have a lottery pick in a legendary draft. There’s a non-zero chance that the pick turns into Caitlin Clark!

Or maybe Mike and Eric Thibault unload the picks for veteran help at some point or those draft picks just don’t pan out like we see them now. Regardless of the result, the Mystics made the right asset play if they didn’t see a player that would help them this year. It’d be interesting to know if the Mystics hatched a master plan to draft Soares knowing that Dallas wanted her or if Washington drafted Soares and then reacted to an offer from Dallas. Washington gets an A+ for this move in my book. It’s just the type of thing good organizations do.

The Picks

The Mystics also selected Elena Tsineke out of South Florida in the second round and Txell Alarcón in the third round. Tsineke went 12th in my mock draft for Her Hoop Stats a week before the draft. Here’s what I said about her there.

She’s one of the best pick-and-roll operators in the draft. She can pull up from deep off screens as a 41.2% shooter on above-the-break threes this season. She’s also fast enough to burst to the rim and smart enough to find open shooters. She doesn’t have the highest ceiling, but she could be a capable point guard on both ends.

I was higher on her than most, so the Mystics being able to snag her at 20 was not surprising. Txell Alarcón has an awesome name. From the brief highlights I’ve seen, she’s a shooting guard with a nice stroke from deep and a little size. The 19-year-old Spanard will be stashed in Europe for a few years.

The picks could yield value in the future. Tsineke will have a chance to battle for a spot in training camp at a position of need for DC. Rui Machida is not returning so the backup point guard spot is available or at least a spot in the backcourt is available if Kristi Toliver plays the point. She will likely have to beat out Jazmine Jones and/or Evina Westbrook for the last spot on the roster. Jones and Westbrook have an experience advantage over Tsineke as they both played for DC last year. Also, the Mystics would save money against the salary cap by keeping either Jones or Westbrook over Tsineke because both vets are on training camp contracts rather than rookie deals. The difference between the contracts is just $3,006 for next year, but every dime counts in the WNBA.

Tsineke will have to impress the Mystics coaching staff greatly to make the team. But she has the tools to do so. Regardless, she will make Washington’s camp more competitive. Neither of the players picked in the draft are likely to impact the Mystics, which could be disappointing on draft night. But, Washington made moves that might solidify their future as a contender in the WNBA. It was another great draft night for the Washington Mystics in the Thibault era.