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A 2015 season preview on the Mystics as they start training camp

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The Washington Mystics are ready to start their 2015 season. So here's a preview on them.

From left to right: Stefanie Dolson, assistant coach Marianne Stanley, Emma Meesseman, and Kia Vaughn pose for photo on the Mystics' media this past Monday.
From left to right: Stefanie Dolson, assistant coach Marianne Stanley, Emma Meesseman, and Kia Vaughn pose for photo on the Mystics' media this past Monday.
Ned Dishman, NBA/Getty Images

On the same day that the Wizards held exit interviews to finish their 2014-15 season commitments, the Mystics were beginning theirs by holding their media day and their first training camp practice.

Here's their entire roster as of Tuesday, after a combination of looking at players' pictures and from the team's website:

15 Natasha Cloud G 6'0 St. Joseph's (PA) R
10 Blake Dietrick G 5'10 Princeton R
31 Stefanie Dolson C 6'5 Connecticut 1

Mrica Gajic C 6'2 Bosnia R
23 Kalana Greene G 5'10 Connecticut 5
8 Bria Hartley G 5'8 Connecticut 1
21 Tianna Hawkins* F 6'3 Maryland 2
22 Armintie Herrington G/F 5'9 Mississippi 8
4 Tayler Hill G 5'9 Ohio State 2
12 Ivory Latta G 5'6 North Carolina 8
20 Kara Lawson G 5'9 Tennessee 12
11 Ally Malott F 6'4 Dayton R
33 Emma Meesseman F/C 6'4 Belgium 2
32 Jelena Milovanovic F/C 6'3 Serbia 1
14 Tierra Ruffin-Pratt G 5'10 North Carolina 2
5 Kayla Thornton F 6'1 Texas-El Paso R
9 Kia Vaughn C 6'4 Rutgers 6

*will miss the beginning of the season due to pregnancy

Here are some major talking points for the Mystics as they start training camp.

Tayler Hill is the Mystics' X-Factor.

I'll admit it. I'm a Bria Hartley fanboy. She received a good number of shoutouts on this site. And Hartley deserves every one of them. Whether it's because of her highlight moves, scoring touch or otherwise. Hell, she's more than welcome to be a writer on this site if she asks! Jake?

But all of that said, the Mystics' most important player is third-year guard Tayler Hill, even though she hasn't met expectations since she started playing. Here's why.

Hill was the fourth pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, the same draft when a fateful bounce of the ping pong balls prevented them from getting Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, or Skylar Diggins, all of whom have become All-Stars and All-First Team WNBA players in the last two seasons.

Meanwhile, Hill was a reserve guard who never seemed to find her groove until the end of the 2013 season when she was averaging in double figures. Then, she got pregnant and had her son in June 2014. Hill was able to play five games just weeks after giving birth, but she looked a step slow because she was still getting back in shape. When you combine how Hartley fought her way to the starting lineup, and how Hill has fallen short of expectations since she started playing, that certainly leads many fans to believe that Hartley, rather than Hill is a player the Mystics can build with long-term.

Still, Hill is the Mystics' most important player, even if she's not the best, or even if Hartley is truly better than her right now. The number one reason why is that she is the only player who is under 25 years old and is a lottery pick. Even though the Mystics have a young roster, they have no first or second overall picks, which are the types of picks that franchise players come from. If the Mystics are going to make a playoff run and become a perennial contender without Breanna Stewart, the presumed #1 pick of the 2016 Draft, Hill is going to be a major reason behind that. But I don't know if she'll be given the chance to be that kind of a player, or if she'll start altogether.

Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post has a column on how Hill has come back from her pregnancy. In the piece, other players believe that Hill could have a breakout year, and GM/HC Mike Thibault loves her athleticism, where he can use her on both ends of the floor.

Small forward is the team's biggest weakness.

After letting Monique Currie sign with the Phoenix Mercury as an unrestricted free agent, the Mystics are very thin. If they want a player who is close to being a true small forward, it's probably either third-year wing Tierra Ruffin-Pratt or rookie wing Natasha Cloud. The good news about both Ruffin-Pratt and Cloud is that they are both tenacious defenders. But the bad news is that their offensive production is a concern.

Also, the Mystics could go with a three-guard lineup so they can push the pace. This could allow for a backcourt trio of Hartley, Hill, and two-time All-Star Ivory Latta to play together. Another guard who could figure to be in this trio is Armintie Herrington, who signed with Washington as a free agent.

Alternatively, the Mystics could go big at this position by playing sophomore forward Jelena Milovanovic, rookie forward Ally Malott, or they could move starting power forward Emma Meesseman to this position as well, given her versatile game. Meesseman's also just 22 years old, which is the age of most rookies, so her future's really bright.

It won't be easy for them to fill this position, where superstars like Maya Moore, Tamika Catchings, Angel McCoughtry, and Delle Donne play. But I think that the Mystics will ultimately provide a variety of looks when it comes toward filling in the small forward position in order to keep opposing defenses on their toes.

The Mystics have avoided the current WNBA offseason's shenanigans.

In recent seasons, the Mystics have made major roster overhauls before the start of training camp, including in each of Thibault's two seasons at the helm in D.C. But this season, besides Currie's departure, they haven't lost anyone of consequence. In fact, they re-signed Ivory Latta and starting center Kia Vaughn over the winter.

There has been a lot of news around most of the WNBA teams not named the Mystics, ranging from Jewell Loyd and Amanda Zahui B. declaring early in an otherwise weak draft class, to superstar players sitting out at least part of if not the entire season, to Isiah Thomas becoming the New York Liberty's President, to Griner and her then-fiancee Glory Johnson getting involved in a domestic violence dispute.

The Mystics hadn't been in the news when it came to any significant type of WNBA news, good, bad, or ugly. It's a good thing for the Mystics that none of their players was arrested, or that a well-known basketball team-destroyer was hired. However, I still wish they had a much earlier draft pick than number 8.

The Mystics should NOT try to be the WNBA's Washington Wizards, at least with who they have. Assuming they don't make many changes the next several years, their best case scenario is that they're the WNBA's Atlanta Hawks.

The Mystics and Wizards play in the same city, are both owned by Ted Leonsis, and they both play in the same building. Does that mean that the Mystics should be like the Wizards to a T? Given that the strengths of both teams aren't similar, the answer is no.

You have probably seen me write that the Mystics aren't built to contend right now because they lack a superstar player. I still stand by that, and I don't see the 2015 Mystics team contending for more than a playoff berth. It's unfortunate because they play in a large market, and they haven't had that type of a player since Chamique Holdsclaw from 1999-2004. But I digress.

Many Mystics players were at Game 6 vs. the Hawks last Friday. Sure, many of them may honestly be Wizards fans, and everyone's welcome to be a Wizards fan!

I know that many of you guys don't want to think about ATL, but it's unavoidable because they are a lot like the NBA's Washingon Mystics in their absolute ideal form when you think about it.

There is no superstar player on the Hawks. They rely on near-flawless execution on both ends of the floor, and Atlanta has one of the NBA's top head coaches in Mike Budenholzer. And in case you didn't know already, Thibault is an elite coach, where he has won more regular season games than anyone else in league history. The only reason why he hasn't won a title yet is because he has never coached a juggernaut team.

I wrote something comparing the two teams on Swish Appeal right before the Wizards vs. Hawks series began, so click here to check it out in more detail. It basically says that assuming the Mystics have no intention of losing a ton of games this season, the Hawks are as good of a model as any to follow.

I am very intrigued by the Hawks' success this season, and their deep playoff run that continues Wednesday when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. However, I think the Mystics' road toward a Hawks-esque season, whether now or in the not-too-distant future will be more difficult given that the star power in the WNBA is much more concentrated than in the NBA.

The Elephant in the room (who isn't in the room): Breanna Stewart.

Media days and training camp kick offs are generally positive events. You don't want to piss anyone off. But for a team without a franchise player like the Mystics -- and really, any WNBA team that has an injured star player or a star who may not play -- are going to be thinking about the UConn senior forward who is often compared to ... Kevin Durant. Again, Stewart is widely expected to be the first pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft, and I wrote something here on that topic last year.

This subject seems to be the one thing NO ONE in the WNBA wants to talk about, likely in part because of the Phoenix Mercury's alleged tank job to draft Griner in 2013.

This is where the Mystics' moves confuse me, in light of the context of the rest of the teams in the league. The Mystics are in my opinion, the least talented team in the league given their lack of lottery picks headlining the roster. Yet, they are retaining veterans (Latta and Vaughn) who also play the exact same position as key younger players like Hartley and Stefanie Dolson respectively. At first glance, it seems like they are trying to go all in with this group, and I find it very frustrating.

I'm not a huge college basketball fan, but I definitely liked watching Hartley, Dolson, and Stewart play together on two of UConn's recent national championship teams. A possible reunion of these three at the WNBA level could really help bring out the best in all of them, and the Mystics should become a force in the East IF they can draft her.

I'm very conflicted about wanting to see the current younger players overachieve or to see the Mystics take a dive in the standings. I am never going to root for players to not try. But at the same time, I (and a good number of Mystics fans) want Stewie in D.C. really bad.

Ally Malott and Kia Vaughn give video interviews at practice

Monumental Network's Dan Nolan chatted with the two post players. Below is his interview with Malott:

And here's his interview with Vaughn, who is a captain this season. She won the MVP award playing for USK Praha in the EuroLeague Women's Final Four, where they won the tournament beating UMMC Ekaterinburg, 72-68. UMMC is the team that Phoenix Mercury point guard Diana Taurasi and Los Angeles Sparks forward Candace Parker play on:

Where will they realistically be at the end of the season?

Last season, they were third in the Eastern Conference with a 16-18 record. I think they will probably finish around .500 again, give or take three games or so, and I don't think they will advance to the Conference Finals or the WNBA's second round.

If you ask me right now which teams I think will be the Eastern Conference's lottery teams, I would say that they would be the Indiana Fever and Connecticut Sun because either key players are injured or are missing time due to international team commitments. But as I mentioned before about Stewart, there is a side of me hoping that they don't make the playoffs.

When is their first preseason game?

The Mystics' first preseason game is this Saturday in Louisville, Kentucky against the Atlanta Dream. It's really hard to figure this team out, so it will be a good thing to see them play against some competition.