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With All-Star Weekend now complete, the Mystics gear up for the second half of the season

The second half of the season is about to begin. Now is the time for the Mystics to show whether they are really a contender in the East and the league.

The Mystics are 9-6, third place in the Eastern Conference. That said, they are only two games behind the conference-leading New York Liberty, who are 12-5. Besides the interesting plane ride to and from Tulsa last week, and the All-Star announcements, here are some other takeaways.

Meesseman and Dolson combine for 14 points in the All-Star Game

Last Saturday, the West defeated the East in the All-Star Game, 117-112. Among the general highlights, Lynx forward Maya Moore won the MVP of the game, and Brittney Griner made a nice slam dunk.

As for the Mystics' All-Stars, Meesseman scored 10 points off the bench and Dolson added 4 more in the losing effort. Dolson, in particular, had a fun weekend as she celebrated her halfcourt shot in practice:

She was also mic'd up for the game:

Hayley Milon of Monumental Network has a video recap above or click here if you can't see the video.

BF's Mystics Player of the Week (July 20-26): Stefanie Dolson

The Mystics just played one game last week when they won 76-69 against the Tulsa Shock (who recently announced they'll be relocating to Dallas next season) on Tuesday. Once again, Big Mama Stef was the biggest factor for the Mystics as she scored 18 points, grabbed 3 rebounds, and blocked two shots in the win.

As the season progressed, Dolson has now emerged as the team's leading scorer and rebounder. She has also been their most reliable player, scoring in double digits for each of the Mystics last eight games which started on June 26. As you might expect, Dolson's scoring average has been considerably higher over this stretch.

Season 13.40 7.33 2.00 1.60
Since 6/26 16.00 7.75 2.63 1.25
July 16.17 7.83 2.00 1.33

I expected Dolson to be a solid defender and a decent mid to long range shooter for a post player, where she has made 17 of 47 shots from 16-21 feet away from the basket, and 3 of her 5 three-point attempts. But I didn't expect her to be playing at this level this early in her young career.

Emma Meesseman's scoring production has been slipping while Dolson's has been improving

The league's been high on Meesseman this season. But unfortunately, she hasn't been able to keep her early season averages as the season has worn on. Here are her averages for the season, since Dolson's double-digit scoring streak began, and for the month of July:

Season 13.00 6.87 2.07 1.60
Since 6/26 11.13 6.63 2.38 1.13
July 9.17 7.00 2.33 0.83

The concern about Meesseman is that her scoring has been declining as the season went on while Dolson has been heating up. Fortunately, unlike many other post players, she is still consistent as a rebounder and passer, but Meesseman has to be more active in the offense.

Despite the fact that she is their best overall player, Meesseman's usage rating is only at 19.4 percent, which is lower than Dolson's who's at 22.8 percent. Even though her usage rating has increased year over year, Meesseman has to be more active in getting the basketball into her hands and not simply be passive, which she often was over the past couple seasons.

The backcourt rotation will be fluid for the rest of the season

The area of concern with the Mystics this season is the backcourt, where head coach Mike Thibault hasn't been able to settle on a consistent lineup.

Most expected a starting backcourt of Ivory Latta and Bria Hartley to return this summer. However, Latta's inconsistency and diminutive size along with Hartley's foot stress fracture and her recovery put that idea to rest. Thibault currently has a starting backcourt of Kara Lawson and Natasha Cloud who are both more consistent playmakers and provide more size against opposing guards.

I'm not 100 percent sure that the Lawson-Cloud starting backcourt will last for the rest of the season though they are undefeated since Cloud was put into the lineup on July 17 against the Fever. But I'm also sure that this isn't a long term solution either considering that Hartley played well when healthy and the team still has to figure out Tayler Hill's viability as a long term piece. Therefore, if Washington slips in the standings once again, don't be surprised to see another change with the guards.

How do Ivory Latta and Kia Vaughn fit in long-term for the Mystics?

Even though most WNBA gurus and fans thought they were sound, if not praiseworthy moves, I was quite angry with the fact that Thibault re-signed Latta and Vaughn to multi-season extensions last winter. This is because both players play positions where a key younger player also needs time in order to develop.

In Latta's case, there are many younger guards on the team like Hartley, Hill, and Cloud who replaced her in the starting lineup. In Vaughn's case, she suffered a hip flexor and later a concussion, which allowed Dolson to shine. Even though Vaughn is returning to play very soon, it's unlikely that she'll start ahead of Dolson. And that creates the Mystics' dilemma. They gave away long term contracts to veterans whose roles are diminishing with the team, even this season. That is frustrating because I saw this situation coming the moment those contracts were signed.

On the one hand, perhaps Latta and Vaughn knew that they would likely be bench players at some point during their contracts and they understand that. If so, I can see both having a role on the Mystics, at least off the bench for the duration of their extensions.

But on the other, Latta and Vaughn were starters for each of the last two seasons when they were brought in as veterans who could help the Mystics improve right away. Both still have plenty of gas in their tanks, even if they're not going to improve anymore at this stage in their careers. I'm not saying that both players are disgruntled since they both appear to be happy in D.C. In fact, Vaughn is very happy to see Dolson as an All-Star. But if they really aren't good long-term fits with the Mystics now, then these moves could stifle Washington's salary cap space in the next couple offseasons.

Who do the Mystics play this week (July 27 to August 2)?

Day Team Time (ET) TV/Online
Wednesday, July 29 Seattle Storm (5-13) 11:30 a.m. Monumental Network/NBA TV/WNBA Live Access
Friday, July 31 at San Antonio Stars (5-12) 8 p.m. WNBA Live Access
Sunday, August 2 at Chicago Sky (11-6) 6 p.m. WNBA Live Access

The schedule this week is lighter, at least on paper. The Sky game on Sunday will be the toughest one, but I'd say that the Seattle game is a potential "trap game" of sorts for Washington since former long-time Mystics player Crystal Langhorne returns. That will be a story line for sure as she faces off against a young All-Star frontcourt. Seattle has also gone 2-0 vs. Washington since she was traded to the Emerald City in exchange for Hartley and Tianna Hawkins.

Finally, Seattle's franchise player Sue Bird is still the league's Queen of the Assist, where she is leading the league in total dimes and per game. She can still score in bunches when she wants, and I wrote about that and some other things after the NBA All-Star Break.

Sue, if you ever read this, please give an assist to John Wall so he can be State Farm's next agent.

[Ed. Note: In light of last week's discussion in the comments, I just wanted to clarify a few quick things about our Mystics coverage on the site.

I came to this site all the way back in 2006 looking for a place to talk about the Wizards in a deeper way than I could with friends and family. If I had to guess, most of the rest of you are here for the same reason.

In the same way, I'm positive there are Mystics fans out there who have been seeking the same opportunities but don't have a place for that like we do with Bullets Forever. So why can't we be that place for Mystics fans, especially at a time when the NBA calendar is relatively wide open?

Besides, if the last few months have shown us anything, between the Mystics' recent analytics scrimmage and Becky Hammon leading the Spurs to victory in the Vegas Summer League, there's a lot NBA fans can learn from paying more attention to the WNBA.

Bullets Forever will always be primarily a Wizards-focused site, but the Mystics are an important part of the Wizards' ecosystem, and as long as we have writers who can cover it in a way worth of the site like Albert, we'll continue to give the Mystics space where fans can discuss the team. -Jake]