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Mystics 2017 season preview part 2: The 2017 rosters and 5 questions heading into opening day

Stewart W. Small

We’ve given our list of winners and losers of the Mystics’ offseason in our previous preview post. In this part, we’ll review the roster. and ask five key questions that Washington faces heading into the season.

2017 Washington Mystics Opening Day Roster

First Name Last Name Age Height Position Prev Yrs. Exp. College/Last Team Nationality*
First Name Last Name Age Height Position Prev Yrs. Exp. College/Last Team Nationality*
Natasha Cloud 25 6'0 G 2 St. Joseph's (PA) United States
Elena Delle Donne 27 6'5 F 4 Delaware United States
Tianna Hawkins 26 6'3 F 3 Maryland United States
Tayler Hill 26 5'9 G 4 Ohio State United States
Ivory Latta 32 5'6 G 10 North Carolina United States
Emma Meesseman 24 6'4 F/C 4 ESB Villeneueve-d'Ascq (France) Belgium
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt 26 5'10 G/F 4 North Carolina United States
LaToya Sanders 30 6'3 F/C 5 North Carolina Turkey
Jennie Simms 22 6'0 G R Old Dominion United States
Asia Taylor 25 6'1 F 2 Louisville United States
Krystal Thomas 27 6'5 C 5 Duke United States
Kristi Toliver 30 5'7 G 8 Maryland Slovakia
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough 22 5'11 G R Maryland United States

Some takeaways from the roster:

  • This is a veteran team - The average age of the roster is over 26 now. To put things in perspective, Thibault’s first draft class of Emma Meesseman, Tayler Hill, and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt are now entering their fifth season.
  • The Mystics no longer have their 2014 through 2016 first round draft picks. Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, Washington’s 2014 first round picks, and Kahleah Copper, the 2016 first round pick were traded to other teams last year in order to make room for Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver. Ally Malott, the 2015 first round pick was cut during training camp this year.
  • Jennie Simms was the second leading scorer in NCAA women’s college basketball last year for Old Dominion. Thibault has shown time and time again that he’s willing to add second round draft picks on the team and cut more experienced players in the process. For example, Meesseman was a 2013 second round pick and Ruffin-Pratt was an undrafted rookie that same season. Natasha Cloud is a 2015 second round pick. Both players made the roster that year and saw their roles grow ever since. Simms could be the next late draft pick to do the same.
  • The Mystics will have a lot of taller lineups this season - Ivory Latta is listed generously at 5’6 and Kristi Toliver’s 5’7. But the rest of the roster is 5’9 or taller. When you put out a lineup of tall perimeter shooters like a 6’5 Delle Donne, a 6’3 Tianna Hawkins and a 6’4 Meesseman on the floor, that’s going to be a nightmare for defensive posts throughout the league

Questions heading into open day

Can the Mystics play effectively at a fast pace?

There’s a lot of talk about the Mystics being the WNBA’s Golden State Warriors because they have Meesseman, Delle Donne, and Toliver who were three of the four most efficient three point shooters last season. Efficiency is one thing, but attempting shots at a high pace and maintaining a good defense is another.

Last year, Washington was 9th in defensive rating while being 10th in pace. Improving defensive efficiency is a no-brainer expectation, but can they also increase the tempo as well without leaving folks gasping for air, etc.?

Who will step up while Meesseman is gone?

There seems to be an assumption that the Mystics will do just fine without Meesseman, which implies that she’s just “another piece.” But we can’t simply assume that. Meesseman is a very efficient low post and perimeter scorer. She’s also adept at moving without the ball on both ends of the floor. She may not have the scoring stats of an MVP, but it’s very rare when she’s not getting the “little things” done.

For the time being, Tianna Hawkins may be the one who fills in that role. Her scoring per 36 minutes has improved in each of her three seasons in the WNBA from 12.6 ppg per 36 in the 2013 season to 16.1 ppg per 36 in the 2016 season. Hawkins also averaged over 9 rebounds a game per 36 minutes in her two season in a Mystics uniform. The Mystics can certainly use a player who’s able to drain threes (Hawkins made 11 of 22 threes in 2016) and rebound effectively, so this is an opportunity for her to start while Meesseman is gone, and be the first one off the bench once she returns.

Fortunately, the Mystics have played most of training camp without Meesseman so far. However, they only played two preseason games without her, and many of the people who did play were cut before opening day.

Will the returning Mystics continue to play assertively now that Delle Donne’s here?

The Mystics have many players who can be a play distributor this season where each of the top four assisters from the 2016 team (Cloud, Hill, Ruffin-Pratt, and Meesseman) all averaged at least 2.3 a game and return this season. But now, Elena Delle Donne’s in town. Will the returning Mystics players continue to play selfless basketball but still take shots when they’re open?

To this point, the returning Mystics players never had a teammate of Delle Donne’s caliber. Now that they do, they don’t want to fall in a habit of seeing her “go to work” all the time. In fact, Delle Donne indicated that that’s what she doesn’t want to do in Washington.

Will fans be patient as the team acclimates itself?

The Mystics’ fanbase should be excited about the big moves. But they didn’t have all of their top players in camp until last Friday when Meesseman arrived.

Yes, we expect the Mystics to do well this season. And yes, we expect to see the Mystics win a championship with Delle Donne here. And yes, they better make the playoffs this season because 8 out of 12 teams make the postseason.

But let’s also realize that it takes time for this team to gel, especially in the first half of the season while Toliver gets used to playing alongside Delle Donne, and even the second half when Meesseman returns from EuroBasket Women.

How far can this Mystics team realistically go THIS YEAR?

If you ask me right now, I think the Mystics will make the semifinals when they will be in a best of five series, probably against the Lynx or Sparks. But I don’t think they will advance to the Finals this season.

As for their regular season finish, I think the Mystics will end up around fourth place. This will give them a bye in the first round of elimination games, but not enough to earn a bye in the semifinals. I still think that 2017’s the year of the Sparks and Lynx, but if these two teams underperform, the Mystics are in a good position to sneak past them. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see Washington in the Finals this season either.