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The top moments of the 2017 Mystics season

Washington Mystics v Phoenix Mercury Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Mystics’ 2017 season was huge. Along the way, the team made the WNBA semifinals for the first time since 2002 after missing the playoffs last season.

The 2017 WNBA season had plenty of awards and compelling narratives. Yet, the Mystics never seemed to dominate any particular narrative after “winning the offseason” with Elena Delle Donne’s arrival. That said, this season wasn’t a disappointment at all. In fact, I believe that the 2017 Mystics were a success and are in great position for next year.

So, without further ado, let’s go through some of this season’s top moments!

Krystal Thomas becomes a rebounding machine

Last season, the Mystics appeared set at the center position with Stefanie Dolson and Kia Vaughn holding the fort, but both were traded to the Chicago Sky and New York Liberty respectively to make room for Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver. To replenish the center position, the Mystics signed Krystal Thomas in restricted free agency. But at the time, I wasn’t particularly excited about her arrival from the Seattle Storm. Thomas was an on-again, off-again player at best from her previous teams, so I assumed that Thomas would get a shot to start, but no guarantees.

Thomas proved a lot of people wrong, including me this season as she quickly became the team’s starting center once Emma Meesseman went to EuroBasket in June. Even after Meesseman came back, Thomas kept her starting spot for the rest of the season. The main reason why Thomas was so effective was her rebounding where she averaged 9.6 rebounds a game. It seemed to just improve as the summer went on. From July 16 to August 12, Thomas had seven consecutive games with 10 or more rebounds. She once again finished the regular season grabbing 10 or more rebounds in five of the last six games.

On a team where there is no shortage of high usage players like Meesseman, Delle Donne, and Tayler Hill, there’s no need for Thomas to be a do-it-all post like Brittney Griner, Tina Charles or Sylvia Fowles. The Mystics just needed her to grab rebounds and make some put back buckets. She did that very well this summer.

Though Thomas had a breakout season, the WNBA voters didn’t agree. She only received one vote in the 2017 Most Improved Player race that Sun post Jonquel Jones won. But for the Mystics, Thomas was their most improved player. I’m very happy with her performance this past summer.

Emma Meesseman brings her EuroBasket mentality from Ieper straight to the District

Though Meesseman has been the best Mystics player for most of her professional career, she never took ownership of being a franchise player. Furthermore, she isn’t the “franchise player” for UMMC Ekaterinburg, her team during the winter. In fact, she’s not even a regular starter. So with the American narrative we have, Delle Donne’s arrival, if anything, was a free pass for her to be passive again.

Meesseman’s first four games in the 2017 season seemed to indicate that that was where she was headed. But she left to play for her native Belgium in EuroBasket Women, where something just clicked. Meesseman led Belgium to a bronze medal finish in their first EuroBasket in 10 years. The bronze medal isn’t just the highest finish for the Belgians, they also made the FIBA World Cup for the first time after beating Italy to make the semifinals.

If there’s a game that made the biggest impact on me, it was her performance in a friendly against the Netherlands, her country’s arch rival, though they weren’t in EuroBasket themselves. The Dutch were overmatched in a 95-38 loss, but the game was in Ieper, her hometown in a year when the hometown narrative was in play for many Mystics players in D.C. What caught my eye was that Meesseman came back on the floor to dominate some more in the fourth quarter when Belgium’s 55 point lead dropped to 47. After the game, she took a picture with her grandfather:

When she returned to D.C., Meesseman picked up from where she left off in 2016. She continued to score in craftier ways than I’ve ever seen her do before while averaging a career high 2.8 assists per game.

Meesseman also put the Mystics on her back in a more American way when Delle Donne missed a month due to injury. If there is a signature game she had in Monumental Red, it was her 30 point performance against the Atlanta Dream on July 30 where she gave her best Hakeem Olajuwon and Antawn Jamison impressions.

Though her efficiency went down in the playoffs, Meesseman still shot the ball 12 or more times in all but one of Washington’s five games for those of you who are wondering how much she’s shooting. I think it’s safe for us to say that “passive Emma” was a thing of the past. So let’s see what 2018 brings in store for her.

Shatori Walker-Kimbrough makes the All-Rookie team

The Mystics drafted Walker-Kimbrough sixth overall in this year’s draft. Though she played sparingly early in the season, injuries to Tayler Hill and Natasha Cloud catapulted her to the starting lineup for much of August.

I was most impressed with her performance in the first half of August, when she scored in double digits in three consecutive games. Though the Mystics lost 95-62 to the Sparks on August 16, Walker-Kimbrough was arguably their biggest highlight as she scored a career high 16 points on 7 of 9 shooting. I didn’t expect Walker-Kimbrough to do much in 2017 assuming Hill and Cloud were healthy all season. But thanks to her strong performance in August and a weaker-than-normal draft class at the top, she earned a spot on the All-Rookie Team earlier this week. Walker-Kimbrough is the first Mystics rookie to make the team since Bria Hartley in 2014.

You can watch her highlights as well as the other All-Rookie Team members in the video below:

Elena Delle Donne scores 37 points in OT win over the Storm

Delle Donne had a strong 2017 season, as she averaged 19.7 points and shot a career high 49.4 percent from the field. And she was the Mystics’ lone All-Star in 2017, even though she didn’t play in the game due to injury.

Though Delle Donne was the biggest contributor for the Mystics last summer and scored in double digits in all but one game that she played last summer, we never saw a truly .... EDD-esque game where she willed the Mystics to victory for most of the season.

That changed on September 1 when Washington hosted the Seattle Storm. The Mystics lost five of their last six games heading into the contest. And though they clinched a playoff berth at this point, they were in danger of losing a Top-6 seed which would force them to start the postseason on the road — and perhaps never play a game at Capital One Arena. That would have been a shame considering that Washington was a Top-4 team most of the summer.

The Mystics played a mediocre game for the most part. However, Delle Donne scored a season high 37 points in an overtime victory, while Meesseman added another 27. I would call this game a pivotal moment, because it helped give them momentum heading into the playoffs.

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt closes out the Wings in the first round of the playoffs

Mystics swingman Tierra Ruffin-Pratt is a “lunch pail,” “blue-collar” type of player. She’s an undrafted rookie who let her hard work do the talking. It’s ultimately made her a regular Mystics starter in each of the last few seasons. Though we like TRP’s perimeter defense and rebounding from the wing position, scoring efficiency is her weakest point.

In the first round of the playoffs against the Wings, TRP single-handedly dominated the Wings in a two-minute stretch during the fourth quarter that swung the momentum from Dallas’ to D.C.’s. She only scored four points in that run, but her defense and grit played equally important roles to give the Mystics their first playoff series win since 2002, even if this was a single elimination game.

Kristi Toliver drains a WNBA high nine three-pointers to send the Mystics to the semifinals

The Mystics lost the regular season series to the Liberty, 2-1. And let’s also add that Toliver’s predecessor and Mystics fan favorite Bria Hartley outplayed Toliver in most of their head to head match ups this season.

Hartley scored 15 points for the Libs in the playoff game. And she played the Mystics very well this season, which I could write a post about on its own. Except that ... she’s not in Monumental Red anymore.

But the Mystics got Toliver for big game moments like the playoffs. And she got the last laugh in 2017 with her 32 point performance to lead the Mystics to an 82-68 win AND the WNBA Semifinals.

The Mystics are effectively the 2017 WNBA Eastern Conference Champions

The WNBA Playoffs has usually went with the traditional Eastern vs. Western Conference format. However, since 2016, the playoff format has changed so teams are seeded based on overall record instead of their record within a conference. At any rate, the Mystics headed into 2017 without a single Eastern Conference championship or WNBA Finals appearance. In fact, they’re the only WNBA franchise without a Finals appearance.

After 2017, the Mystics remain as the only WNBA team without a Finals appearance. However, they were the only Eastern Conference team remaining in the semifinals. I don’t think they should put up a banner for it, but the Mystics were effectively the 2017 Eastern Conference Champions when you think about it. For a team that hasn’t had much success, I think that’s something the Mystics can take pride in as they head toward the 2018 season.

Thank yous!

Whether you were following the ride all season, or just peeked in from time to time, thank you for supporting the Mystics in the 2017 season. It was a successful campaign, and the future looks bright for next year.

Also, a special thank you to Elle Ward, who spent countless hours watching games during the offseason, and sometimes doing “double-duty” when EuroBasket was happening during the early part of the Mystics season. And thank you to Jake Whitacre, Mike Sykes, Lyndie Wood, and Mitch Northam for contributing team updates and collaborating with me.