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Evaluating the Mystics’ backcourt after an excellent 2018 season

WNBA: Finals-Washington Mystics at Seattle Storm Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been awhile since we looked at the Mystics in-depth. After getting some free time, I finally had a chance to give some evaluations on how the players did after an excellent 2018 season. First, let’s get to the backcourt.

Kristi Toliver

Stats: 13.9 ppg, 4.4 apg. Shot 91.8 percent from the free throw line and 36 percent from three (where she also averaged 2.2 threes out of 6.1 attempts per game).

Summary: Toliver had her best season in Washington where she improved her shooting efficiency and her assists from the previous season. This culminated in her second All-Star Game appearance and leading the Mystics to their first ever Finals appearance.

Offseason Plans: Toliver is one of the Wizards’ player development assistant coaches. You’ll see her at the Wizards’ bench at every game this fall and winter.

Natasha Cloud

Stats: 8.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.6 apg. She made 38.6 percent of her three point shots and 43.6 percent from the field.

Summary: Cloud had her best season as a pro in 2018 where she shot a career high 43.6 percent from the field and was a reliable option from three. As a result, she became the Mystics’ starting shooting guard for most of the season in light of Tayler Hill coming back from knee surgery and getting traded soon after. Hopefully, Cloud continues to play this way in 2019 and going forward next season after she signs her sophomore contract.

Offseason Plans: Cloud is still in the United States and it doesn’t look like she will be playing abroad.

Ariel Atkins

Stats: 11.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.1 apg. She made 43.2 percent of her shots and 35.7 of her shots from the three point line.

Summary: Atkins was only the seventh pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft, and some thought the Mystics reached to get her that high. After the season, there’s little doubt that she is the steal of the draft as she became a double digit scorer, filled the Mystics’ needs at a wing position, AND became a WNBA All-Defensive Second Team player in her rookie season. The future is very bright for Atkins indeed.

If A’ja Wilson wasn’t playing, Atkins would have received more love from the national WNBA press. And if this rookie class was weak like the 2017 class, then Atkins may have been Rookie of the Year.

Offseason Plans: Atkins is playing for InvestInTheWest ENEA Gorzow in Poland’s EBLK and EuroCup Women. One of her teammates is 6’4 Belgian center Kyara Linskens, who served as Emma Meesseman’s frontcourt partner (and de-facto bodyguard) in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup. Don’t be surprised to see Atkins learn a few sayings in Dutch before meeting Meesseman for the first time sometime next summer.

Now if only the Polish Machine Marcin Gortat were still on the Wizards.

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt

Stats: 5.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.5 apg. Ruffin-Pratt made 10 starts in 33 appearances.

Summary: TRP was more or less the same player she was for most of her career: A good passer and defender. The only problem is that she’s not a good shooter.

Ruffin Pratt shot just 34.1 percent from the field in 2018 and was often the one player defenses were fine leaving open. TRP did improve her free throw shooting however, where she shot 85.5 percent, well above previous seasons, when she was only about 75 percent, give or take a few points. Ultimately, I think TRP is who she is now. She’s a good athlete and can do most things well on the court. It’s just that she’s not very good at scoring.

Offseason Plans: TRP was a video intern for the Wizards, but isn’t reported to be playing overseas.

Shatori Walker-Kimbrough

Stats: 3 ppg in 19 appearances

Summary: Walker-Kimbrough put up some good numbers if you look at her per 36 minute rates. In fact, she shot 42.9 percent from the floor and probably should have played more minutes if the Mystics were still rebuilding like they were from 2013 to 2016.

But the Mystics are contenders now. And with Natasha Cloud coming into her own and TRP always finding a way to get her minutes as a defender, SWK didn’t get much of a chance to show what she could do. There’s a good chance she’ll be cut next season, or maybe they’ll find an opportunity to trade her to a rebuilding team.

Offseason Plans: Walker-Kimbrough is playing for Aluinvent-DVTK-Miskolc of the NB I/A in Hungary.

Tayler Hill

Stats: 3 ppg in 9 appearances

Summary: Hill was traded to the Wings midseason for Aerial Powers, but here’s her evaluation this past season.

Not good, whether as a Mystic or a Wing.

Hill shot less than 30 percent from the field for both teams and struggled to find rotation time. On the one hand, players have to get back up to speed after injury since Hill tore her ACL midway through the 2017 season. But at the same time, shooting under 30 percent after getting healthy enough to play is a sign that Hill regressed.

In an interview with Ben Standig (who was with The Sports Capitol last Summer), Thibault acknowledged that the backcourt rotation got very deep and Hill was effectively locked out. “There’s some frustration trying to play your way back into some regular minutes. We have the luxury with Ariel and Shatori (Walker-Kimbrough) and Mo Currie and [Tierra Ruffin-Pratt], (Natasha) Cloud and (Kristi) Toliver, we have a pretty deep group,” Thibault said when asked about trading Hill.

As a Wing, Hill still shot under 30 percent from the field despite getting more playing time. And next summer, Hill will have a good chance to start if she’s still in Dallas. Wings guard Skylar Diggins-Smith is pregnant with her first child, so this gives Hill an opportunity to rekindle her 2016 and 2017 form. Hopefully this time, she can actually shoot about 40 percent from the field.

Offseason Plans: Hill is still in the USA based on looking at the Wings’ site on their overseas players. For someone in her situation, she probably should be overseas given how shaky she looked for both D.C. and Dallas.