With about one month left in the 2018 WNBA season, the Mystics are heading into their playoff push. Here are some questions the Mystics face, which we answered below:
What is your favorite win this season?
Diamond Holton: Definitely a tie between games on June 28th vs NY Liberty and July 7th at the Los Angeles Sparks. The game vs the Liberty was very close all around but covering the game watching Elena Delle Donne make the game-winning shot with 0.6 seconds left brought out the true fan in me. Forgot I was a journalist for a moment. Another reason why this is my favorite is because overtime games make me anxious.
The win vs the Sparks was a favorite because it was an unexpected road win and it was Coach/GM Mike Thibault’s 300th career regular-season win.
Jake Whitacre: My favorite win was also the victory in L.A. There were so many times where it felt like the game should have slipped out of their grip, but they kept gutting out big shots to hold on and steal a win most people weren’t expecting them to grab on the road.
Albert Lee: Ditto on the Sparks win.
What is the most impressive part of the season so far?
Jake: The Mystics have shown an impressive resolve in close games. Whether it was the win in L.A., Delle Donne’s game-winner against the Liberty, or keeping it together after blowing that massive lead to Connecticut, they’ve kept their cool in the clutch.
Diamond: Finalizing the starting line-up and also pushing forward despite early injuries was very impressive because it showed a maturing team and heavy leadership potential. With the season having started May 20th, Washington didn’t really get a set starting five until the second or third week in June. It’s pretty evident that EDD, Ariel Atkins, Natasha Cloud, Kristi Toliver, and LaToya Sanders are the starting core for the Mystics. The ability to adjust is remarkable whereas most teams already have their starters set in stone from preseason.
Washington also had some early scares with Delle Donne, Cloud, and Sanders as they were all out for personal reasons/injuries and the team came together to make sure they didn’t crumble and have to climb their way back to the top.
Albert: The Mystics have stayed steady as a Top-4 WNBA team for most of the first half of the season despite losing Emma Meesseman and changing their rotation quite drastically midseason despite no major injuries to the roster. Also, Ariel Atkins has quickly become one of the best rookies this season after being a surprise pick.
I know the Mystics have fallen to seventh in just a week, but let’s also keep in mind how close the teams in the playoff pack are. There shouldn’t be too much room for concern if the Mystics win a couple games in the next week.
What concerns you about the Mystics this season?
Diamond: A major concern I see when it comes to Washington is the lack of playing all four quarters. Washington can come out with heavy momentum in the first half and disappear in the second half OR be missing in the first half and play comeback ball in the second.
It’s very hard to pick out games where Washington consistently played a full game keeping their opponent on their toes or blowing them out. What I have seen is very bad shooting percentage to start off a game, which can be detrimental in the long-run. Straddling between 3rd and 4th place in standings at times and a tough season this year with games being decided by as much as six can really change the course of things.
Albert: The Mystics have yet to have a stable starting rotation that can last for multiple years. Unless the player’s name name is Elena or Kristi, Mike Thibault has quite a bit of a “next man up” mentality where starters can find themselves out of the rotation in a week and vice versa.
On the one hand, players are going to get an opportunity to play. But on the other, Thibault has made significant adjustments to the roster midseason. The best WNBA teams have stable starting lineups and rotations and the Mystics still aren’t at that stage yet. Are they every going to get to that stage?
Jake: The bench is a worry point for me. They’re aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re wildly inconsistent. It’s hard to know what to expect from them on any given night, which puts a lot of pressure on the starters to bring it every game.
Who’s the most improved Mystics player?
Albert: Natasha Cloud - she’s shooting at a career-high percentage this season and earned a starting spot because of it. A close second is LaToya Sanders, who has filled in the center position very well with Emma Meesseman out and Krystal Thomas falling out of favor.
Diamond: Looks a bit CLOUDy in here...oh that’s because Natasha Cloud is in the building. Definitely most improved player hands down, whether it’s her scoring or commanding the floor finding her teammates. She has truly stood out on and off the floor. Just pure energy and determination.
Jake: I’m going to take Ariel Atkins here, even though she’s a rookie. The improvement between what we expected going into this season and what she’s actually delivered has been a huge boon. She’s brought a new dimension to the team that I don’t think anyone was expecting this quickly and it’s played a big part in their surprising success so far.
Who’s the most disappointing Mystics player?
Jake: I‘m a little worried about Tayler Hill. I know she’s coming off an ACL tear, so I’m not expecting her to be at the same form she was last year, but I was hoping for a little more than what we’ve seen so far. I’m not ready to panic yet, but I’m concerned.
Diamond: Krystal Thomas is the biggest disappointment from missed free throws to not finishing in the paint.
After a breakout 2017 season and an excellent 2017-18 season in Turkey for Mersin, Thomas is basically a bench warmer now....literally keeping the seats warm for her other teammates. At the moment Thomas hits the floor it’s really a “oh boy what are we going to get today?” You honestly never know.
Going from a starter to a reserve goes to show Thibault made the right decision and hasn’t been made to regret it yet — especially when you consider that LaToya Sanders has done very well this season.
Albert: A tie between Krystal Thomas and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. Both were starters last year but are reserves this year because neither are reliable scorers. Of the two, TRP is more reliable when she takes a shot, at least from three point range. But still, a center who struggles to make 40 percent of her shots and a wing player who struggles to make 35 percent of her shots aren’t making things easier for their teammates.
How far can the Mystics go in the playoffs?
Albert: I can see the Mystics go to the WNBA semifinals again but I don’t see them winning that series. They would likely be against Seattle (Who they haven’t beaten this season) or Phoenix (who has more seasoned playoff experience). It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Mystics host a second round game and lose to a team like the Sparks or Lynx either.
Jake: The semifinals sound about right. They can steal a game or two from the Storm, Mercury, or Sparks, but I don’t think they could take 3 of 5 from any of them, barring an injury.
Diamond: The Mystics CAN go far. They really can. Despite losing to teams that are above them, I can see them squeak by and MAYBE get into the Finals, but semifinals may be their end game honestly. This season of WNBA teams are very close in records, so just as easily as Washington can make the playoffs, they can also miss the playoffs as well. After all, they lost a number of games this past week.