The Washington Mystics won the 2019 WNBA championship just over one month ago and will look to defend that title next summer. Before taking a look at individual players, free agents, all that good stuff, let’s look at the Mystics’ internal and external situation through a tool many business owners use before making a strategic decision: a SWOT analysis.
What is a SWOT Analysis?
A SWOT analysis is a strategic plan that revolves around these four areas of an organization, in this case, the Mystics?
- Strengths — What advantages do the Mystics inherently have that help them against other WNBA?
- Weaknesses — What things do the Mystics inherently lack compared to other WNBA teams that put them at a disadvantage?
- Opportunities — Which external factors around the women’s basketball world help the Mystics?
- Threats — Which external factors around the women’s basketball world hurt the Mystics’ opportunity to win in the future?
The ideas that inspired SWOT were created by Albert Humphrey, a consultant who worked for the Stanford Research Institute, now known as SRI International. The analysis was originally called SOFT, but it’s now known as SWOT today.
What inspired me to write a SWOT Analysis on the Mystics?
Several years ago, I read a FanPost on Golden State of Mind on a SWOT Analysis after the 2016-17 NBA season after the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Finals. So let’s apply these same business principles to the Mystics.
When your team wins the WNBA championship, you should have a lot of strengths! Here are the top 3:
Strong, stable front office and ownership — Mike Thibault has been the Mystics’ General Manager and Head Coach since the 2013 season.
Players have come and gone. Records have gone up and down, but the Mystics were never truly terrible in any season he coached them. In other words, mediocrity is a floor, not a ceiling. Washington has averaged 22 wins per season in the last three years where they advanced to the WNBA Semifinals of further.
Ted Leonsis has also provided the Mystics with any and all resources needed to win and foster a positive environment that Thibault created. Perhaps some of these things helped inspire the creation of Monumental Basketball last summer.
High-powered offense — Washington’s pass-and-three-point-shooting friendly offense was the best in the WNBA last season.
Players who wear D.C. on their sleeves — This can be a post in and of itself, so I’ll just write quickly on three players.
Elena Delle Donne has been the Mystics’ franchise player since she arrived in 2017 and has embraced the D.C. area as her home. She’s also from nearby Delaware.
Kristi Toliver is from the general region as well where Harrisonburg, Va. is her hometown and went to college at Maryland before signing with the team in 2017. She is also an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards.
Natasha Cloud has developed into one of the best perimeter defenders in the WNBA and has also embraced being part of the D.C. community. Cloud was drafted by the team in 2015.
There are some internal pitfalls within the Mystics’ roster. So let’s take a look at them.
Delle Donne’s injury history — She may be the defending WNBA MVP, but she has also missed regular season games in every professional season she’s played. If she misses significant time in 2020 and if Emma Meesseman doesn’t return, Washington could have some rough stretches.
Limited salary cap space, once Delle Donne and Toliver are re-signed — The Mystics have approximately $528,362 in committed salaries for the 2020 season according to Howard Megdal of High Post Hoops. However, Delle Donne, Toliver and WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman are facing unrestricted free agency.
Since all three are on max or near-max level contracts, the team will have very little room with a salary cap of about $1 million after signing Delle Donne and Toliver to another near-max level extension. I’ll get to Meesseman in future sections.
Aging starters — Delle Donne is 30 years old, Toliver will be 33 next season and starting center LaToya Sanders will be 34 next season. Age is the downfall for any team’s core and that will be no different for the Mystics at some point.
There are things happening outside the Mystics’ control which they can use to their advantage.
Skylar Diggins-Smith’s impasse with the Dallas Wings — The Dallas Wings point guard recently voiced her displeasure, possibly with the Wings’ lack of support to her during her pregnancy. Ultimately, childbirth and postpartum depression caused her to miss the 2019 WNBA season.
Having no support from your own organization is unfortunate— Skylar Diggins-Smith (@SkyDigg4) October 18, 2019
She is an unrestricted free agent (barring getting cored) and could be a boost to Washington’s backcourt. However, would that ruffle Toliver’s feathers? And would that cost Washington Ariel Atkins, their top young prospect?
Breanna Stewart not being in near-MVP form after healing from Achilles injury — As Wizards fans, we understand what the Seattle Storm and Stewie are going through. But the 2018 WNBA MVP’s injury, played a significant part helping Washington win the championship. If Stewart doesn’t return to a level relatively close to her pre-Achilles injury self, it allows Washington to keep dominating the way they did last year.
An international-friendly WNBA CBA — Most of the talk around the WNBA CBA has focused around player pay and travel benefits. All good things.
But for the Mystics, it would be huge if they can have a CBA that respects the international, especially the European calendar, more. If the CBA includes sanctioned breaks for all international teams, USA, Belgium or otherwise can help retain Meesseman and Kim Mestdagh. It could help the Mystics attract more European stars, since they already have a track record with Meesseman and her development stateside.
Ultimately, if the new CBA is international-friendly and Meesseman re-signs with Washington, it will allow the Mystics to go all-in with her as the franchise player. Meesseman will be just entering her prime next season when she will be just ... 27 years old!
We could also start talking about the Mystics as a ... DYNASTY!
The Mystics should be among the league contenders in 2020. But there are things outside of their control that can hurt them. As the champions, there will certainly be plenty of threats. And yes, I’ll focus more on threats more than any other section because they are the things that keep me up at night as a Mystics fan.
The Belgium women’s national basketball team’s rise — As an objective observer, the Belgian Cats are easy to support. They have quickly risen on the world stage and could make the Olympics next February.
But as a Mystics stakeholder, this team is why Meesseman can’t be positioned as a franchise player, no matter how good she ultimately becomes. Don’t blame the Belgians for it, though. The WNBA CBA and the monetary landscape created these conditions, and the Mystics just happened to be a team where a European played a foundational part in their success.
If the CBA stays close to what it is next season in regard to the international calendar AND the Belgians make the Olympics, it won’t be good for Washington’s 2020 championship hopes.
It’s very possible, if not likely that Meesseman won’t play in the WNBA in 2020. Since Mestdagh’s father, Philip is the head coach of Belgium’s team, you can almost definitely say that Kim wouldn’t return either.
Eric Thibault gets hired to be a head coach somewhere else — The Mystics’ coaching staff has remained together since 2013. But at some point, good things have to come to an end.
Associate Head Coach Eric Thibault has interviewed for head coaching positions before, including the Dallas Wings’ vacancy last year before Brian Agler took it. The New York Liberty have a vacancy at the moment and could be looking at him. If Thibault takes the position, the Mystics have to replace him and that can affect chemistry more than some might think.
A new CBA removes the core designation and another team lures Meesseman with a promise to be a more featured player — It kind of goes without saying that Meesseman is the Mystics’ most valuable building block given her age and ability. Assuming the core player designation remains for 2020, Washington should core her. This is so it eliminates the possibility of her signing with another team, regardless of how international-friendly the league is with the next CBA. That’s even if Meesseman decides to skip the 2020 season or worse.
Let’s say the next WNBA CBA removes the core designation. Even though Delle Donne and Toliver would enter unrestricted free agency, I just don’t see them signing elsewhere given the mutual love and investment they have with D.C.
But for Meesseman, she’s seen a reduction in her role right as she entered her prime. If there’s a WNBA team that offers her a chance to be a more highly-featured player, even taking her pending European tournament absences into account, what if she takes the team up on that offer?
That would hurt Washington. A lot.
I don’t think Meesseman is one to just sign with another WNBA team. But it’s still possible.
Other WNBA contenders keep improving — The Connecticut Sun made the Finals last year and should return most of their core which consists of a younger unit than Washington’s. If “run it back” worked great for the 2019 Mystics, it can for the Sun as well in 2020.
The Las Vegas Aces were also the preseason favorites last season. Their starting frontcourt of Liz Cambage (assuming she plays all of the 2020 season despite being Australian) and A’ja Wilson will be stronger than ever.
The Storm will get Stewart and Sue Bird back barring injury setbacks. If they were healthy in 2019, the Storm would have probably won the title again, at least on paper. Are they ready to do it again in 2020?
And the Minnesota Lynx should be getting Maya Moore back to pair up with Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier. Could they be headed for a new era of contention?
The Mystics are going to have a target on their backs next year, and teams will improve organically and/or stock up on talent to make a run at them.
There are certainly many more strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats the Mystics face than these. Which ones are you most pleased (or worried) about? Let us know in the comments below!