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What Kiara Leslie and Sam Fuehring’s additions mean for the Mystics this season

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The Mystics didn’t make big splashes on draft night. But their additions show what Washington hopes to do in 2019.

NCAA Womens Basketball: ACC Tournament NC State vs Louisville
Yes, Sam Fuehring is the player on the left of this photo.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Mystics drafted Kiara Leslie with the 10th pick and Sam Fuehring with the 34th pick of the 2019 WNBA Draft. Washington didn’t make any splashes on Draft Night. But they didn’t have to. The Mystics are returning the bulk of a team that made last year’s WNBA Finals and has a window of opportunity to win it all within the next couple seasons. Here’s what their additions mean for Washington this season.

Mike Thibault really values 3-and-D with his wing players

The Mystics return WNBA All-Defensive Team guard Ariel Atkins this season, but they still lost Monique Currie who retired and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt who signed with the Los Angeles Sparks in free agency. The wing was a position where Washington was likely looking at.

Leslie is an All-Defensive Team selection for the ACC and also shot nearly 40 percent from the three-point line last season. Yes, her strengths do overlap with Atkins’. But Washington can certainly use more players on the wing who are strong perimeter defenders and shooters. Perhaps she could provide more of a spark on offense than TRP, who didn’t shoot 40 percent from the field in any of her six WNBA seasons.

The Mystics may be wary of drafting non-Americans

Alanna Smith was already picked, but nearly every other significant non-American was available when it was Washington’s turn to pick. Some pegged a player like Han Xu as their selection. At first glance, that makes sense. Emma Meesseman became an All-Star in Washington. Thibault also played a significant role getting French star Sandrine Gruda to the Connecticut Sun earlier in his coaching career.

But you have to also realize that drafting non-American players is risky because of international team commitments. They already will lose Meesseman and Kim Mestdagh to the Belgian national team for Women’s EuroBasket, so we may have a situation like in 2017 when the Mystics that season were three different teams depending on whether Elena Delle Donne was healthy and/or if Meesseman was stateside.

Inevitably, I’m going to sound like I’m against non-Americans getting on WNBA teams though I also appreciate their contributions to the game. However, until the WNBA schedule makes itself more accommodating to international team tournaments in the summer, there isn’t much incentive for most non-Americans to play in the WNBA unless they’re from a country that doesn’t figure to be in a continental tournament. That is one of the reasons why Meesseman was able to come to Washington and develop over several years.

Though I want to see more non-Americans in the WNBA, I don’t think the Mystics should add any more non-American players because of disruptions, especially when the team is now a legitimate contender. That is until the rules change which I’ve said repeatedly for a couple years now.

Fuehring may not make the opening day roster, but she could be a call-up during Women’s EuroBasket

My point on international continental tournaments was a nice segue to this point on Fuehring who was the third to last pick in the draft. Third round picks are generally nothing more than training camp fodder since their chances of making the final roster is just very small. There are only 11 or 12 players on a WNBA team and with most of the Mystics returning, including Meesseman, there just isn’t much room for young players to make the opening day roster, especially those drafted outside of the first round.

In all likelihood, Fuehring will be cut before opening day assuming Meesseman comes to training camp which is doubtful. But if Meesseman doesn’t come to camp, it opens the path for Fuehring to take that roster spot for the time being.

The Mystics chose not to replace Meesseman with another player in 2017 when she was away for EuroBasket. But injuries and other things can happen so it’s always good to have someone who is familiar with Washington’s schemes when these things happen.