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Breanna Stewart’s injury makes contending for a championship easier for the Mystics, but not by much

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The WNBA is reeling over the Seattle Storm forward’s Achilles injury. While the Mystics have a clearer path to a title, they also aren’t runaway favorites.

WNBA Finals - Game Three
Elena Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics don’t have an open path to cakewalk to the WNBA championship this year.
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

On Tuesday, it was confirmed that Seattle Storm Breanna Stewart tore her Achilles tendon in the EuroLeague Women Finals. There are many takes to write on the impact of Stewart’s injury specifically, whether it’s the WNBA pay disparity or the inflexibility of European vs. American calendars. But the injury has a big impact on the Mystics specifically.

Last year, the Storm swept the Mystics in the 2018 WNBA Finals with Stewart winning the FInals MVP award. I thought the Storm were the next dynasty in the making and that they arrived a year ahead of schedule. Though I still believe the Mystics’ window to win a championship was open, it was never as open as the Storm’s, and the talent disparity between Washington and Seattle was likely going to increase this season.

Now with this news, the Mystics are in a better spot to win the championship by default. But what stands in their way? It’s a combination of other teams’ improvement and some uncertainties within the Mystics themselves. Let’s go over them here.

Are the Mystics favorites to win the 2019 WNBA Finals?

I don’t think they are the singular favorites like the Storm would have been if Stewart was healthy to start the season. But the Mystics have a better shot to win it now than they did before the injury. So, they are going to be the favorites by a fair number of pundits.

Which other teams have a shot to win the WNBA Finals?

There will be no shortage of teams that can win it all besides Washington.

  • Atlanta Dream - The Dream were 23-11 last season and have one of the top guards in the league in Tiffany Hayes. Washington played Atlanta in the WNBA semifinals last year and won the series 3-2.
  • Connecticut Sun - The Sun are coming off consecutive 21-win seasons. Unfortunately, they haven’t advanced to the semifinals yet but their roster is still quite young.
  • Los Angeles Sparks - The Sparks were 19-15 last season, but they are still bringing back All-Stars Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray. If they win the Liz Cambage trade sweepstakes, then they could be the top team in the league if new head coach Derek Fisher can hit the ground running.
  • Phoenix Mercury - The Mercury have advanced to three consecutive semifinals appearances with Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner since the WNBA switched its playoff format. Some will make them the favorites this season.
  • Las Vegas Aces - A’ja Wilson and Kayla McBride now have a year of experience together and they hopefully won’t have mass international absences to start the season which is largely why they missed the playoffs last year. This team has the talent to contend sooner rather than later so it will be interesting to see if that can happen ahead of schedule.

Besides injury, what could set Washington back?

We can’t simply assume that the Mystics will pick up from where they left off last year. Here are some things that could hamper them this summer.

  • Emma Meesseman doesn’t develop chemistry or get on the same page with this year’s Mystics team - The Mystics team Meesseman enters in 2019 won’t view her as an essential piece like the 2014 through 2016 (or even 2017) Mystics teams did. Players have egos and pride. So you have to wonder how possibly being relegated to a smaller role would be like when Meesseman clearly improved herself by a lot. It’s not like Delle Donne or LaToya Sanders are just going to hand their starting spots to her.
  • Natasha Cloud’s shooting regresses - Cloud shot a career-high 43 percent from the field in 2018 as she ultimately became the team’s starting shooting guard alongside Kristi Toliver. However, Cloud never shot above 35 percent in each of her three previous seasons. Will she continue to shoot at her 2018 rate or not?
  • Ariel Atkins has a sophomore slump - Atkins averaged 11.3 points a game and was named to the All-Defense team as a rookie. That’s awesome. But if she thinks this season will be easier, Atkins could find herself take a step back.