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WNBA Draft 2019: What do the Mystics need after coming off a historically great season?

The Washington Mystics head into the 2019 WNBA Draft in an unfamiliar position: As WNBA contenders. That doesn’t mean that Washington shouldn’t do their homework though.

WNBA Finals - Game Two
Ariel Atkins’ breakout rookie season shows that great talent can be found anywhere in the WNBA Draft, not just at the highest position.
Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

The 2019 WNBA Draft will be held this Wednesday, April 10 at Nike’s New York City headquarters. The Draft comes at a rather interesting time in the league’s history. This is because the WNBA still hasn’t named a president or commissioner since Lisa Borders resigned last season and also because the WNBA Players’ Union opted out of the current collective bargaining agreement which began before the 2014 season.

The Mystics will come into this draft on a high note. They are coming off a 22-12 regular season and their first Finals appearance in franchise history and took a big monkey off their backs as the team setting records for WNBA franchise futility. Elena Delle Donne was an MVP contender all season long. Kristi Toliver regained her form from her L.A. Sparks days and made the All-Star team. And 2018 first round draft pick Ariel Atkins made the All-Rookie and All-Defense teams. The latter team is really a major accomplishment because rookies just don’t make these teams regularly.

At first glance, this team doesn’t have too much to worry about ... except trying to beat the Seattle Storm in the 2019 Finals. But as good as the 2018 Mystics were, there were still five teams that won 20 games in the regular season. And on top of that, the

Where are the Mystics strengths?

After a great season, Washington has more strengths than weaknesses. So here are some of them:

Frontcourt depth

Elena Delle Donne has shined brightly as Washington’s starting power forward position. LaToya Sanders has also showed that she can regularly play center despite being lankier than most at her position.

Mike Thibault

There aren’t many head coaches who have hit more than they missed as a general manager. Thibault has done just that. I can’t think of any draft pick he totally whiffed on Ernie Grunfeld style since coming to Washington. Even with drafted players who were traded like 2013 pick Tayler Hill or 2014 picks Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson, the former was meant to give salary cap relief and allow the team to evaluate Aerial Powers more. And in the latter case, Hartley and Dolson were moved so Delle Donne could come to Washington.

Where are their weaknesses and question marks?

The Mystics have some weaknesses and key questions to answer as well. And it’s these things I’m more concerned about.

Presumed reliance on non-American players

The Mystics played at 80 percent strength last year because Emma Meesseman missed last season to rest and prepare for the World Cup with the Belgian national team.

I say with a straight face that she is at EDD’s level right now and will be better than her very soon. But unfortunately, the international calendar Belgium has doesn’t sync with the American WNBA very well.

We’ve praised Meesseman quite a bit over the years, even to a point where some may wonder if Albert Lee and Jake Whitacre are her pen names. But it’s clear that the Mystics could have used Meesseman in the Finals when Delle Donne was coming off a knee injury in the semifinals. And unfortunately, they didn’t have her at a time when they really could.

Is Emma Meesseman willing to be a supporting cast member instead of a central piece?

Piggybacks off the first point. Meesseman has proved over the last couple years that she’s worthy of being a WNBA franchise player thanks to her EuroLeague Women and World Cup performances. Unfortunately, she didn’t hit that level until she missed the 2018 season. Meesseman left the Mystics at just about the worst possible time for her growth in the WNBA.

Meesseman’s departure allowed Delle Donne to replace her and Belgium has been rising on the world stage quite dramatically in the last couple years. Since the WNBA rules aren’t changing for now, it’s why we’ve said suggested that she should be Delle Donne’s backup or even make her available in a trade. If you are from Ieper or Brussels reading this, I get that you think this is blasphemy. And I agree in principle.

But the bottom line is that silly things like making Meesseman a backup is plausible and necessary to consider because of current rules. If she is OK with it (and she historically has been passive), then it’s all good.

But the Meesseman I’ve seen in the last couple years is ready for her time, right now. The Mystics don’t appear to be a team where she and Delle Donne can both be stars. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I see things at the moment.

Age of key players

Elena Delle Donne will be 30-years old later this year. Kristi Toliver is 32 and Sanders will be 33 later in 2019 as well. What that should tell you is that the Mystics’ window for opportunity is very slim, even if they are otherwise projected to contend in 2019.

Yes, Atkins is just entering her second WNBA season. And Meesseman will be 26 in May. While we can assume that Atkins figures to be in Washington’s long-term plans, Meesseman is still probably going to be held back because of her burgundy Belgian and European Union passport. Those issues won’t be solved this year, but rather, next year when a new collective bargaining agreement happens.

Any positions the Mystics should focus on?

I don’t think the Mystics should have an eye for any specific position. They are a deep team right now, but they won’t be in a year or two because a lot of younger teams will be further along by 2020 and 2021. Things can look even worse if Meesseman retires from the WNBA so she can focus just on European professional and the Belgian team after the 2019 season.

Therefore, the Mystics should just pick the best player available and go from there. On Tuesday, we’ll go through our annual review of “Forget About it!”, “Reach” and “Potential Target” picks before Draft Day on Wednesday!