Last Saturday, I wrote a column on Swish Appeal about why each of the then-five remaining WNBA playoff teams had a chance to defeat the Washington Mystics in the playoffs. In fact, it isn’t completely unreasonable to make a case why some teams, especially the Connecticut Sun, Los Angeles Sparks and/or Las Vegas Aces could beat Washington in a five-game series.
That’s because all of the teams in the Top-6 of the regular season standings won at least once against the Mystics. So let’s look at the Aces in particular and see which teams have the advantage in various areas and determine whether Washington is in position to get to the Finals for a second straight year.
Backcourt advantage: Mystics, but slightly
The Mystics’ starting backcourt rotation of Kristi Toliver, Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud is formidable, but the Aces’ backcourt attack of Jackie Young, Kelsey Plum and Kayla McBride is scary too!
Ultimately, the Mystics have an advantage here since Atkins and Cloud were named to the All-Defensive team. They should keep Vegas’ scorers under control.
Frontcourt advantage: Even
The Mystics’ strength is at the frontcourt with Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman. However, the Aces neutralize that advantage. A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage have figured out their chemistry first and both average over 32 combined points per game. Meesseman has recently rejoined Washington’s starting lineup while Washington kept winning game after game.
Flip a coin when it comes to the frontcourt.
Star power: Aces
The term “star power” has less to do with talent and more to do with with the perception and coverage of players. Players from big name colleges like UConn get more coverage on the national WNBA level. And top overall draft picks get more coverage. Teams with more national WNBA coverage and awareness seem to get more favorable calls by the referees.
I have said time and time again over the years that the Mystics have a systemic star power disadvantage compared to their record. This is due to their lack of top overall draft picks.
The Mystics had to build around Emma Meesseman, their diamond-in-the-rough second round draft pick from 2013-16. Washington then traded for Delle Donne in exchange for some of their assets before the 2017 season.
The Aces have three consecutive number one draft picks in guard Kelsey Plum (2017), forward A’ja Wilson (2018) and guard Jackie Young (2019). They traded for 2018 All-WNBA first team center Liz Cambage before the start of this season.
There’s a reason why the Aces have the most merchandise sales in the WNBA. Yes, selling their gear throughout the Mandalay Bay Casino helps. But Las Vegas also has multiple household names, at least among WNBA fans.
The Mystics only have one superstar name in Delle Donne based on coverage and awareness. That should change with time if Washington continues to play like they have this season. But it’s still evident that Las Vegas and their players have more star power than Washington.
Reserves and Depth: Mystics
It remains to be seen whether Meesseman stays in the starting lineup or goes back to the bench. But even if she doesn’t come off the bench, the Mystics still have strong lineups throughout their entire rotation.
As great as Sixth Woman of the Year (and Chicago Sky killer) Dearica Hamby has been, the Mystics’ unit of Aerial Powers, Tianna Hawkins and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough show how deep the Mystics truly are.
Let’s just say that the Mystics weren’t favored to win the WNBA championship this year in the preseason. And Washington punches above their weight pretty much every year.
MOVING ON ...
Who wins? MYSTICS IN FOUR
I believe that the Aces have more talent than the Mystics as a whole. Las Vegas is winning a championship as constructed sooner rather than later.
However, the Mystics are just a better unit together right now. They won 16 of their last 18 regular season games and play seamlessly as one unit whether the starters are playing or the bench because of their depth. Washington has mastered the art of an efficient offense this season. They will give the WNBA-leading Aces defense fits more fits than vice-versa.
I don’t think the Mystics will sweep the Aces, but they shouldn’t have too much trouble getting the WNBA Finals for a second straight season. Washington in four!