What a difference a year makes. The Washington Mystics won the 2019 WNBA title with arguably the most dominant offense in basketball history and an average defense. This year, they’re missing key players and they’ve slipped to below average on both ends.
Before digging into the team’s current struggles, let’s take a moment to savor what the Mystics did in 2019. The team’s offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) was 115.9 — the highest mark in WNBA history. Washington’s offense was 15.0 points per 100 possessions better than league average, the best relative offensive rating in WNBA history by nearly four points per 100 possessions and better than the best relative offensive rating in NBA history by nearly five points per 100 possessions.
The team’s scoring margin was +12.0 per game, which is comparable to the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (+12.2). The 2019 Mystics were great.
Last season, the entire rotation rated above average in my PPA metric. Per possession, the Mystics had the league’s two most productive players (league MVP Elena Delle Donne followed by Emma Meesseman), three of the top 10 (Kristi Toliver was 8th) and six of the top 20 (Aerial Powers, Tianna Hawkins and Ariel Atkins).
This season, without Delle Donne and Toliver, the offense cratered from all-time great to below average and the defense fell from about average to below average. Highly productive returnees like Meesseman, Powers, Hawkins and Atkins haven’t been as good this season.
Myisha Hines-Allen, now in her third season with the Mystics, is a bright spot. She was below average in a bench role last season but has grown into a solidly above average contributor as a starter in 2020.
Meesseman’s drop in offensive production has been a huge factor in the team’s struggles this season. She’s been unable to make shots and her per possession turnovers doubled. Her ortg fell from an excellent 121 on 23.2% usage to a below average 99 on 22.7% usage.
The Mystics would seem to have few options for resolving their troubles this season. They lost the league MVP (Delle Donne) and another of their most productive players (Toliver) and that kind of talent drain would hurt any team. Returning players, who were terrific last season, appear to be struggling with expanded responsibilities this season.
Player Production Average (PPA) is my overall production metric. PPA is pace neutral, includes a “degree of difficulty” factor and accounts for defense. The metric credits players for things they do that help a team win (scoring, rebounding, play-making, defending) and debits them for things that hurt (missed shots, turnovers, fouling, bad defense).
Delle Donne, who’s missing this season due to coronavirus concerns (and officially, a back injury), had a league-best PPA of 262 last season. Toliver, who signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Sparks and then decided to sit out the season because of COVID-19 concerns, posted a 169.
Mystics 2020 PPA