There’s nothing more exciting than witnessing a team be picked to draft at the top spot in the WNBA Draft. Fortunately for us, the Washington Mystics will pick first in the draft next year.
Mock drafts are already out filled with college seniors and others who may declare for the draft. Most of those mock drafts have the Mystics taking Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard who is averaging 18.3 points per game. And yes, Washington could use more depth at point guard with Natasha Cloud and Leilani Mitchell, especially since Mitchell may not be back this upcoming season.
The point guard position isn’t the only spot they need, however.
The forward and center positions need depth as well. In fact, they’ll have to address this position right away. When the offseason and free agency kick off in February, Washington will have to plead their case as Tina Charles will be an unrestricted free agent and Myisha Hines-Allen will be a restricted free agent. Based on that knowledge, the focus should be on keeping the depth at the post positions. How can they do that?
The Mystics should address the post position by re-signing their current posts and draft NaLyssa Smith
Many may not agree with my proposed direct approach because of whom I think Washington should draft. But the Mystics should re-sign both Charles and Hines-Allen, and draft Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith.
Yes, I said it. They shouldn’t draft Howard and go with Smith instead. While she may not be the consensus No. 1 pick in mock drafts, Smith has slowly won over some analysts this season. The college season is still young.
On to the veterans. Keeping Charles and having her alongside Elena Delle Donne consistently would be amazing unless Charles decides to move on from the Mystics. What she wants most is a WNBA championship, something she doesn’t possess among many of her accolades.
After missing the 2020 season due to a medical exemption, Charles was the WNBA’s scoring champion in 2021 averaging 23.4 points per game, a career-best.
@WNBA leading scorer— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) September 16, 2021
6500+ career points
Second in all-time rebounds
Ten 30+ point games this season
11 double-doubles on the season and the list goes on!
A historic season for a legendary player. @tinacharles31 is our MVP.#TogetherDC #CountIt pic.twitter.com/1868Wde8Ix
The Mystics, however, didn’t make the playoffs, and that could be a major reason why Charles could move on from D.C. But if my proposed “Plan A” works out, Charles would give D.C. another go.
Last, but not least, let’s get to Hines-Allen. She should be re-signed since she has developed into a starting point forward for Washington in the last couple seasons, taking advantage of opponents' defensive schemes. Hines-Allen gives that flare offensively and defensively and can do it all: score, rebound and get to the rim.
General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault made the right decision in keeping the 2018 second-round pick out of Louisville as she’s helped elevate the bench mob. Plus Hines-Allen is 25 and just entering her prime. After a breakout 2020 season, she started in 17 of the 18 games she played in averaging 12.9 points, seven rebounds and almost three assists per game.
What about Emma Meesseman?
I know you’re wondering why I didn’t mention Meesseman to this point. Here’s why.
As I would say in her native Dutch and also in French: Het is tijd om verder te gaan van haar. Il est temps de passer à autre chose.
In other words, it’s time to move on from her.
Meesseman’s overseas obligations and commitments, in particular for the Belgium women’s national basketball team are consistently taking precedent over being with the Mystics despite her love for the team and her teammates.
There’s nothing wrong with Meesseman’s love for her country. We’ve posted on her journey with the Belgian Cats for years, back when they were struggling to make Women’s EuroBasket and supported them along the way, even while knowing that their high finishes often clashed against Washington’s postseason goals. Watching Belgium rise on the European and world stage over the past few years has been a joy to watch as a general fan of hers.
But at this point, Meesseman’s constant absences from the Mystics since 2017 have become a liability. Washington can’t afford to try to keep a spot for an All-Star caliber, even superstar caliber player open, especially when she isn’t able or willing to play here full-time. Otherwise, things can blow up in Washington’s face. In fact, they already have.
In an attempt to bring back most of the 2019 WNBA championship roster, Washington kept hoping that Meesseman would return last year. They did their best to keep a roster spot open until the last minute. They were willing to wait until the Summer Olympics were over to see what Meesseman would do since she was “on the fence” for some time. Ultimately, she chose to skip the season.
Granted, the decision came due to overload as well as a need to rest. And it also came after a Belgian journalist hurled sexist and homophobic insults her way as she returned to Belgium from the Olympics. I get it. Meesseman was personally exhausted after representing Belgium in EuroBasket AND the Olympics in the span of two months. The journalist’s comments didn’t help either, given how shocking and offensive they were.
But we have to take a cold, business-like approach with everyone here, even Meesseman. Her absence left the Mystics holding the bag in 2021 because of it. If Thibault made a quicker decision to NOT sign Meesseman and let her be, they could have focused on other, better players to play at power forward. Nearly every replacement won’t be as good as she is. But the Mystics can also select a very good player who is more likely to be available than she is.
If you are in Thibault’s shoes right now, do you want to wait and see what Meesseman does in 2022 and only get half a season from her? Do you want to risk seeing her skip another full season, especially if Belgium makes the FIBA Women’s World Cup this February in qualifiers? Or do you make the clean break from her now and get another potential star with the Draft?
Even if Belgium misses the World Cup, (which would open up Meesseman’s availability,) I’m picking the latter. It’s better to let Meesseman walk, or likely more accurately, just let her continue her professional career with UMMC in EuroLeague Women and internationally for the Belgian Cats without asking this “will she or won’t she” question every few months.
Before I move on to the next section, I know what I wrote on Meesseman is harsh. But what I wrote must be stated. That doesn’t mean that I’m not appreciative of Meesseman and her accomplishments. I am.
The upcoming FIBA Women’s World Cup qualifier games in D.C. this February will be that chance for all of us to appreciate her when she’s on the court, presumably at ESA, likely for the last time. These games will be one hell of a homecoming for the 2019 Finals MVP. Our site encourages every Mystics fan to attend once those tickets are on sale! She deserves it.
But again, my point stands.
How is Smith doing right now in college and how can she help the Mystics going forward?
Smith is currently averaging 20.5 points and 13.3 rebounds per game for the Baylor Lady Bears. The senior’s biggest game of the season thus far was in a Nov. 21 loss to the Maryland Terrapins where she notched 30 points and 15 rebounds.
Smith can be the help Washington needs in the post. Even if the Mystics can keep both Charles and Hines-Allen, it is unlikely that they can keep Charles long-term, especially if they don’t have a long playoff run in 2022. Therefore, Smith is a better long-term solution. While Hines-Allen has replaced much of Meesseman’s production as a shooter and passer, she still can’t do everything alone, so Smith could also be part of a 1-2 low post punch. And because Smith is an American, there won’t be these constant “will she or won’t she play” issues like Meesseman has.
Finally, adding Smith will give Washington more depth if Delle Donne’s ongoing back injury becomes worse than it seems. That way, the Mystics can have a player who can make an impact right away, but also have another major centerpiece for a rebuild if things don’t go well next season.