This is the second part of a multi-site Washington Mystics 2021 season preview. If you are wondering where the first part was, it was published on Swish Appeal, SB Nation’s women’s basketball blog yesterday, but it was laid out on BF as well.
We had a panel of four writers who regularly write about the Mystics from four different sites: Zack Ward from Swish Appeal; Jenn Hatfield from The Next and Her Hoop Stats; Stéphanie Lahaye from Swish Swish in Belgium; and I represented our site.
In this part, we will focus primarily on predictions for the team and what things may make or break the season. Thanks, and we hope you enjoy the preview!
5. We talked about best and worst-case scenarios in Part One yesterday. So how well do you think the Mystics will actually do this season?
Steph: I see them losing in the semifinals. This year’s group is very good but I think some teams like the Lynx, Sky and Aces have strengthened so much in the offseason that it will be difficult to do better than them. Though I said it will be difficult for Washington to make the Finals, it will not be impossible.
Jenn: This is really hard to predict without knowing when (or if) Delle Donne will return and if she will look like her old self, not to mention whether Emma Meesseman will join the team after the Olympics. But assuming that Delle Donne is able to play most of the season, I’ll say the Mystics finish between third and fifth in the regular season and lose in a hard-fought semifinal series.
Zack: I think they will lose to the Aces in the Finals. I’m really torn between the Mystics and Sky as far as who will make the Finals. I think the Mystics will win that semifinals series, but that the Aces will take the trophy.
We saw Liz Cambage and A’ja Wilson combine for 49 points against the Mystics in Game 3 of the 2019 semifinals as they forced a Game 4. I think the additions that the Aces have made since then will allow them to take three games instead of just one, even without Angel McCoughtry, who very recently tore her ACL and meniscus in the preseason.
Albert: I think the Mystics will make the Finals despite finishing fourth or even fifth in the regular season standings. But I believe they will lose to the Aces for the same reasons as Zack indicated. While Myisha Hines-Allen has taken her game up to an All-WNBA level last season, she now has to compete for playing time with Delle Donne and Tina Charles. How are they all going to coexist and stay happy with playing time?
Finally, as Jenn stated earlier, another big wildcard is whether Meesseman returns to Washington. Given her recent absences and the Mystics’ moves to shore up the frontcourt without her, I really haven’t thought much about Meesseman being on this season’s team to be quite honest.
6. What factors or events (besides injuries) could make or break the Mystics’ 2021 season?
Zack: How will Hines-Allen coexist with Delle Donne and Charles? Hines-Allen had a complete offensive game last year and put up incredible numbers. Louisville fans probably weren’t surprised, but she took the league by storm.
Can she duplicate that success in her second year as a key player for the Mystics? If she can, the Mystics will have a legit big three (or big four with Meesseman). If she doesn’t, the Mystics may not have enough firepower to compete with the other superteams.
Hines-Allen has Charles’ physicality and rebounding prowess and Delle Donne’s ball-handling, driving and 3-point shooting abilities. She really is the best of both worlds, though she is only 6-foot-1. And I think Delle Donne and Charles will be excited to play with her and that the trio will form great chemistry.
Jenn: Whether Meesseman joins the Mystics after the Olympics will be pivotal. It’s rare for a team to add a player of her caliber midseason, and she could instantly make the Mystics dangerously under-seeded in the playoffs and a title favorite.
Looking just at the current roster, bench play will also be a crucial factor, as I mentioned earlier. Can the Mystics find bench players who can contribute on both ends of the court, so Thibault doesn’t have to sacrifice shooting for defense or vice versa when a starter needs a breather? One player in particular who I’ll be watching is Kiara Leslie: After being her Russian team’s go-to scorer this offseason, can she contribute more on offense for the Mystics to complement her already excellent defense?
Steph: As Jenn said, I can only mention the arrival of Emma after the Olympics. She was called “the missing piece” for a reason. It doesn’t seem impossible to me because if she really didn’t want to come back this season, she would have already said so. We’ll have to see how she feels physically after Tokyo. But Emma enjoyed her time with the Mystics to this point very much and would, I think, be sad not to play this season.
Albert: Zack mentioned that the frontcourt’s long-term success will largely depend on how Myisha Hines-Allen performs. But I’m going to take this one step further: How will Hines-Allen do before the Olympic Break?
I’m not entirely sure if Hines-Allen will start as part of a big lineup with Delle Donne and Charles, or if she plays as a sixth woman in a role like Meesseman did in 2019. If Hines-Allen can score and rebound at a level like she did last season (17 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists per game in 2020), regardless of whether she starts or comes off the bench, there’s a good chance that the Mystics could be among the Top-4 teams in the WNBA, if not better.
We’ve mentioned Meesseman a lot in our roundtable, so I’ll give the “hot take” here: if Hines-Allen performs at a high enough level, and assuming Delle Donne and Charles aren’t sidelined due to injuries, Washington may not need Meesseman for the post-Olympic Break schedule.
7. What are three of your season predictions during the Mystics season? (These can be on or off the court-related.)
- Elena Delle Donne’s back will be an issue for the Mystics all season, whether it’s that she is on a minutes restriction, sits out of games every so often, or simply isn’t quite as efficient as she normally is. I hope we’ll see her at 100 percent at some point this season, but herniated discs and stenosis are no joke.
- Ariel Atkins will break through after three straight second-team All-Defense nods and get named to the first team this year. Two of the other starters (Cloud and Charles) have also earned WNBA recognition for their defense, so once this Mystics team gels, it could be scary defensively.
- As they have done in previous seasons, the Mystics players will hold at least one media blackout this season to bring attention to gun violence, racial inequity or other causes close to their hearts. The Mystics were at the forefront of social justice conversations in 2020, and many of their players have a history of activism, most notably Cloud, Charles and Atkins. They will definitely not be silent in 2021; the only question is how they decide to make themselves heard.
- Emma returns after the Olympic Games and she will return to the Mystics!
- Kiara Leslie will have a breakout season after her strong showing in Russia (11.7 points and 4.3 rebounds per game for Nika Syktvkar of the Russian PBL). I don’t want to go so far as to say that Leslie will be the Most Improved Player of the 2021 WNBA season. But I see her getting into the conversation since Washington’s wing and backcourt rotation isn’t as deep as their frontcourt.
- Mike Thibault will give more responsibilities to his son Eric, the associate head coach to groom him for the head coaching position. Eric has effectively been the head coach in waiting and interviewed for other head coaching jobs. Mike has already accomplished everything he needed for his head coaching career from drafting top prospects for two different franchises to winning a title very recently, so that transition may be happening sooner rather than later.
- Natasha Cloud will average over six assists per game. She was on the rise in 2019, averaging 5.6. The starting lineup will need her to do a lot of distributing with nobody else who does a lot of it. It’s hard to put up big assist numbers, but I think Cloud will get past the six-per-game threshold this year, taking a step forward from 2019.
- Shavonte Zellous will have a resurgence. She’s 34 years old, but look for her to improve upon her four points per game in 2019 for a Mystics team that may need just one more scoring option in its rotation. Zellous averaged at least eight points in each of the six seasons prior to 2019 with a career-best of 14.7 in her All-Star season of 2013.
- Emma Meesseman will not go on any exotic animal-finding adventures in the DMV area. I think she left those adventures in the Wubble and probably isn’t thinking about it anymore. It was a great, light-hearted side story while it lasted, though it scared some of her teammates.
- Emma Meesseman will return to the WNBA in 2021. But I find it hard to see her returning to the Mystics. I’m optimistic that Hines-Allen will answer the bell and grow into her own as Washington’s next star post player. If Delle Donne and Charles are also healthy and playing at a high level, I don’t think there’s a need for Meesseman, even though it appears that they may have the cap space to sign her. That said, she will be an unrestricted free agent and multiple playoff-caliber teams will want to get her. That said, if Delle Donne has lingering back injury issues this summer, I may very well be eating my words on this one.
- Myisha Hines-Allen will be an All-Star and a game this season seems likely. This sounds bold, but I think she will be the leading scorer of the team. This is partly because it’s unclear whether Delle Donne can play a full season due to her back. And also because it’s unclear how Charles will fit into this Washington team. Finally, she was Washington’s leading scorer in the 2020 season.
- The Mystics will be invited to the White House this season by U.S. President Joe Biden. The Mystics couldn’t visit last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. But also, it was unlikely that then-U.S. President Donald Trump would invite them or any WNBA champion. But President Biden is from the State of Delaware like Delle Donne and Cloud has openly asked him to invite the team. The Mystics play in the nation’s capital, so why not?
A big thank you to/Un grand merci à/Een grote dank aan Zack, Jenn and Stéphanie for being part of this season preview with perspectives from both sides of the Atlantic. Do you agree or disagree with the predictions or our analysis from yesterday in part one? Let us know in the comments below.