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Here’s what the Mystics need to make a successful playoff push

The Washington Mystics are 8-10 and eighth in the WNBA. They need some key improvements and possibly a reinforcement to make a deeper run this season. Here are what Tina Charles and Ariel Atkins need to help make that push a successful one.

Connecticut Sun v Washington Mystics
Tina Charles has played at an MVP level for the Washington Mystics this season. But right now, the Mystics are barely in the playoff picture.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Washington Mystics will continue their 2021 WNBA season campaign starting this Sunday against the Las Vegas Aces. They are currently 8-10, or eighth in the WNBA standings. One strong push at the end of the regular season could help them get a Top-6 seed to avoid a first round playoff game. And a slump could just as easily put them in the lottery.

Right now, the Mystics are just 0.5 games behind the Phoenix Mercury and New York Liberty for the No. 6 seed. They are just one game behind the Chicago Sky for the No. 5 seed which is also doable. Washington, however is 3.5 games behind the Minnesota Lynx for the No. 4 seed and a first round bye. It isn’t impossible for Washington to get a Top-4 seed (and they have two games against Minnesota coming up). But with 14 games left in the season, they will need to be on a very strong run while multiple other teams slump just as poorly.

While it won’t be easy for the Mystics to earn a first round bye, they could at least make host the first round, which is preferable to going on the road.

So here are some things the Mystics need to make a strong push:

No. 1: Improved shooting efficiency from the point guard position

Indiana Fever v Washington Mystics
Natasha Cloud has been shooting poorly this season.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Washington’s success this year is heavily predicated on how much center Tina Charles and guard Ariel Atkins are scoring. Their weakness has been at point guard with Natasha Cloud shooting just 33.7 percent from the field overall this season and Leilani Mitchell only shooting 35 percent.

Mitchell’s shooting improved in the Mystics’ last six games before the Olympic break where she shot at least 40 percent from the field in all but one of those games and her three point shooting is now at 37 percent (while making over two threes a game). Cloud’s shooting has also improved after a poor showing in May, but her three point shooting has been at 26.2 percent, a mark she has to improve on in the second half after making at least 32-33 percent of them in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

No. 2: Tina Charles and Ariel Atkins must stay in top form, but Myisha Hines-Allen also has to stay healthy

Connecticut Sun v Washington Mystics
Myisha Hines-Allen averaged 14 points per game when she was available to play this season.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Before this season, the Mystics were envisioning a dynamic frontcourt duo where Charles would play many minutes with Hines-Allen, a 2020 All-WNBA Second Team member. Unfortunately, Hines-Allen missed 10 games, first due to overseas commitments, and most recently, due to a knee injury.

Hines-Allen averaged 14 points and 7.1 rebounds per game this season and will take some of the scoring load off of Charles. Washington also won three of their last four games when Hines-Allen was on the floor right as it began to look like the Mystics were on the verge of making a run at the Top-4 themselves. There’s no doubt that Hines-Allen’s addition alone will be key for another deep Mystics playoff run.

No. 3: Yes, the Mystics can really use Emma Meesseman again.

Washington Mystics v Los Angeles Sparks
Emma Meesseman would be another shot in the arm for Washington if she returns.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

After her strong individual performance for Team Belgium in the 2020 Olympics, Meesseman would be an additional All-Star on the Mystics’ lineup should she return. She hasn’t indicated what direction she would go in since she’s back in Belgium for the time being. This question has been asked in media availabilities over the week and so far, we just don’t know.

If she were to return, Meesseman would presumably be a reserve like she was in 2019 where she would back up the starting power forward (in this year’s case, Hines-Allen). But she will be on the floor in any close-game situation. That said, it’s also possible Meesseman could start from the get go in a bigger lineup where Hines-Allen moves to small forward while Charles remains at the center position.

And a bonus question: Could Elena Delle Donne be a strong performer off the bench?

Atlanta Dream v Washington Mystics
The Elena Delle Donne we see in 2021 probably won’t be the MVP she was two years ago. But that doesn’t mean she won’t be effective.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

In our joint preview with Swish Appeal before the season, Jenn Hatfield of The Next and Her Hoop Stats predicted the following:

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.

Unfortunately for Mystics fans, this prediction is true. Washington pushed back her possible start date throughout this season and Delle Donne’s injury is worse than we thought.

Now that Delle Donne is practicing again and nearing a return to the court, that leads me to this question: If and when she returns, what role is best for Delle Donne?

To me, I’m thinking that she is best utilized as a sixth woman. First, it doesn’t disrupt the current lineup of Charles and Hines-Allen, neither of whom would have their minutes monitored like Delle Donne.

Second, Delle Donne would presumably be one scary sixth woman on the court. Which team has a reserve player as good as EDD? It could give Washington a better chance to manage her minutes or play her in a late game situation considering the minutes restriction she’d have.

And third, if Meesseman doesn’t return to presumably fit this type of role, Delle Donne is the most logical fit.

Assuming Delle Donne returns this season, would you like to see her come off the bench, at least initially? Do you think the Mystics can get Meesseman back? And do you think the Mystics have enough to make a run for the WNBA Finals? Let us know in the comments below.