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2021 in Review: The Mystics look to stay healthy and retool after a disappointing season

2021 was supposed to be another year where the Mystics continued to be a league contender. Instead, key player departures and injuries limited them and they missed the playoffs. Will the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft help them back in contention, or is it time to rebuild?

Washington Mystics v New York Liberty
Ariel Atkins will be a major part of the Mystics’ future, but who else will be with her for the 2022 WNBA season?
Photo by Pamela Costello/NBAE via Getty Images

We are continuing our review of 2021, the year that recently was.

Unlike my review of the Washington Wizards’ 2021 calendar year last weekend, it’s quite easy to review the Mystics. The WNBA season doesn’t overlap into multiple calendar years.

In February 2021, the Mystics saw the departure of several key players from their 2019 WNBA championship team. Aerial Powers signed with the Minnesota Lynx and Tianna Hawkins signed with the Atlanta Dream during free agency. LaToya Sanders initially re-signed, but retired and stayed on as an assistant coach. And Emma Meesseman is no longer playing in the WNBA at this point.

Initially, there was hope that Alysha Clark, the veteran free agent whom they signed to take Powers’ place would be a three-and-D presence. But she missed the entire season due to a Lisfranc injury on her foot. Myisha Hines-Allen came off an All-WNBA Second Team appearance in 2020, and still had a strong season in 2021, but missed nearly half of her games due to injuries of her own. And franchise player Elena Delle Donne would only play three games later that season due to her slow recovery from a back injury she suffered in 2019.

At least Tina Charles did play the entire season, where she would ultimately be named an All-WNBA second team selection after becoming the league’s leading scorer for 2021. And Ariel Atkins had another All-WNBA defensive season and became an even more effective scorer in her own right.

While Charles and Atkins played up to expectations, the injuries that Delle Donne, Hines-Allen and Clark had, as well as the departures or absences of Meesseman and Sanders forced Washington to sign and add players to play more minutes than they otherwise might. Theresa Plaisance, Erica McCall and Megan Gustafson were signed to fill out the frontcourt rotation but ultimately weren’t the “bench mob” type of players that Hawkins and Meesseman were in 2019.

The backcourt play was not efficient either, Atkins aside. Natasha Cloud remained a strong defender but had a very poor shooting start to her season though things turned around toward the end. And other guards like Leilani Mitchell and Sydney Wiese didn’t have the three point shooting punch they had in previous seasons. Shavonte Zellous didn’t provide much of a scoring punch either from her best seasons with the Indiana Fever nearly a decade ago.

Despite the fact that the 2021 Mystics roster was a far cry from its 2019 self, they still had their moments. From June 8 to June 13, they won five of six games. Washington also had a chance to make the playoffs on the final game of the season. But they lost to the Lynx on Sept. 19, giving them a 12-20 record for the year, eliminating their chances for the postseason.

Another major positive moment was that Washington was well-represented in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Charles and Atkins represented the USA who won the Gold Medal. Mitchell represented Australia, And if you want to count Meesseman in this club, she represented Belgium where she was the best all-around individual performer (sorry, Breanna Stewart). While the Australians and Belgians did not medal in Tokyo, they still advanced to the quarterfinals of the tournament where they lost to the top two teams, the USA and Japan, respectively.

Finally, while the Mystics didn’t have a great 2021 season on the court together, there is hope for 2022. Clark will be back from injury. Hopefully, Delle Donne as well. And finally, Washington won the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. While it’s unclear whether Washington intends to keep the pick or trade it (maybe they should get NaLyssa Smith?), one thing is clear. The Mystics won’t be standing pat as they look to retool for next season, where the free agency period is already underway.