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Mystics season preview: Can Washington bounce back and make a deep playoff run in 2022?

Delle Donne and a new-and-improved roster could propel the team back to title contention. But injury concerns remain

Minnesota Lynx v Washington Mystics
Elena Delle Donne celebrates during a preseason game against the Minnesota Lynx.
Photo by Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images

Just three seasons ago the Washington Mystics were the 2019 WNBA champions. But now, in 2022, the Mystics have an opportunity to be one of the best teams in the league once again. The return of Elena Delle Donne and Alysha Clark from injury, and the emergence of Ariel Atkins (one of the best two-way players in the league) yields a lot of potential for Washington.

What are the Mystics’ strengths this season?

When I see this Mystics team, they are experienced and no player is truly past her prime. Washington brings back several key players from their 2019 championship team. Three starters return from that team: Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins. Several reserves from 2019 like Myisha Hines-Allen, Tianna Hawkins and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough are also back, with Hines-Allen becoming a starter in her own right.

Along with new additions like Alysha Clark, Elizabeth Williams and international star Rui Machida, Washington has the ingredients to make one more deep postseason run before Delle Donne is past her prime. (Albert)

What are their weaknesses?

The injury bug. Washington should have been a postseason team last year due to their talent. However, Delle Donne’s recovery from a back injury was longer than anticipated and Clark missed the season due to a right foot injury. If the Mystics have a deep playoff run, it will be because both are healthy. But if both Delle Donne and Clark miss much of 2022, it could be another lottery-bound season for Mystics fans. (Albert)

Which player(s) are on the “hot seat” this season?

I don’t love putting someone on the hot seat, so instead, I’m going to opt for the term “bounceback.” And it’s an obvious choice.

After opting out of the 2020 season due to health concerns and missing all but three games last year, the Mystics need Delle Donne to play more than just 52 minutes if they want to avoid drafting in the lottery again.

If she can even get to 16 points and eight rebounds per game — well within reach for a player of her caliber — Washington should be golden; the 2019 champions have both offensive and defensive depth this season, so the two-time MVP won’t need to carry the team. (Ian Decker)

The biggest question this season: Can Elena Delle Donne stay healthy?

The Mystics’ greatest adversary will not be what opposing teams attempt to do to them on the court, but rather, it will boil down to sustaining a healthy team during the season.

Delle Donne, who has been limited in training camp and Washington’s preseason games, is already set to miss a string of games to ensure everything stays on track for her recovery following a back injury. When she is on the court, however, you can anticipate her to get out there and do exactly what she does, which is a bit of everything. Many believe Delle Donne will struggle to get into a routine, but it’s been shown before, that the 2019 MVP can return to form quickly after missing extended time.

Washington Mystics Media Day
Elena Delle Donne gearing up for the season.
Photo by Rich Kessler/NBAE via Getty Images

Signature, big-time names such as Atkins, Charles, Delle Donne, and Cloud make the Mystics one of the most feared teams in the WNBA, but it will take the team’s leader in Delle Donne to stay healthy during the season to offer championship aspirations once again. (Alex Walulik)

Regular season prediction

With the WNBA expanding to 36 games per team, I’m going to say the Mystics finish 21-15. I think they will have a successful enough season to make the playoffs, but I think 15 losses is fair for a team that needs everything to go right on the injury front.

Even accounting for possible missed time through injury for Clark, Delle Donne and Hines-Allen, the Mystics should be good enough to make it into the playoffs. I see 21-15 as the most likely outcome. But this could be a 26-win team if everything pans out. On the other end, if the injury bug hits, it could be another season outside the playoffs. (Ian)

I will say a 20-win regular season is in reach, taking into account the 36-game regular season.

Postseason prediction

The new playoff format means the top eight teams based on win percentage qualify for the playoffs, regardless of conference. A 21-15 record would give Washington a 58 percent win percentage, which should place them in the bottom half of the bracket.

And while they might find themselves between the fifth and eighth seed, the Mystics have serious first-round-upset potential. If everything goes right, (and that’s a big if), I can realistically see Mike Thibault and Co. advancing to the semifinals before bowing out. There is a scenario though where Washington gets swept in the first round. (Ian)

I agree with Ian. The Mystics are more likely to finish the regular season as a No. 5 to No. 8 seed, but they have the potential to advance to the semifinals rather easily. A Finals appearance would be nice, but that would also require some luck, like the other teams’ injuries. (Albert)