The Washington Mystics lost their first round playoff series to the Seattle Storm yesterday, two games to nil. After a 21-15 regular season, they were tied with the Storm but lost due to a tiebreaker.
There are some good things to takeaway from this season. First, Shakira Austin, their first round pick, exceeded expectations. Most didn’t expect her to start for the duration of the season, but she ended up starting 32 games, averaging 8.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Elena Delle Donne returned from her back injury, averaging 17.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in 25 appearances. Ariel Atkins also continued her improvement, averaging 14.6 points and 2.3 assists per game. And Natasha Cloud had a career season, averaging 10.7 points and a career-high and league-leading 7.0 assists per game.
Ultimately, the Mystics had the WNBA’s best defense at 97.8 points per 100 possessions. But their offense was mediocre, ranking just 7th (103.5 points per 100 possessions). It was good enough to have them win games in the regular season, but it wasn’t enough against a team with a similarly ranked defense, but with homecourt advantage on their side.
Washington proved that they could still contend this season, having beaten each of the top four teams at least once in the regular season (the Las Vegas Aces, Chicago Sky, Connecticut Sun and Storm). However, it appears that they will need some more offensive firepower next season.
Part of that may come with the first round pick they have traded for with the Atlanta Dream (which was originally the Los Angeles Sparks’). But it will also require them to consider whether to keep or let go of defensive guru Alysha Clark (8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game), whose contract expires this season. Elizabeth Williams, Tianna Hawkins and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough are also free agents.
Next season will also be an important one for the Mystics because Atkins, Cloud and Delle Donne will hit the last year of their contracts. While Atkins and Cloud are in their primes, Delle Donne is entering the twilight of her career. For a long playoff run next season, I think she is going to have to be available to play more often than she was this past season.
Do I think the Mystics were capable of making a run for the Finals? Absolutely. However, I felt that they needed to secure homecourt advantage at a minimum. It’s also why I also wrote several times about their need to have a Top-3 seed after the All-Star Break. The Mystics certainly played better at the end of the regular season, but they lost games to some teams that they shouldn’t have, like to the Liberty and the Sparks a couple weeks ago) that cost them the fourth seed.
Unfortunately for now, a lot of these what-if’s will have to remain just that. What-ifs. But it was also a good thing to see the Mystics back as contenders this season after a couple injury-riddled ones during the coronavirus pandemic.