The Washington Mystics start their 2016 campaign with a three-game home stand, starting tomorrow night. They’ll be hosting the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year, the New York Liberty. After making the playoffs for the last three seasons, it’s about taking the next step in Washington. Advancing.
The Mystics have a very young roster, save for a couple of veterans, none of which that are in the twilight of their career. With the knee injury to Ivory Latta, Washington will be without one of their leaders for at least the first month of the season. Still, there’s no panic or worry amongst the ranks as they have a roster that is fully capable of stepping up when players go down. The Mystics still have veterans in bigs Kiah Vaughn and LaToya Sanders, who will both play key roles on the floor.
Last season, Washington saw their two young post players take a step forward by being named All-Stars. The scary part, is that neither Emma Meesseman or Stefanie Dolson is close to reaching their immense potential. That can be said for most of the roster, they’re all still developing. A huge reason for why Washington didn’t have any huge offseason moves. They added a great piece in the draft in the extremely versatil Kahleah Copper, but that’s it. It’s about letting these youngsters continue their development, let them grow into who they are going to be in this league.
While Ivory is out, her workload will be shared by a committee of guards. Natasha Cloud is in her second year, she was able to earn a role as a primary ball handler last season both with Ivory on the floor with her and without. Tayler Hill and Bria Hartley may be known for their scoring, but they have enough handle to operate in the pick-and-roll and initiate the offense if needed. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt has grown more and more comfortable handling the ball as well, that’s yet another guard that can handle and make plays for others. The biggest area in which Washington might miss Latta may be from beyond the arc, she’s routinely been one of the league’s more dangerous shooters from distance. Hill has shown that when healthy, she has the ability to get hot from distance and she’ll be counted on to do just that in Latta’s absence. The same goes for Hartley, who will be starting this season healthy versus last year in which she suffered an injury in preseason that really set her back.
In a conversation with Coach Thibault at media day, he made it clear that the biggest emphasis for this season is “rebounding”. That’s not just for the bigs, but as a team. It’s true, there were several times last season where Washington would have teams on the ropes only to give up second-chance opportunities that spurned runs. That challenge will be tested on the very first night as they take on Tina Charles and company.
The Liberty on the other hand have been a bit busy, acquiring several players via trade. They landed a big guard in former Fever Shavonte Zellous and drafted Adut Bulgak in the first round of this year’s draft. Recently, New York added big Amanda Zahui B from Dallas in exchange for a 1st round pick in next year’s draft. The Liberty are going all in on this year, as they traded their 2017 second round pick to Atlanta for guard Shoni Schimmel. New York’s Brittany Boyd also proved her value in her rookie year, coming off the bench to run the team and score the ball.
Still, it’s all about the interior for New York. Their star inside, former Husky Tina Charles is a double-double machine. She took a step forward in her stardom during the postseason. Fellow Husky and now in her second year, Kiah Stokes was outstanding on the defensive end of the floor in her rookie campaign. It was her who personally ended Washington’s season with a block on a Latta three-point attempt in the final game. In college, Stokes was much more than just a defensive player. Shouldn’t be a surprise if her offense really starts to translate on this level this season.
While it’ll only be the first game of the season, it should be a great matchup between a team who sees themselves as championship contenders in New York and a team in Washington that wants to prove it can win in the postseason. The last thing New York or any team in the Eastern conference wants is for this young Mystics team to realize how dangerous they are.