At the 2015 Media Day for the Washington Mystics, the main theme was ‘taking the next step’ which would be contending for a championship. Coach Mike Thibault has been the coach for a few years now, he likened his time in Washington to that of a new college coach. Saying that it takes time to finally get your team, and that he has ‘his players’ now.
Through three preseason games, the changes from last year and this year are clearly evident. The offense last season was some times very stagnant, the spacing wasn’t great. While they had shooters, the lack of spacing helped opposing defenses to keep tabs on them and close out well. Ivory Latta was the primary ball handler and the team was going through a huge transition as they had a bunch of first and second year players.
The Mystics were fine on the defensive end, they were often able to lock up teams in the half-court. The issue was scoring in the half court if those stops didn’t turn into transition baskets.
Fast forward to this year on both sides of the ball, again through the three preseason games. The offense is much more fluid, there are ball handlers everywhere. It’s literally get a rebound and get it to a guard or if it a guard gets a rebound, just run. They’ve run off of misses, but more importantly they’ve shown the knack to run off of makes. The biggest may be the spacing, with every player on the team being a threat being able to shoot the ball. It’s hard for teams to help, giving Washington so many options in pick-and-roll situations.
Defensively, expect Washington to take another step forward. Their ball pressure is key, due to the depth they have on their roster. The guards are encouraged to get up in opposing ball handlers and harass them as much as possible. Their is also a noticeable change in the communication from their bigs, no matter what combination is in the front court, they’ve made sure to let guards know where screens are coming from and do a good job hedging.
In a GM Survey on WNBA.com the Mystics only finished top three or top five in two categories, Most Improved,Best Defensive Team, and Best Coach. They’re not even considered as far as Championship Contender, Who’ll win the East. You would think a team that made the playoffs last season would at least be taking into consideration to win their Conference especially with their coach being seen as one of the best in the league.
Take a look at the roster above, there is a ton of versatility at Thibault’s disposal. This versatility along with the depth, is an additional weapon for Washington. It will factor into every game they play, they are deep enough to literally do platoon substitutions.
Washington literally has eight players capable of bringing the ball up the floor at any time. several of which can initiate the offense. That makes the scoring minded guards more dangerous as they can now embrace those instincts more with teammates on the floor capable of running the break or initiating the offense. Latta, Hartley, Hill and Lawson can now take advantage of their shooting ability both in transition and in the half court in an off-ball capacity.
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Natasha Cloud are two of the better slashers the team has on the wing, both of whom can also get going from mid-range and are terrors in transition. Keep an eye on Cloud, her versatility was on display during the preseason. The ability to play every perimeter position makes her a luxury on the team, as she has experience playing point guard and can be the primary ball handler even if she’s playing small forward. That opens up the floor for the two ‘guards’ on the floor with her.
As for the bigs, every one of them can shoot the ball. From Vaughn, Meesseman, Dolson to Thorton and Malot. All can hit that mid-range shot and a few have shown they’ve been working on their range, so they can step out and hit the three. Rookie Ally Malott is fully capable of stretching the floor in that regard while Emma and Stephanie are getting there, though both hit a three against the Minnesota Lynx in the Analytic scrimmage last month. Thorton is interesting, as she’s able to put the ball on the floor the best of all the bigs. Again, versatility comes in to play on this part of the team as well.
Defensively, there are several players on the perimeter that are capable of becoming lock down defenders if they aren’t already. Ruffin-Pratt, Cloud, and Herrington are already great defenders. Tayler Hill is a surprisingly good defender as well, Latta, Hartley, and Lawson played good defense last season.
As for the season, look for big time growth from last year’s first year players (Hartley, Dolson, Meeseman) and with Tayler Hill in good form, she’ll be a great addition to the wing. Latta, Vaughn, and Herrington will provide that veteran leadership, they’ll be integral in leading this young team to taking that next step. Contending for the WNBA Championship this season.
The season starts tonight in Connecticut as Coach Thibault leads his new team against his former team. The game starts at 7 pm Eastern, the Mystics than fly back to D.C. to host the New York Liberty in their season opener.
**Personal Observation or Projection**
Natasha Cloud is a special, special player. She may not score enough to factor into the Rookie of the Year race, but she’ll be a key piece on this team this year. She plays with the poise of a fourth year vet. Her game is very Dwayne Wade-ish (obviously I’m not talking about the dunking), in that she’s a true combo-guard. Her money area on the offensive end is the mid-range area and getting to the basket. She also is masterful in pick-and-roll situations, she can guard four of the five positions on the floor. Look for her to play a huge role in the Mystics pursuit of a WNBA championship this season.