The Washington Mystics start to the 2017 season started this past Sunday with the opening of Training camp. We got a chance to talk with Ivory Latta, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, and Head Coach Mike Thibault after practice yesterday.
From those conversations, several things were quite clear, this is one of if not the deepest team in Thibault’s tenure in Washington. Ruffin-Pratt alluded to this during our chat, saying that coach could go “11 or 12 deep if he wanted to.” A team with that type of depth can use it as a weapon against their opponents, it keeps players fresh and ensures that they can really get after it when they’re on the court. There’s no need to pace themselves due to playing long minutes. The roster is not yet set for the regular season as there are two preseason games to go before the curtain goes up on Sunday, May 14th.
Rebounding has been an issue for Washington the last three years, Coach Thibault has made that clear in practices, post game press conferences and in past interviews. While they lost some of their more physical rebounders in Kia Vaughn and Stefanie Dolson, Thibault was quick to point out that both Emma Meesseman and Elena Delle Donne are good rebounders even though they go about it a bit differently than the two that left. I brought up the overall size throughout the roster on the wing to Coach and he talked about how their bigger wings will definitely chip in on the rebounding. Those big wings mean they can push the pace even more this season as there is no need to immediately give it to a guard, since the guard or wing is doing the rebounding.
Many are focused on how dangerous this offense can be in Washington, but Thibault made it a point to say that defense is what will determine how far this team goes or how good they can be. While they gave up some of that muscle inside, they gained agility and quickness, especially when it comes to defending the pick-and-roll. Teams routinely exploited the Mystics in that fashion last year, they don’t have as many traditional bigs and shouldn’t have that issue. It’s very conceivable that Washington can flat out switch everything depending on who’s on the court. Outside of the 5’6 Ivory Latta, every other guard/wing on the roster is 5’9 or taller. TRP is one of the best one-on-one defenders in the league, she has more size on the wing so that switching is an option versus fighting through a ton of screens. Washington can throw different players with length and size on opposing offensive players, another way to wear opponents down. It’ll also take a bit of pressure off of Ruffin-Pratt, even though it seems that she relishes the opportunity to get that top assignment.
Emma Meesseman is going to miss a portion of the start of the regular season due to training for Belgium for EuroBasket. Kristi Tolliver her teammate on UMMC Ekaterinburg. The former Terp is looking forward to being one of the leaders of this team, that’s two players that aren’t in training camp. Forward LaToya Sanders is out for the season due to foot surgery, which makes a total of three Mystics missing to start camp and one that is gone for the year. Thibault talked about the team’s potential start to the season with the absence of Meeseeman as did Ruffin-Pratt, both interviews can be found in their entirety on the “Mystics” tab of our site. The Mystics had two low key signings this offseason, both of which should play a big role in Meeseeman’s absence. They are Krystal Thomas and Asia Taylor, Thomas is a center and Taylor is a guard. Thomas is entering her sixth year and Taylor is entering her third, those two along with the return of Tianna Hawkins gives Washington several options in the front court to help get through that stretch in which Emma will be gone.
Spacing. Veteran guard Ivory Latta talked about what the new additions to the team bring to the table from her perspective as a guard. She mentioned the spacing and her eyes lit up when asked about the firepower this team could have on that end of the floor. The Mystics present opponents with a tone of issues to worry about when they’re on offense. Elena Delle Donne is one of those issues obviously, but there’s far more especially the threat they pose from beyond the arc. It’ll be tough for teams to deal with Elena and Emma, let alone stay with all the shooters that’ll surround them. Obviously we won’t know until games are played, but if Thibault uses Delle Donne similar to how she was used by Geno Auriemma on the US National Team, she’ll cause issues in screen/roll situations as the screener. The defense is left with a conundrum, you don’t trap the screener right? That would mean letting the ball handler go freely to the rim. That action also opens up corner three opportunities on the other side of the floor. Meeseeman should also get more one-on-one chances in the post as Delle Donne doesn’t have to share that low block area with her. TRP, Latta, Cloud, and Hill can all attack off the bounce and should have more space to do so now. It’ll be interesting to see how EDD fits into this already dangerous offense and how it opens things up for her new teammates.
That’s all from our training camp visit, we’ll keep you updated as preseason continues!