PG: Dominique Canty/Jasmine Thomas
SG: Matee Ajavon/Noelle Quinn/Natalie Novosel/Natasha Lacy
SF: Monique Currie
PF: Crystal Langhorne/Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton/(LaToya Pringle)
C: Michelle Snow/Ashley Robinson
Significant additions: Canty (free agency from Chicago), Currie (missed vast majority of last season through injury), Lacy (trade with Los Angeles), Novosel (college draft), Quinn (trade with Los Angeles), Robinson (trade with Seattle), Snow (free agency from Chicago), Wisdom-Hylton (claimed off waivers from Chicago)
Significant losses: Alana Beard (free agency to Los Angeles), Marissa Coleman (trade with Los Angeles), Nicky Anosike (trade with Los Angeles), Kelly Miller (free agency to New York), Victoria Dunlap (trade with Seattle), DeMya Walker (free agency to New York)
You know what’s strange – I actually see the logic here. It’s easy to rag on the Mystics and head coach/general manager Trudi Lacey. This team was a disaster last year. They failed to retain the coach and general manger that produced their best ever season in 2010, and everything went downhill from there. Constant comments about injuries and blatant nonsense about how young the squad was did them no favours with their remaining fans, and when the season finally ended after just six wins all year, it was a blessed relief. But Lacey’s moves in the offseason made sense. The organisation finally cut ties with former franchise player Alana Beard, having had enough of paying her to be injured. Then they retained the three players that emerged from last season with any credit – Crystal Langhorne, Matee Ajavon and Monique Currie – and turned over practically every other spot on the roster. Isn’t that what you ought to do after a horrendous year? Keep the few positives, and change everything else that you can? Lacey’s also built herself a much more experienced, veteran squad, which fits the players she seemed to favour last season. Yes, it’s probably going to be more than a one-year process to resurrect this team from the depths it plumbed last season, but what she’s doing makes some sense.
Even with all the new pieces, the primary talent on this squad remains its retained core. Langhorne has developed into an extremely efficient scorer in the post, and a legitimate All-WNBA level player. Her defense is never going to win any awards but it’s good enough these days, and even with all the extra attention paid to her last season when there were so few alternative scoring options, she remained very effective. Ajavon stepped up last year when Beard’s injury and Katie Smith’s departure presented her with a starting spot. Her efficiency and percentages remain dubious, but this year will be a greater test when there are better choices around her. Last year she had to force the issue offensively because no one else on the perimeter was going to. This year she needs to be more selective offensively, while retaining her aggression and scoring mentality. The return of Currie should help. After stepping up her performance dramatically in 2010, injury robbed Currie of almost the entire 2011 season. Returning for the tail end of the year and playing in Turkey during the offseason should’ve helped rebuild her fitness, and if we see the strong, physical Currie that we witnessed in 2010 the Mystics immediately become much stronger on the outside.
Now for the bit-parts. The point guard situation looks scary, and not in a good way. Dominique Canty seems like she might well be the starter to begin the season, after essentially looking like her WNBA time was coming to a close in the last couple of years in Chicago. She was really only a combo-backup even in her prime. At the other end of the career spectrum, Jasmine Thomas looked like she might be a ways off becoming a legitimate WNBA starting point guard during her minutes as a rookie last year. They also have speedster Natasha Lacy and the versatile Noelle Quinn who could both see some time at the point, neither of whom fill you with confidence either. Lacy can be a burst of energy off the bench, but has never looked in control enough to play the point for any length of time. Quinn can run an offense when necessary, but is probably more likely to be used as a wing. The only perimeter player on the roster left to mention is rookie Natalie Novosel from Notre Dame, who showed an ability to find ways to score in college but may take some time to adapt to the speed of the WNBA game. After Currie and Ajavon it’s going to be a work in progress through at least the first few weeks of the season to see who can produce among this bunch. It may take all year.
It’s a similar state of affairs in the paint alongside Langhorne. They’re vets, but they’re not exactly proven and thoroughly reliable. Michelle Snow has bounced around in recent years, Washington being her 5th different team in the last five seasons. Like Braxton in New York, she’s a frustrating talent. She’s got size and length, but she disappears from games to the extent that you sometimes forget she’s playing entirely. She also showed a worrying fondness for the midrange jumper rather than trying to score in the paint last season, although that may have been a byproduct of Chicago trying to open up room for Sylvia Fowles. Ashley Robinson is an active and athletic defender, and that’s about it, although she showed enough development in Seattle last year to be a legitimate part of the rotation. Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton was a late pickup on the waiver wire and gets another chance to try to stick on a team, after Los Angeles and Chicago both lost interest. Occasionally she’s looked like she can be a solid rotation big in this league, but it hasn’t worked out. This may be her last chance. That’s it for the post rotation unless LaToya Pringle finishes dealing with what the team are calling a ‘family matter’ and joins the squad (they could cut one of the various perimeter players if they wanted extra depth inside). For now, they look awfully thin, considering they need to fill 40 minutes at center and back up Langhorne at the 4. Moving on from Anosike after the poor season she had last year made a lot of sense – but it doesn’t mean that they found any particularly superior talent to fill the hole.
Summary and Outlook
Like I said, I don’t view this as quite as bad a situation as some of the few remaining fans may think. But that certainly isn’t to say it’s good. For one thing, Trudi Lacey’s still the head coach, and her history in the WNBA suggests that’s rarely a good thing. But they should, at the very least, be better than last year. And Tulsa would love to have this roster. Also on the positive side, they signed Langhorne and Currie to long-term contracts, so they can now work on building around them. It may take some time, and this year might still be fairly painful for Mystics fans who are sticking with them, but 2012 should at least be less agonising than 2011.