2016 WNBA Team Previews: Washington Mystics

 

PG: Ivory Latta/Natasha Cloud

SG: Bria Hartley/Tayler Hill

SF: Tierra Ruffin-Pratt/Kahleah Copper

PF: Emma Meesseman

C: Stefanie Dolson/Kia Vaughn

Plus three out of Tianna Hawkins, LaToya Sanders, Ally Malott and Zoi Dimitrakou. The decision might be made for Mike Thibault if Sanders is staying with the Turkish national team to prepare for the Olympic qualifier. They have the cap room to temporarily suspend Sanders and keep the other 12, if necessary.


Significant additions
: Copper in the draft, and Hawkins back from pregnancy (assuming she makes the roster). Thibault didn’t manage to do much to improve them this offseason.

Significant losses: Kara Lawson is still working for ESPN, and last I heard still thinking about playing at some point this season. But certainly not from the start, and as an unrestricted free agent it wouldn’t have to be for Washington even if she decides to play. Armintie Herrington retired, but did very little for the Mystics last year. Latta had surgery on her knee a few weeks ago, but is expected to return fairly soon.


Overview

And here we have another team that – since Thibault’s arrival – somehow always manages to be more than the sum of its parts. There are no superstars here, although Meesseman is quietly one of the most talented young players in the game, Dolson took a big step forward last season, and Latta can be electric on any given night. They play as a collective group, they battle, they claw out wins you don’t expect them to get, and then every year you look up at the standings and they’re in the thick of the playoff hunt.

With Kia Vaughn injured for much of last season, the post pairing of Meesseman and Dolson had time to gel as the definitive first-choice front line for the Mystics. Meesseman can still be too passive for a player with her level of skill both around the rim and out towards the three-point line, but when they convince her to be aggressive and take everything on offer, she can be a beast. Dolson has grown into a solid and reliable pivot, with a surprising scoring touch. With Vaughn and hopefully Sanders around to back them up, plus whatever Hawkins is capable of returning from pregnancy, Washington have a strong and deep post corps.

The situation on the perimeter is a little dicier. There’s some talent there, but you’re never quite sure who might show up on any given night. Losing Lawson cuts into their shooting, and Latta’s the only one left on the squad that opposition defenses really respect from outside. Hill hasn’t shown anything remotely approaching consistency since entering the league, Cloud was a useful all-purpose guard last year but never showed much scoring ability, and Ruffin-Pratt is a big wing more useful for her defense and physicality than her offense. They’ll be anticipating more from Hartley this year, after she struggled with injuries last season, and hoping that rookie Copper can help out as well. And they’ll be anxious to get Latta back to provide her typical energy and drive at the point of attack. But there’s no one they can truly rely on night-in and night-out.

Continue reading

Advertisements

2015 WNBA Season Previews: Washington Mystics

 

PG: Ivory Latta/Bria Hartley

SG: Kara Lawson/Tayler Hill/Natasha Cloud

SF: Armintie Herrington/Tierra Ruffin-Pratt

PF: Emma Meesseman/Ally Malott/Kayla Thornton

C: Kia Vaughn/Stefanie Dolson

 

Significant additions: Herrington, maybe Cloud, Hill or Malott if they’re lucky.

Significant losses: Monique Currie, Tianna Hawkins.

 

—–

 

Last but decidedly not least in the East, the little team that could. Since Mike Thibault arrived in Washington before the 2013 season, the Mystics have been finding ways to win games without any real stars. They play as a collective unit, they find the right matchups on any given night, and they claw out enough wins to hang around in the playoff picture. The roster still looks short of the elite talent that’s typically necessary to challenge for a championship, but there’s no reason to expect them to lose that competitive edge that we’ve consistently seen for the last couple of years.

 

They re-signed Ivory Latta, who provides a lot of their energy from the point guard spot and can explode for points in a hurry. Bria Hartley had a promising rookie season either alongside Latta or backing her up. Kara Lawson is a veteran presence and can still light it up from outside if she can stay healthy. They’ll also be hoping that Tayler Hill, who was a disappointment as a rookie after being taken #4 overall in 2013, can bounce back after missing most of last season due to pregnancy. Considering how ineffective she was even before the baby it might be a vain hope, but anything she can offer would be a bonus. Thibault has also had plenty of positive things to say about rookie wing Natasha Cloud.

 

The small forward spot is where we’ll see the most transition for the Mystics, after Monique Currie left in free agency. Armintie Herrington was signed to help fill the gap, and her defensive energy will fit right in (although her complete lack of a jump shot will be as much of an issue as it’s always been). Tierra Ruffin-Pratt is also still around, after learning from Currie for a couple of seasons. They might miss the one or two games a month where Currie would break out and remind everyone what she was capable of, but otherwise the changeover should be fairly smooth.

 

Continue reading

The Daily W, 08/24/2014: Fever and Lynx pushed hard, but complete sweeps to advance

 

Indiana Fever 81 @ Washington Mystics 76 (OT)

 

Lineups: No changes from Game 1, where Indiana just barely scraped out a win at home. Sydney Carter was out for the Fever, so Layshia Clarendon became the backup point guard for those rare minutes when Lin Dunn risked resting Briann January.

 

Story of the Game: It was Indiana who made the slightly better start, but in a scrappy early period that didn’t mean much. As in the first game, Tamika Catchings couldn’t hit a jump shot for love nor money, but she seemed to come to a quicker realisation that she needed to drive instead, and produced some points through that approach. Washington were clearly trying to guide her towards the middle of the court, where plenty of Mystics could clog the lane and help Emma Meesseman deal with her.

 

Washington lost Tierra Ruffin-Pratt early in the second quarter, when her arm got caught up with Shavonte Zellous while fighting for a rebound and she walked off holding her wrist (although it was later reported as a shoulder injury). But it was the remainder of Washington’s bench players that finally dragged them into the contest. Stefanie Dolson hit a couple of mid-range jumpers, and generally made a more visible impact on the action than starting center Kia Vaughn had done at any stage in the series. Kara Lawson came in and hit shots, replacing the ineffective and very quiet Bria Hartley. And then Tianna Hawkins joined in, working hard and sneaking into space for hustle points. It was classic Mystics under Thibault – try enough of your options, and a few of them will hopefully step up and demand you pay attention.

 

However, Washington were still turning the ball over too much, and the defensive attentions of Briann January and hedging help off ball-screens had kept Ivory Latta quiet. So despite shooting 30% from the field, Indiana led by three at halftime. Washington had occasionally gone to a bit of an unusual twist to their defense, which we saw even more of in the second half. It looked a lot like a 2-3 zone – which is unusual from Mike Thibault to begin with – but was fluid enough that sometimes it just became a switch-heavy man-to-man. At times, Indiana’s ball movement beat it and created wide open looks, but in general the Mystics did a decent job of limiting Indiana’s offense. It made it a little easier for Washington to slide inside and cut off the driving lanes for players like Catchings.

Continue reading

The Daily W, 08/22/2014: Fever and Lynx scrape by to open playoffs with home wins

 

Washington Mystics 73 @ Indiana Fever 78

 

Lineups: The starting lineups were as expected for both teams. Fortunately for Washington, Kara Lawson had recovered enough from her ankle sprain to be the first (essentially only) guard off the bench for the Mystics. In fact, the only slight rotation surprise all night was that Indiana went to Sydney Carter ahead of Layshia Clarendon as their backup point guard behind Briann January.

 

Story of the Game: The opening encounter of the 2014 playoffs turned out to be the bruising, intense clash that we’d expect from two closely matched Eastern Conference teams. Indiana got off to a hot start yet again, something we’ve seen from them a lot recently, with everyone apart from Tamika Catchings hitting shots and piling up points. January and Marissa Coleman hit from outside, Erlana Larkins and Shavonte Zellous converted inside, and Washington were just trying to hang on in the early moments.

 

But while we’ve seen the Fever blow all kinds of leads this season, they didn’t even manage to hold on to this one until halftime. Late in the first quarter Lawson came off the bench to add some energy for the Mystics and helped them find a couple of buckets in transition. Then Emma Meesseman drove right past Catchings for a layup, before drilling a jumper over Catchings on Washington’s very next possession. That gave the Mystics something to build on, and when Indiana’s offense fell apart with their backups on the floor in the second quarter, the game swung around. Ivory Latta was the central figure for Washington, occasionally firing a little too quickly even for her own good, but drilling a series of threes that took her team into the lead. With Catchings still ice-cold, and her fellow starters unable to pick things up again when they came back in after brief rests, the Mystics led by six at halftime. Indiana scored a miserable eight points in the second quarter.

 

Once again Indiana were the team with better energy out of the locker room, but Washington responded and maintained a small lead throughout the third quarter. Catchings was continuing to produce the outstanding hustle and energetic rebounding that we’d seen in the first half – and throughout her career – but couldn’t hit a jump shot to save her life. When she attacked off the dribble she was slightly more productive, but those efforts were few and far between. As a team, Indiana were getting crowded out whenever they managed to get the ball inside. Most of the time they’d either blow the layup under pressure, or turn the ball over in traffic. But Washington also couldn’t produce the offense to take the game away from them.

 

With everything on the line, the game finally came to life in the fourth quarter. After a quiet third, Latta started stepping back up to lead Washington’s offense. But Indiana finally became the aggressors. They benefitted from almost every call in the fourth, with luck and the referees’ whistles definitely on their side, but they were the ones driving the action and forcing the officials to make calls. After barely hitting anything all night, Catchings subbed back in with seven minutes remaining, and immediately scored consecutive baskets by driving on Meesseman, rather than settling for trying to shoot over her. It was about damn time.

Continue reading

WNBA 2014 Playoff Previews – First Round: Indiana Fever vs. Washington Mystics

 

Indiana Fever (16-18, #2 seed) vs Washington Mystics (16-18, #3 seed)

 

Indiana

Points scored per 100 possessions (offensive efficiency): 97.64, 5th in WNBA

Points conceded per 100 possessions (defensive efficiency): 98.76, 7th in WNBA

 

Washington

Points scored per 100 possessions (offensive efficiency): 96.15, 10th in WNBA

Points conceded per 100 possessions (defensive efficiency): 95.40, 3rd in WNBA

 

Season series tied 2-2:

5/23 @Ind: Mystics win 79-63

6/6 @Was: Fever win 64-61

7/2 @Was: Fever win 80-77

8/8 @Ind: Mystics win 74-61

—–

 

The Eastern Conference was a mess this season, with a host of teams on very similar levels battling it out until the end. Most observers still have Atlanta as the favourites despite their second half swoon, but will admit that it’s wide open in the East. Which makes this 2-3 matchup especially hard to call. Indiana have been inconsistent all season long, even since Tamika Catchings returned from the back injury which kept her out for the first half of the year. Only a couple of dominant late-season wins over New York secured their playoff spot, and somehow allowed them to sneak into the #2 seed in the East despite a losing record. Washington aren’t so much inconsistent as they’re worryingly vulnerable. They win games by being organised and playing team-oriented basketball, which has a tendency to fall apart when they’re not hitting shots or things start to turn against them. This series is just as open as the overall chase in the East.

 

This isn’t the same Fever team that we used to watch, known for their hard-nosed and dominating defense, while they slowed things down and almost bored teams into submission on the offensive end. Perhaps more than any other team in the league, they were negatively affected by the introduction of the defensive three-seconds rule before last season, despite not having a big rim-protecting center. It’s changed how and when they can double-team, and removed some of the swarming, threatening aspects of their defense which used to unsettle opponents. At their best, they can still be a very effective, fluid defensive club, and they’re still strong and physical. They tend to rotate and switch a lot, but do it with more security and confidence than teams like Los Angeles who have a similar basic scheme. The core of this team has been together for a long time, so they communicate well, and the rotations are often strong. But they’re not big, and there have been seams to attack in their defense for the last couple of years.

Continue reading

The Daily W, 08/17/2014

 

New York Liberty 73 @ Washington Mystics 61

 

Lineups: After going smaller to try to combat Tamika Catchings in their previous game, New York switched back to a more regular lineup for this one, with Avery Warley-Talbert coming back in to start in the post. Swin Cash continued at small forward, with Alex Montgomery dropping to the bench. Washington, who needed a win to give themselves a chance at the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, started their usual five. Kara Lawson was still out due to her ankle issue.

 

Story of the Game: In many ways, this was a pretty depressing contest for fans of both teams. Mystics supporters saw their team produce a desperately flat performance, fall behind by double-digits in the second quarter, and then let the game drift away. Liberty fans saw their bench actually step up and produce, and their team win a game without Tina Charles or Cappie Pondexter needing to carry them. Which considering how poorly they’ve played for most of the season, can only have been frustrating to witness.

Plenette Pierson did a lot of good work for the Liberty, especially in the first half, and Washington couldn’t contain her, especially on the pick-and-roll. New York made some nice pocket passes to create points for her on the way to the hoop, but Washington’s defense was unusually slow in rotating and contesting to prevent the easy looks. With the Liberty also shooting well from the perimeter, they ran away with the game. They also had an extraordinary zero turnovers in the first half, which probably said even more about the lack of defensive energy from the Mystics than it did about New York’s own play.

Washington tried to shoot their way back into the game in the second half, and Mike Thibault tried some gimmicky lineups to shake things up, but they never came particularly close. If they play like this in the postseason, it’ll be a short-lived trip to the playoffs.

 

Key Players: Pierson finished with 20 on 7-8 shooting, with Swin Cash the only other Liberty player in double-figures. They went deep into their bench, shared out all the minutes, and Washington still never came close. Unfortunately for New York, their playoff hopes had been extinguished the day before, and this performance with the pressure off meant nothing.

Washington were really poor. After finally clinching their postseason berth in Connecticut the day before, maybe they relaxed too much when only seeding was on the line and weren’t mentally ready to play. But this is also the kind of game they’re vulnerable to without any real stars to just toss the ball to when they need a bucket. They’re a collective group that needs to become more than the sum of its parts, and when they all lack energy like this the results can be pretty awful.

 

Notes of Interest: This result meant the winner of the Chicago-Indiana game below would be confirmed as the #2 seed. Whether Washington were the #3 or #4 would then depend on Sunday’s game for the loser between the Sky and Fever.

 

—–

 

Chicago Sky 67 @ Indiana Fever 71

 

Lineups: Both teams started as they had in recent games, with Elena Delle Donne continuing to come off the bench for Chicago. Layshia Clarendon was still out for Indiana, making Sydney Carter the backup point guard instead. The Sky had a point guard returning, with Courtney Vandersloot in uniform and taking part for the first time in over seven weeks after her knee injury. That was a welcome boost for the Sky heading into the playoffs.

 

Story of the Game: Indiana started the game just as they had in recent big wins over New York – lots of energy, running the floor hard for transition points, and with Tamika Catchings hitting every shot she threw up. Briann January, Shavonte Zellous and Marissa Coleman joined in, Natasha Howard was a solid replacement when Catchings went to rest on the bench, and the Fever were utterly dominant in the opening stages. They ran away to a 16-point lead at the end of the opening quarter.

Continue reading

The Daily W, 08/16/2014

 

Washington Mystics 71 @ Connecticut Sun 67

 

Lineups: As detailed in yesterday’s previews, for a variety of reasons the Sun were better off losing this game, so it was no surprise that Katie Douglas was in street clothes for tip-off. She had missed the end of their last game after walking off holding her back, so maybe she would’ve been out anyway, but there was certainly no incentive to rush her back. Danielle McCray started in her place, with long-term absentee Allison Hightower the only other player missing. So to Connecticut’s credit, it’s not like they went into full-on tanking mode. Washington had Kia Vaughn back from her one-game suspension for elbowing Chiney Ogwumike the last time these teams met, and she took her starting spot back from Stefanie Dolson. Kara Lawson’s ankle continues to keep her off the floor.

 

Story of the Game: The first half was utterly forgettable. Washington led for most of it thanks to some nice post moves from Emma Meesseman, some shooting from Bria Hartley and Ivory Latta, and overall dominance on the glass. Connecticut hung around, and a couple of late driving buckets for McCray and Alex Bentley allowed them to pull within four at halftime.

The Sun emerged with much better energy in the third quarter and made the game a more interesting battle. They were finally putting up a fight on the glass, came up with some transition points, and the mediocre play Washington had been producing all evening was no longer enough to keep them in front.

All of which combined to give us a tight finish. Meesseman made some strong plays down the stretch, showing off her silky passing skills and attacking Ogwumike to draw fouls and free throws. In fact, Washington did most of their work at the foul line in the closing stages. While Renee Montgomery was jacking and missing threes, Meesseman and then Monique Currie were picking up points at the line. Although on the one late possession where Montgomery gave the ball up, Bentley drilled a three from the corner to keep things interesting. But the late-game plays that Anne Donovan drew up out of timeouts were a disaster (or worked perfectly, if you believe she had the benefits of losing in the back of her mind). A staggered screen for Bentley didn’t break her open at all, and the play didn’t appear to have a second option, so ended in a Montgomery turnover. Then the next time down, Montgomery drove the baseline and kicked to Alyssa Thomas in the corner, who slid her foot backwards before making a move and went out of bounds as a result. Not that you ever want Thomas taking an important shot from the corner anyway, unless you’re the opposition. That ended the game as a contest, and Washington had confirmed their playoff spot.

 

Key Players: Meesseman inside, and the backcourt of Hartley and Latta outside, were the only players who consistently made shots for Washington. Currie did a decent job of attacking late in the game and knocking down important free throws. It was a big win for the Mystics to cement their spot in the postseason, but it wasn’t exactly a confidence-builder for the playoffs. They looked thoroughly ordinary all night, and they’ll likely need to play significantly better to actually win any games in the postseason. Tayler Hill and Kalana Greene continue to offer very little, so they’ll be desperately hoping Lawson’s ankle heals quickly. Otherwise Latta and Hartley are going to verge on 40 minutes a night.

Considering they had essentially nothing to play for and were missing their veteran presence on the perimeter, it was a relatively creditable performance from Connecticut. Bentley made some shots, Kelsey Bone finished some plays inside once she woke up in the second half, and Alyssa Thomas was reasonably effective. But this is still a team that looks like it needs to reload – and maybe rethink a little – to make the next step.

 

Notes of Interest: For the third time this season in the WNBA, a team was eliminated from playoff contention by the result of a game they weren’t even playing in. This scoreline meant New York will miss the postseason for the second straight year since Bill Laimbeer took over, and due to the Tina Charles trade they don’t even have the consolation of a lottery pick in the draft. Connecticut receive that, which was part of why losing this game worked out well for them.

 

—–

 

Tulsa Shock 76 @ Atlanta Dream 92

 

Lineups: Regular group for Tulsa, while Atlanta started the same big lineup they’d used in the last couple of games with Angel McCoughtry out due to tendonitis in her feet. She was in uniform and played in this game, but came off the bench.

 

Story of the Game: Odyssey Sims made enough shots to keep Tulsa in the game in the first quarter, but there were already signs of the run that was on the way in the second. Atlanta were starting to dominate the glass, and playing with good pace and desire considering how little the game actually meant to them in the standings. Then in the second period the Dream blew it open. That was when we saw something that actually resembled the old Atlanta Dream – running the floor hard, attacking in transition, and rolling over an opponent once they gathered momentum. Erika de Souza picked up points by finding deep position in the paint and taking strong passes from Shoni Schimmel and Jasmine Thomas to finish. Then McCoughtry, Schimmel and their teammates just started charging up and down the court and running right by the Shock. Tulsa had no answer, their offense couldn’t penetrate and fell apart, and Atlanta roared into a 22-point halftime lead.

Continue reading