Consider this to be an appendix to the three part series on team building options for the Washington Mystics. Why? During the time I wrote part two of that series, the Redskins' season was just beginning, and they were 1-2 at that time.
I am not an avid pro football fan like I am with pro basketball, but some of the things that were done by NFL teams, even this past season could be emulated on WNBA teams, and specifically DC's team. Now that the NFL regular season is over, we can talk a little bit more about that specifically.
The Touted Rookie Savior Leads The Redskins to an NFC East Championship, with more rookie help
The Redskins, led by their rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III from Baylor University, led the Redskins to a 10-6 overall record for 2012, and doubled their win total from a year earlier. This record was good enough not only to get the Redskins into the playoffs for the first time since 2007, but it was also good enough for the Redskins to win their first NFC East title since 1999. That's the 20th Century, when Bill Clinton was president, and when Cal Ripken, Jr. was still playing baseball, and before Michael Jordan had a two year stint with the Washington Wizards. It should be noted that the Redskins started their season 3-6 before winning seven straight games, so there definitely were times when many people thought that the team's management mortgaged too many picks in order to draft Griffin.
Sure, Griffin was instrumental in the resurgence of the Redskins, but let's not forget 2012 rookie running back Alfred Morris, who ran for over 1,600 yards in the 2012 season, which was a franchise record for rushing yards by a player. He was a sixth round pick in the 2012 Draft. The rookie duo of Griffin and Morris leading the Redskins offense in the way they did was very remarkable if not downright unprecedented in NFL history.
So, now let's apply this back to the Mystics. While keeping the 4th pick may be the safe move, since they're guaranteed that pick anyway, sometimes pulling a gamble like this is necessary to improve the team and build hope with the fans now that we saw Griffin's first regular season come to a close and ultimately finish better than expected. As I wrote in the FanPost above back in September, the Mystics still need to find good later round picks to complement their new star assuming they go with this route. The drafting and cultivation of Alfred Morris is an example of that: finding a later round talent to mesh with the young star and having them grow together. It should be noted that Morris' draft position came to the Skins from the Donovan McNabb trade to the Vikings in 2011.
While we will not truly know what hand GM/HC Mike Thibault will show, at least until these moves are made, it is important that there are a number of promising younger players on the Mystics for 2013, and going this route could give the team more attention from the league and also from local residents who want to check out a WNBA game.
One thing I know for sure. If a potential blockbuster deal for a younger star comes up, they cannot just turn it down for "financial" reasons, or for "over-valuing" their own assets like what we saw in the NBA with the Washington Wizards allegedly turning down a trade for then-Oklahoma City Thunder combo guard James Harden though to be fair, owner Ted Leonsis denied doing so because of money. WNBA players, even bench players who are paid max money just to meet cap regulations, aren't really overpaid at all, and that's because of the very restrictive salaries that they currently earn.
Seattle has the steal of the 2012 NFL Draft with Russell Wilson
While Robert Griffin, III and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck have basically taken the spotlight regarding rookie quarterback performance this year, there is a third rookie quarterback who has also definitely shown that he too has the makings of a franchise quarterback. That man is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson from the University of Wisconsin. Wilson was a 3rd round pick, 75th overall, and has thrown for over 3,000 yards, with 26 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions, along with nearly 500 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns.
Like any other league, the 2013 WNBA Draft will likely have later picks who end up being steals, and some perhaps may even be stars when it's all said and done. Perhaps this feeds into thinking that the Mystics should either keep their 4th overall pick or maybe trade down. But there is something else to consider as to why Wilson has been able to get Emerald City to an 11-5 record, which is better than the Redskins.
Wilson had a much stronger defense than Griffin had. Seattle had one of the top five NFL defenses based on yards given up (Skins were 28th of 32 teams), and gave up the fewest points of any team. The Skins gave up the 11th most points. Also, the Skins offense was one of the top five in the league based on yards (Seattle was 17th). Both teams were in the Top 10 for scoring, Redskins were 4th, Seahawks were 9th.
In part two of the Mystics team building option piece, I mentioned players who aren't touted as game-changers aren't labeled as such for a reason, even if they're still projected to be good players. Perhaps Russell Wilson had the right infrastructure around him, most notably an elite defense, though yes, running back Marshawn Lynch also ran for nearly 1,500 yards, like Morris. RGIII did not have that luxury and often, the Redskins had to score well over 20 points in order to win games, especially earlier in the season. If Wilson was the Redskins starting quarterback (he just happens to be from relatively nearby Richmond, VA), would he be as successful winning games, considering that the defense was not that good, especially early this season?
Tying all of this back to the Mystics
What I'm trying to say is that the Mystics may have a better short term future and more fans may have hope with a young star in the coveted Big Three. Sure the 4th pick or later picks may end up being big stars too, but they also were in conducive environments to cultivate these results. Also, as is often the case, teams with better learning environments for rookies also usually had better regular seasons. The 2011 Seahawks team was 7-9, the 2011 Redskins were 5-11. For the WNBA side now, the question is whether the Mystics really have an environment like the Seattle Seahawks do in order to cultivate Russell Wilson's talents, or in the Mystics' case, a drafted player who isn't a "big three" talent.
My gut tells me no, they do not, though Coach Thibault may be thinking differently. After all, he sees these players "in a different light than I do," and those are his words, not mine. And for some time now, I haven't been hiding the fact that I believe that the Mystics need to consider trading up in 2013. And we haven't even talked about the ticket selling consequences yet!
Either way, it is safe to say that the Redskins and the Seahawks have shown us that both touted stars and "draft steals" can help improve teams' fortunes for the future. And yes, I know the Skins will also be hosting a playoff game against the Seahawks next Sunday, which should be quite an exciting treat for DC sports fans, and also Seattle sports fans for that matter.
For me at least, I hope that the team from Washington, DC will prevail over Washington State (unlike what I saw last June with their WNBA teams), and I think that the Redskins will!
UPDATE ON THIS PIECE FOR JANUARY 6, 2013
Okay, I bumped the post since some events happened in this game that may cause some folks to believe that I have changed my views on a team building strategy.
My NFL analyst powers of prediction once again prove to be totally wrong, as the Redskins lost to the Seahawks, 24-14. And yes, Griffin, the Skins' savior suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for the 4th quarter of the game. He originally suffered that injury in a December win over the Baltimore Ravens. Should also be noted that there was a piece in Yahoo! by Doug Farrar where RGIII was allegedly not cleared to return in that game against Baltimore, and when you add Griffin reinjuring the same right knee earlier tonight, there's a huge uproar here in Washington, DC about it and whether Mike Shanahan should remain employed.. Without adding too much more football terminology into a basketball piece, the Redskins still had a successful season, and exceeded expectations all things considered.
Some of you who may be reading this after the Redskins' loss to the Seahawks who also follow the WNBA may think perhaps the Seahawks' building strategy is better and the Washington Mystics should perhaps shy away from making a play for a higher impact player.
But I don't think the Mystics have the infrastructure right now to help a rookie develop into a star as currently constructed. And the Redskins' team building strategy is not any worse because of the injury to RGIII in and of itself. Team building tends to fall more toward a General Manager's duty, while coaching is a day-to-day, game-to-game issue. Also, basketball does not have as much of an injury risk as football does. And every player in every sport is always one injury away from missing the rest of the season. Obviously, Mike Thibault, the Mystics' GM and head coach will have to think about team building strategy and X's and O's all at once, but they still aren't exactly the same thing.
So at the end of the day, the original premise doesn't change much. So thank you Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, and the Washington Redskins for giving me a successful season of NFL football. And good luck to the Seahawks in the rest of the playoffs.