It is still probably too early to call the Mystics' season a success. They have to get into the playoffs for sure for us to do that because that is where the bar has been set after their impressive start.
As it stands right now, the Mystics already have eight more wins than last year's total and they did it without the aid of one of the "3 to See." And they already have plenty of exciting moments and Ivory Latta moments on and off the court to remember this season by.
But as the Mystics have gotten better, they have naturally continued to set the bar higher and higher and that is why 2013 has been a somewhat frustrating season for them as they have struggled to contain opposing teams' superstars and win consistently.
When the team improved to 11-13 with a home win over the Sun on August 11, a lot of Connecticut media had made the trip down and checked in with Mike Thibault about how his first season in Washington was going. Here's what Thibault had to say:
"We've had our ups and downs like I thought we might. I think that we still have a lot to learn about playing together...I still think we're just ok in the half-court offense, but we're getting better. Our team defense has gotten better every week since that little West Coast road trip where we didn't play well...
"...I think I have enough confidence in my ability and my staff's ability to teach what we want to teach...I think everybody probably feels like they have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder when you go through something like this, but for me, I've been so wrapped up in just improving this group that I don't think about it from an outside point of view. We had a discussion right before the All-Star break - we had won the game right before the break and we were 9-9 and everybody here was excited. And I was like 'what's the big deal.' 9-9, that's like mediocre to me. But they said [I had] to understand the perspective of where we were a year ago at this time. So I'm trying to see it from both sides, but I'm not very patient about being mediocre. So I want to speed up the process and that's probably the most frustrating part sometimes is to try to speed it up. But I've been coaching for 40 some years, so I don't feel like I have a lot to prove...
"...I think a coach can empower somebody if he has respect already coming in because players know what that coach has already done. I don't think it's easy for a new coach coming in if it's kind of a foreign person to the players...But these players on this team that were here and a couple others in the league like Ivory and Kia have played against my teams. So I think that you already have that kind of perspective when you take over a team. I think my job first of all was to give them a jolt of energy and a jolt of faith in them...It would be different if you took over a team that was kind of in the middle, it's harder to take over a team that's won. But a team that was as rock bottom as this was by all definitions last year - it's an easier sell for a coach coming in."
- Mike Thibault
It seemed pretty clear that the Mystic players respected their coach's accomplishments coming in and you could see how honored they were to be a part of Thibault's record-setting 212th win this season. Perhaps the most impressive thing that Thibault has done this year is get the most out of his rotation. He has often played the four rookies on the floor at the same time and they have held their own, which is a testament to them and the coaching. The Mystics always seem to have their best players rested late in games and that has probably been part of the reason they've won so many close ones.
But the fact remains that on paper, the Mystics still have some issues with their talent level. They could win it all within the next few years with their 2013 roster largely in tact, but they would be like the '04 Pistons winning it all without a superstar and nothing like the Spurs winning with Tim Duncan, the Lakers winning with Kobe or the Heat winning with LeBron.
On August 20, after a loss to the Sky, Thibault had this to say:
"You look at [Chicago's] lineup and their five starters were all lottery picks. And you look at the teams with the five best records in the league - most of their starters were all lottery picks. That says something a couple different ways. But I don't want to go as long as some of those teams did losing to get to where they got. It's hard, I don't have a simple answer for it."
- Mike Thibault
The Mystics have just two top four picks on their entire roster: Monique Currie and Tayler Hill. But based on what he said in that press conference, it seems like Thibault is looking to improve the Mystics' record year by year and therefore miss the lottery repeatedly for the foreseeable future. Of course, it's always possible to trade up in the draft or trade for a superstar veteran instead.
But for now Thibault doesn't have to worry about making those kinds of decisions. He just has to worry about getting the Mystics into the playoffs where anything can happen. If the Mystics beat the losing teams and fall to the winning teams in their remaining six games they will finish the season at 17-17. That's only one game worse than the lowest winning percentage ever for a team that made it to the WNBA Finals. That team was the 2004 Connecticut Sun coached by Mike Thibault.