The Washington Mystics are currently 3-2, or second place in the Eastern Conference. They could be in position to be one of the WNBA's pleasant surprises this season, given that they made a conscious decision to become a younger team. After seeing this team play five games, here are the main thoughts that are coming into my mind.
1. The Mystics' younger players are playing major roles right away. The younger players are also relishing the opportunity to play those roles.
Mystics General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault has not hesitated to play his rookies and sophomores extended minutes so far this season. He is also not hesitating to start them when they are outplaying veterans.
Besides Emma Meesseman who has started all five of their games, rookies Jelena Milovanovic and Bria Hartley have both started at some point during the season. Sophomore wing Tierra Ruffin-Pratt has also started multiple games. And all of these players have provided major contributions throughout the season.
Starting players is one thing. But finishing games is another. Last Sunday, the Mystics defeated the Sparks in triple overtime with three rookies, a sophomore, and Ivory Latta playing the bulk of the minutes in those periods. Most coaches in this league would have probably put their veterans out late in the game. But Thibault doesn't appear to have a problem letting younger players close out games.
It's one thing to have a lot of young players and relegate them to spot minutes. But the Mystics have a lot of young players, and they're all getting thrown into the fire for long stretches. This is something I was hoping for this season, and it's really good to see
2. The Mystics are doing fine without Crystal Langhorne.
Emma Meesseman has been the Mystics' starting power forward since Lang was traded. While Meesseman is not the inside scoring presence like Lang is, she still averages 9 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game. What sets her apart from Langhorne is that she has a better perimeter shot, and also has better passing instincts.
Stefanie Dolson has also shown her passing instintcts as well even though she could improve her decision making there given how many turnovers she has. Still, their collective ability to make plays for others from the post has definitely helped increase ball movement for the better.
Langhorne was the Mystics' best rebounder and inside scorer for several seasons. To her credit, she's been on a tear so far for Seattle in her last three games. And it is true that this current Mystics team doesn't have a player who can do what she can. However, the Mystics' post play doesn't appear to be appreciably worse without Langhorne. But with her departure along with Michelle Snow's, the Mystics' younger posts have more playing time to show what they can do for this team over the long term.
3. The Mystics are ranking well defensively despite being "a team full of youngsters."
Currently, the Mystics' defensive rating is 93.1 points per 100 posessions, which is second in the league with only the New York Liberty ahead of them in that category. It's only based on five games, but still it's a good sign that they're taking care of things on the defensive end. And the Liberty's record is worse than the Mystics, moreso because Cappie Pondexter and Tina Charles are still trying to get a feel for each other.
Based on games played up through June 3, the Mystics are second in field goal percentage (39.4%) with only the Chicago Sky doing better in that category. They also currently lead the WNBA in rebounding differential per game, which can be attributed to Thibault emphasizing rebounding in practice over the last week.
When any team is keeping other teams from shooting at a high rate and winning most of the 50/50 rebounds, that's definitely a good thing. And it's even better when that team is also among the youngest in the WNBA.
4. Just because the Mystics are winning games doesn't necessarily mean that they are on the dreaded "Treadmill of Mediocrity."
I get that when teams win more games, their place in the following year's draft will drop. If a team makes the playoffs, that team won't be in the draft lottery, which shuts them out of getting a potential franchise game-changer who could help a team for years to come.
But in short, as long as the Mystics are emphasizing youth development and we're continuing to see what we're seeing out of the youngsters, they're not running on the dreaded "Treadmill of Mediocrity." This is because the younger players would be developing together, and younger players have built-in upside. We don't know what the Mystics' ceiling could be with their current collection of players. But given how young the team is, we know that they haven't peaked yet.
"Treadmill Teams" are generally veteran-laden and make moves just to prolong a playoff window even though they do not have a realistic chance at a championship. The Mystics haven't made these kinds of moves since Mike Thibault took over.
Either way, If the young players are playing better than expected, that is a good thing. And so far, we are seeing that the younger players in D.C. are doing just that.
Besides, if the Mystics' younger players continue to develop nicely, it could make Washington an attractive place for superstars who may be thinking of playing elsewhere. Just saying.
The Washington Mystics are rebuilding with a young roster made up of seven rookies and sophomores. These players have already shown poise and led the team to victories this season. It is definitely a pleasure watching the youngsters develop before our very eyes.