Don't get me wrong, I do believe and I have stated that this Mystics team, even if there are no more changes, does have more upside and potential to compete than the 2012 team. However, the 2012 team had no upside, and really, no potential to improve in the future. So here are the questions or things I see facing this team's immediate and long term future:
1. Is Tayler Hill part of the Mystics' foundation? Can she really be a franchise star for the Mystics? Or is she merely going to be put around Crystal Langhorne?
The answer to this question isn't coming right away. And as we pointed out in the piece where Hill got drafted, she's likely going to get starter level minutes if not start right away.
As a Wizards fan in addition to the Mystics, I came across this FanPost written by 123ayes on Bullets Forever, our SB Nation Wizards site, who talked about the Wizards not being able to get past a "potential" phase. Still as someone who is part of the majority of Wizards fans who don't particularly follow the Mystics much, here's one quote that he says in regards to the 2013 Draft:
..There were 3 stud picks coming out of college this year in Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, and Skylar Diggins...the Washington Mystics, of course, had the #4 pick. The feeling upon realizing this was one of concession.... Please basketball gods - can this city catch a damn break?
I wholeheartedly agree. Both of these teams just seem to face bad luck, whether it's the Wizards' constant injuries, or the Mystics lack of getting a rookie star who also comes in with a bunch of national hype like a Candace Parker or a Diana Taurasi.
While this season certainly is expected in many ways to be a bigger one, especially with the rookies that we've mentioned many times and at length here, fact of the matter is that Tayler Hill doesn't have the star power and is a "consolation prize" of sorts. No matter what, the Mystics just aren't going to get national WNBA media buzz, unless they make the Finals this year, and they in all likelihood won't. The same goes for the Wizards and the NBA because Washington is a big time city, yet none of the so called "A-list" NBA stars want to play here in free agency.
But more importantly, Griner, EDD, and Diggins are either the bona fide franchise stars (Diggins and Tulsa), somewhere really close (EDD and Chicago) or at the very least, the bona fide foundational player in waiting (Griner and Phoenix, and only because of Diana Taurasi). Still, those three teams are now going to build AROUND those three rookies and they'll really be part of a new era. For the Mystics, is Tayler Hill also a FOUNDATIONAL player who will be a cornerstone of this team? Or is she just going to be built around Crystal Langhorne who is a very good player, but not really a franchise level player according to many, including the boss on this site?
If I had to answer that question, Tayler Hill is the most important player on the Washington Mystics given that she is Mike Thibault's first major draft pick. I don't want to say she's a franchise player right now, but at the same time, given the need to move this team in another direction, she is the first major piece in Thibault's era so for 2013, she is the most important player in DC and her success is very important, if not essential to this rebuild.
Mike Thibault needs to make sure that Tayler Hill does become at the very least, a high performing WNBA guard. To do this, I believe that though players have to mutually benefit one another, it is more important to see how future players can complement Tayler Hill than wondering if Tayler Hill and other players can complement Crystal Langhorne. Therefore it is important to see whether Langhorne's game can help make Hill a key Mystics player over the next five to eight years, rather than see if Hill can take Langhorne to a one and done playoff appearance in 2013 which is what the previous coach wanted the year before. If the former belief is taken in this Mystics rebuild, I think this is a sound move and a way to view this era as a fresh start even if Langhorne stays on this team for the next five to eight years.
2. Current young player development must be PRIORITY NUMBER ONE for the Mystics. Developing another current young player to become a starter-level or sixth man player is a big plus.
This ties with the first point. I'll take this a step further though. There are more players on this team not named Tayler or Crystal. Especially younger players. As of today, the rookies and second year players are guard Nadirah McKenith and center Emma Meesseman who are the other 2013 Draft picks; 2nd year center Avery Warley who was a free agent acquisition; and 2nd year guard Natalie Novosel who was on the 2012 team.
There's a good chance nearly all of them will make the team and play virtually all season. And let's hope so too. In addition, with this collection of young players, I do hope that at least one of them develops into a legitimate rotational piece who could play those types of minutes on a championship contender. With Mike Thibault, hopefully someone in this group can do that, and if so, this will accelerate the rebuild.
3. The Mystics should be thinking about building with multiple lottery draft picks over multiple years in order to build a perennial contender.
In Monumental Network's most recent Press Row, which is a long form show that is done to highlight Monumental Sports' teams, toward the end they talked about the Mystics' draft picks and were optimistic that the team will contend for a playoff spot. Some fans may feel that this is a year to get back into the playoffs as well and Coach Thibault may say this too. While two thirds of the teams in the East will make the Playoffs, I have this to say about it:
Sorry to be a downer here, but really, the Mystics aren't the Minnesota Lynx and the other teams on paper in the East are all still better than they are, even considering Thibault's excellent off season to date.
The Mystics lack multiple lottery picks in multiple years during a "period of futility" to help add multiple stars to their team. So Natalie Novosel doesn't count. Since the 2011 team, the first team to not make the playoffs, here are the lottery picks (#1 to #4 only) since then:
|Year of Draft||Lottery Draft Pick Selection|
|2012||Traded to Minnesota|
|2013||Drafted Guard Tayler Hill at #4|
|2014||(the 2013 season didn't start yet)|
To take a page out of the Wizards' current rebuild, they have decided to do so primarily through the draft and by adding multiple lottery picks in consecutive years. For Wizards terms, players like Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker don't count though they are first round picks since they weren't in the Top 14. Here are the Lottery selections they had, and the fate of those selections:
|Year of Draft||Lottery Draft Pick Selection|
|2009||Traded to Minnesota|
|2010||Drafted Guard John Wall at #1|
|2011||Drafted Forward Jan Vesely at #6|
|2012||Drafted Guard Bradley Beal at #3|
|2013||Undetermined (DC has 8th best chance at #1 pick)|
Besides a coincidence that the Mystics and Wizards traded their first draft lottery picks during their periods of futility to the Lynx (2012) and Timberwolves (2009) respectively, the Wizards have had a longer period of just bad records which have allowed them to draft three top 10 picks in a row so far. Of the three draft selections, John Wall has played relatively well and considerably improved his shooting in the latter half of the 2012-2013 season and had a career high in scoring average (18.5 ppg). Bradley Beal in his rookie year also has become a very good backcourt mate to Wall, where he scored nearly 14 points a game and averaged nearly 39% of his threes (91-236). In fact, with Wall, Beal, and veteran forward Nene Hilario, the Wizards were 15-7, though all three missed games due to injury, but still, there is potential for a good core in DC with the guards at the very least.
And for Vesely the 2011 top pick. He leaves... something to be desired and let's leave it at that. In the 2013 Draft Lottery, there could be another Top 3 pick if the Wizards are lucky.
Either way you look at it, the Wizards have added multiple core-foundation players via the draft, and they are meshing well together when healthy, and with other sound veterans such as Nene, Emeka Okafor, or Martell Webster but again, that's if they are healthy. The Wizards have been really unlucky in regards to keeping their players healthy for whatever reason.
At least with the Mystics, their current record of futility hasn't been as long as the Wizards since their current funk started in 2011. But so far, there is only ONE lottery pick to show for it, being Tayler Hill.
While the Mystics certainly have been a bad franchise overall based on wins and losses alone and made the playoffs six times, they have also managed to never miss the playoffs more than two years in a row. However, when they made the playoffs, the Mystics were always a lower half seed except in 2010 when they were the #1 seed in the East. Sometimes you have to be really bad for a while in order to get the assets needed to turn a team around.
4. When the Mystics start showing positive results on the court, do NOT make knee-jerk reaction moves to simply "win now" because that will put them on the treadmill of mediocrity.
The "treadmill of mediocrity" is a concept of a team that is perennially not good enough to have a chance to win it all, but is also not quite bad enough to get a top draft pick. Nate discussed this concept last year to ask whether the Mystics were headed in the right direction. One, they weren't headed in the right direction then, but fortunately, they weren't on that treadmill because the team had two straight horrible years in almost every way.
After the end of their regular season, Bullets Forever's Mike Prada wrote that current Wizards players, including John Wall and Martell Webster as well as head coach Randy Wittman have indicated that they would rather add veteran talent than develop more youth. Reminds me of Thibault's predecessor...
I get that players want to win now, and so do coaches. This tends to be why teams like veteran acquisitions. Players and coaches are competitive folks. Going back to 123ayes' FanPost, he also voices a fan-based sentiment on the Wizards' lack of making veteran moves and some examples are listed in his piece. At some point, fans get impatient with rebuilding teams too.
Obviously, there are some downsides to youth, and sometimes there can be too many young players. The Wizards also have shown this in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 NBA seasons with Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, and Nick Young being known as the "Three Clowns" or "Three Burritos" by a number of Wizards fans for their unprofessionalism. They were ultimately amnestied (Blatche) or traded (McGee and Young) for Nene who is the right kind of veteran leader for them, and even better when healthy. Veterans are important, but young players become true vets after a few years and sooner than we think. And also veterans that come to a rebuilding team need to be vocal leaders and mentors. But they shouldn't take so many roles to the point where the young players don't get to play.
When all this comes to the Mystics, Mike Thibault has got to have his GM hat on more than his head coach hat on at least for the next couple seasons given the need for long term development, not short term wins. At some point, maybe even this year, the Mystics may look like they are one veteran piece from the playoffs if they trade their 2014 first round draft pick away.
Don't do it Coach even if fans are begging you to! While you've done a great job so far, the Mystics are further behind than the Wizards in their rebuilding processes and collecting younger players to see what they can do. Making such moves can also backfire when teams aren't ready to be serious contenders right away. Your predecessor unfortunately made herself an example in that area for the wrong reasons.
It's safe to say that the Washington Mystics have had a good offseason since Mike Thibault took over, which include adding more players with upside all around the roster, and also by giving the backcourt a presumably new look. However, it's also important to know that these younger players have to develop and play meaningful minutes, and Tayler Hill in particular must be developed property so she can be the star that some believe she could be. By continuing to develop Hill and current younger players, as well as developing the team's future first round picks, the Mystics will have a better chance to contend for a long time, hopefully sooner than some may think.
Poll's below on who you think the Mystics' most important player is.