So here are the questions:
1. Are the Mystics a playoff-caliber team after a 4-1 start?
Zack - First off, it doesn't take much to make the playoffs in the WNBA, like not even a winning record. So I was never going to be shocked if the Mystics snuck in as a 4-seed. In addition, I really feel like the Mystics were not actually the worst team in the league last year. I only covered two of their games in 2012 and I saw flashes of a team that was pretty good. With Crystal Langhorne as their leading scorer, they were the No. 1 seed in the East in 2010. So who's to say they can't be a playoff team again with her and now Ivory Latta now leading the way?
Albert - Before this season, I didn't see the Mystics as a playoff team, pretty much no matter what, and yeah, I definitely was and still am in some ways one of those "doubters" Latta was talking about post game after the Indiana Fever win last Sunday. But even though I have entered this season with a lot of doubts and skepticism, I want to be pleasantly surprised and eating crow as much as anyone. And even considering the things that I'm concerned about, I'm still very happy with this 4-1 start. After thinking this through, yes, the Mystics have the combined team chemistry, coaching ability, and talent to get into the playoffs. So no more Jim Mora given what I've seen!
2. Given the 4-1 start, is this year still a rebuilding/development year, or could this be a year where the Mystics could be going literally from worst to first in a year at least for the regular season?
Zack - After the Minnesota game Coach Thibault said he is not thinking about stringing wins together as much as he is focusing on one game at a time in this stage of the rebuilding process. After the Indiana game he refused to say whether or not he thought the rebuilding process was "on schedule," though I think most people in the media consider 4-1 to be ahead of schedule. So I think there is a lot of realism in the Mystics' locker room, but a lot of excitement as well. They probably don't yet know how good they can be. Like I said in question number one, this isn't the MLB where eight (now 10) of 30 make the playoffs. It's eight of 12. So you can easily go from dead last to the playoffs. But going from dead last to winning a championship is a whole different story.
We also have to remember it is very early and the playoffs are no guarantee yet. And it is a bit of a warning sign that they aren't blowing anybody out. The truly great teams in the league are going to win some games comfortably and if the Mystics are always in close ones a lot of those will turn into losses based on the law of averages. But I think they have shown a lot of character pulling out these nail biters and feel like they can compete with any team on any given night.
To answer this question, I think the young and more veteran players on the Mystics can coexist and try to win now. But I think the team may try to play it off like they are still rebuilding like Thibault did after the Minnesota game. They were humbled by last year are aren't going to get carried away because they won four games. That will serve them well.
Albert - Regardless of whether the team makes the playoffs, this season has to be treated as a rebuilding year. People tend to associate rebuilding years with losing records but that's not necessarily the case, especially if two thirds of the league's teams make the postseason.
Let's face it. Last year's team was 5-29. Changes had to be made and it's not like everything will click overnight even though we're seeing a lot of good things so far for 2013. While I'm fine with the Mystics winning games in and of itself, they cannot do so at the expense of the rookies' development. In addition, should this team be in the postseason more often than not in the next three to five years, that will also prevent this team from getting more rookie impact players in the draft which puts even more accountability or pressure on the rookies, in particular Tayler Hill to perform at a high level right now. Like blackandgoldforever has mentioned, we don't want to and cannot afford to head into the 2014 season and wonder what Hill can provide to the table, playoffs or no playoffs this year.
3. True or False: Ivory Latta should be an All-Star starter.
Zack - True. She was the leading scorer in the East entering Sunday. I think statistically only Tina Charles and Angel McCoughtry are having noticeably better seasons so far in the East. She is so valuable to the Mystics and if the Mystics remain in second place like they are now, their best player should be represented as an All-Star starter.
Albert - True. Latta has been an aggressive scorer from the perimeter, and is making better decisions more often than not in order to position the Mystics to win games. Besides Ted Leonsis' hiring of Mike Thibault last December, she is the best acquisition that the team has made, and is the best player on the Mystics right now. The question at this point is whether casual WNBA fans who are voting in the All-Star game would vote for Latta. Either way, she's in the All-Star game if she continues this level of play.
4. True or False: Mike Thibault deserves to be the 2013 WNBA Coach of the Year.
Zack - There is still a long way to go. But it's hard to give this to Corey Gaines, Pokey Chatman or Gary Kloppenburg when they had the luxury of drafting the "Three to See," something Thibault did not have.
Albert - True, but only if the Mystics can continue to win games at a solid clip for the rest of the season and there's a long way to go. Barring a big-time collapse, Thibault deserves this award if this team is at least close to .500 considering how bad they were last year.
5. While there's never a good time to question draft selections this early, the fact is that most mock drafts besides ours had Kelsey Bone (who's playing well for the New York Liberty) or Tianna Hawkins (who's now with the Seattle Storm) as the Mystics' first round pick, for various reasons. Would they have been better fits for DC than Tayler Hill?
Zack - No. I think Tayler Hill fits on the Mystics as a potentially dangerous 3-point weapon who can take pressure off Latta in that department so that Ivory can focusing on being a floor general as well.
A part of me would love to see the Mystics have more Maryland players than Duke players, ha ha. With Jasmine Thomas going to Atlanta they had the opportunity to achieve that by drafting Tianna. But they ultimately chose not to draft her and have three former ACC rivals who played against each other and now all coexisting with Crystal Langhorne, Monique Currie and Latta, and obviously their college days are pushed to the side. And building a strong team is more important than where players went to school.
While Kelsey Bone is doing great in New York, I like the faith Mike Thibault has shown in Langhorne. He didn't draft anyone at her position (though he did bring in a post player in Kia Vaughn) and made it clear that this is still Crystal's team. But with the Mystics' post rotation already set and their backcourt rotation needing someone who could be a long term fit, Tayler Hill is the right pick.
Albert - No. I believed all offseason that the Mystics needed a guard and Hill was the best guard available who could change the dynamic of the backcourt right away. She just needs to be in a comfort zone, and we finally got to see a little bit of it last Sunday. If we see more of this and let the offense run more through her from now on, we hopefully won't have this conversation after this season.
I get that Bone so far is having a better season than Hill since she is averaging nearly 6 points and over 5 rebounds in over 20 minutes a game off the bench, but that's in New York with Cheryl Ford being waived due to a knee injury. If she were in DC, Bone would have played behind Langhorne, Vaughn, and Michelle Snow and play maybe 10 minutes a game. And if Meesseman is still drafted, Bone may be getting even less time than that. The exact same argument can be said for Hawkins, who unfortunately is not getting the time she should be getting in Seattle.
You could make a case that Kelly Faris or Layshia Clarendon should have been picked at #4 since they can play off the ball very well, but Hill has the highest ceiling of the three and that is why she is the right pick for DC. I think Hill can be a guard not unlike another Mike Thibault protege in Katie Douglas, maybe even better in her prime and all Mystics fans should be very ecstatic if she becomes that type of a player really soon.
6. Do you expect that the Mystics have a chance to win every game as fans?
Zack - Technically I'm still a Monarchs fan, ha ha (Sacramento born, represent!). But I know from covering the Mystics briefly last year, the team felt like they were capable of beating anybody - they just never really lived up to that belief, although they did beat Indiana. This year they really can beat anybody.
Albert - Coming into this year, I expected that Mike Thibault will get the Mystics to play competitively every game which I didn't see last year. After seeing these five games, my expectations have been confirmed and then some. I now expect that the Mystics have a shot to win any game. I even expect them to beat top tier teams that don't take them seriously, like the Minnesota Lynx. That's a stark contrast to last year, where I just hoped that they'd keep the game close.