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Our second Q&A on the 2013 Washington Mystics season

Zack and I answer more questions on the Mystics' 2013 season including whether their recent five game losing streak is a cause for concern, and on Ivory Latta's and Crystal Langhorne's All-Star candidacies among other things. You can also read the first one here.

Zack and I discuss whether Ivory Latta could start the All Star Game this year among other things.  And I never thought that Candace Parker would be in awe of Latta like I see here.
Zack and I discuss whether Ivory Latta could start the All Star Game this year among other things. And I never thought that Candace Parker would be in awe of Latta like I see here.

So, let's get to the questions:

1. The Mystics suffered a five game losing streak before winning big against the Tulsa Shock. The first three of these losses were on the road during a three game Western Conference road trip. Is this a cause for concern?

The combined 16-28 record of [the Mystics'] defeated opponents seems like more of a trend than a coincidence so they have to start beating some good teams.

Albert - To me, not really. As you mentioned Zack in the last Q&A, the Mystics didn't blow anyone out in their four close win games and great teams will have their fair share of blowouts. Three of the five games in this losing streak were truly winnable late and the "law of averages" kicked in considering that they won four total close games in crunch time. Then as I've said all along this season, the Mystics are a rebuilding team while most of the teams they faced, like LA, Atlanta, and Phoenix, all have legitimate conference championship aspirations this year, if not better.

All that said, even when the Mystics were getting blown out by LA and Atlanta for much of the game, the team didn't give up and the final score margins did become respectable at the end so at least on the surface, it didn't look like they were blown out per se. The only loss I consider to be disappointing was against the Seattle Storm which I felt was the most winnable based on their talent level which has been depleted due to injuries to their top stars.

Zack - I am a little concerned still by the combined record of the Mystics' defeated opponents (16-28). But I have kind of gotten swept up in the good vibes and believe they can finish this season with a winning record or close to it. They just can't make a habit of going on five-game losing streaks. I think every win in the WNBA is a good win, even against 3-11 Tulsa, but the combined 16-28 record of their defeated opponents seems like more of a trend than a coincidence, so they have to start beating some good teams.

2. Ivory Latta was third place among Eastern Conference backcourt players in 2013 All-Star voting. She was only 126 votes away from Chicago's Epiphanny Prince in fact (6,898 to 6,772). Could she be starting the All-Star game when voting closes?

Albert - I'm pleasantly surprised, but not shocked to see her at third place in the East. Without Latta, as you noted earlier Zack, the Mystics may have started out a lot worse, like 0-5 instead of 4-1. I think fans league-wide are giving respect to Ivory Latta for her improved play this season and for being the player who is keeping the Mystics away from the Eastern Conference cellar, not just Mystics fans voting for their player. Maybe another winning streak with Latta leading the way could be enough for her to overtake Epiphanny Prince.

Zack - It's hard to go against Cappie Pondexter and Epiphanny Prince who are the two guards in the lead right now, but I agree with you Albert that Latta has been an MVP of sorts if you just look at the intangibles and when she hit the shots she did. She has made missing out on the "3 to See" bearable for Mystics fans.

3. Does Crystal Langhorne deserve a spot on the All-Star team as a coaches' selection? (She is currently 10th among Eastern Conference players in All-Star voting, so it's unlikely she'll be voted in.)

[Crystal Langhorne] deserves to be ahead of some of the people who are ahead of her in All-Star voting.

Albert - If I have to give a yes or no answer, I hate to say it, but no. She is not scoring and rebounding at an All-Star level, and her offensive rebounding this season is still low for her standards. That said, many other Eastern Conference frontcourt players aren't playing and leading their teams to the expectations many had for them in the preseason like Tina Charles and Tamika Catchings among others, while the Mystics are playing above expectations, at least from a win and loss perspective. So it wouldn't surprise me to see Langhorne named as a reserve in the All-Star game and it would be nice to see another DC player in the All-Star game in addition to Latta, who I believe will be an All-Star regardless.

Zack - Here's what the starting lineup (two backcourt players and three frontcourt players) for the East would look like if it were based solely on adding up a player's points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks per game with stats just for games played up through July 4, 2013:

POS Player Team Games Played MPG FG% Pt/Reb/Ast/Stl/Block total
G Cappie Pondexter NY 11 37.2 38.30% 29.2
G Epiphanny Prince CHI 8 30.2 46.90% 24.7
FC Angel McCoughtry ATL 11 31.5 43.50% 35.5
FC Tamika Catchings IND 8 33.1 38.50% 31.9
FC Tina Charles CT 10 34.1 38.30% 34.3

And here's who the reserves, or the next six players regardless of position would be:

Player Team Games Played MPG FG% Pt/Reb/Ast/Stl/Block total
Sylvia Fowles CHI 10 30.4 52.90% 29.6
Elena Delle Donne CHI 11 33.2 41.90% 29.4
Ivory Latta DC 11 32.8 45.80% 23.8
Monique Currie DC 11 29.3 43.50% 23.3
Shavonte Zellous IND 10 33.7 44.40% 23.3
Crystal Langhone DC 11 30.2 56.10% 23

And here are other players who are in the running statistically:

Player Team Games Played MPG FG% Pt/Reb/Ast/Stl/Block total
Erika de Souza ATL 11 25.6 54.40% 21.4
Allison Hightower CT 10 31.1 45.50% 21.4
Tiffany Hayes ATL 11 23.8 37.20% 18.8
Kara Braxton NY 11 22.2 48.90% 18.3
Plenette Pierson NY 9 22.8 41.70% 18.3
Courtney Vandersloot CHI 11 28.6 40.00% 18.1
Swin Cash CHI 11 27 41.10% 17.3
Erlana Larkins IND 10 29.9 46.40% 16.8
Armintie Herrington ATL 10 28.5 52.80% 15.8
Briann January IND 10 32.2 30.70% 15.5
Kalana Greene CT 10 28.7 41.20% 15.4
Matee Ajavon DC 11 20.4 42.00% 15.3
Karima Christmas IND 10 24.8 35.80% 15
Leilani Mitchell NY 11 21.9 51.70% 15

And here's four players who have played in less than 75 percent of their team's games:

Player Team Games Played MPG FG% Pt/Reb/Ast/Stl/Block total
Sancho Lyttle ATL 5 31.2 55% 31.4
Katie Douglas IND 2 37 48.10% 26.5
Kara Lawson CT 6 32.3 43.60% 24.8
Essence Carson NY 4 29.5 55% 22.6

Carson is out for the season, so obviously she will not be playing in the All-Star Game. Meanwhile, Douglas is still out indefinitely and has already missed about the equivalent of half of the first half. Sancho will be back for the Dream's next game, but can only get up to 11 games by the time of the All-Star Game. She and Lawson probably will have the best case for being in the game, but that's only if Lawson returns soon. Right now she is doubtful for the Sun's game on Saturday night. Anyway, not trying to get into a big Yasiel Puig debate, so I'll let you all decide if a player should be in the All-Star Game if they haven't played in very many games.

All things considered, Langhorne is right on the borderline of deserving a trip to the All-Star Game. The truth is that she is not living up to her own standards so far this season. Both her scoring and rebounding numbers right now are a little lower than what she's capable of. Also, the formula used above favors frontcourt players, as you can tell by the fact that Latta would be the only reserve guard, unless you also count Zellous. So it might be hard to stack the team with forwards and therefore Crystal could get left off. But I definitely think she deserves to be ahead of some of the people who are ahead of her in All-Star voting.

4. Is Tayler Hill now showing more progress toward being a core player for the Mystics, even this year?

Albert - I'm still giving her an incomplete because I don't think I've seen enough of her just yet. Hill had the breakout Sparks game scoring 16 points, but she hasn't scored over 10 points since. Part of it is because either she's still not given the green light to shoot when she wants to or she's just choosing not to drive to the hoop which is what she did a ton in college because it gives her free throw opportunities. I was encouraged that she did drive more in the Mystics' big win over Tulsa and she got six free throw attempts.

On defense, she has done a great job and even got some great steals against opposing players and maybe I'm just looking for what I want to look for, but her perimeter defense, even if she doesn't get stats for it, is very strong, and something that isn't noticed easily. Still, as I said before the season, she's the most important player on the team because she's the first major draft pick since the Mystics' string of losing seasons in 2011, and I don't want question marks simply because she's not playing minutes or being allowed to be herself, including in crunch time.

Zack - Albert, she did have that pretty good game right after the Sparks game too. Nine points in just 13 minutes and shot 4-8 from the field. Here's what Mike Thibault said about Hill in that game after their loss to Phoenix on June 27:

I thought she gave us a lift tonight, she was good, she was aggressive. Just trying to figure out minutes for her on the floor right now. But she's gonna be what we thought she'd be.

I think that about says it. Unlike you Albert, I wouldn't panic too much about Tayler Hill, because even just one great game allows you to have something tangible to point to and say: "see there, that's what we drafted her for."

5. Even though the Mystics are winning more games, they still aren't filling in many seats at Verizon Center and some other teams' fans have taken notice of that. What are your thoughts on it?

In the end, the simplest solution to higher attendance is a combination of winning games over the long run and getting a nationally followed player who is the clear face of the franchise.

Albert - I think all of us would love to see stands fill up for every Mystics game. But the reality is that the Mystics weren't and to a good extent, still aren't expected to mean much in the WNBA this season. Then you have to consider that this team doesn't have a nationally followed star like a Sue Bird, a Candace Parker, a Diana Taurasi, a Tamika Catchings, a Maya Moore, etc. Without a player who has such recognition, it's harder to sell tickets and put butts in seats for folks to see the home team, in particular if it's not winning much.

If one of the "Other Three" lottery picks were in a Mystics uniform, it's likely that attendance would have improved noticeably. But you also have to consider that there are other teams playing in the summer. The Washington Nationals baseball team is also now playing good baseball after some initial growing pains like during the 2008 and 2009 seasons when the team lost over 100 games each year. The DC United is playing at the same time though they relapsed back into the MLS' cellar this season as of today after a much improved 2012. Even with women's sports, the Washington Spirit women's professional soccer team plays during WNBA season and there's going to be a higher turnout in the first year of a new league and the NWSL is in that category, even if their record is bad, and the Spirit is actually last in the NWSL standings as of today.

In the end, the simplest solution to higher attendance is a combination of winning games over the long run and getting a nationally followed player who is the clear face of the franchise. While I don't expect to see that many filled seats for 2013 even if they make the playoffs, maybe the Mystics will have more attendance in future years as they improve in the record books and acquire nationally recognized talent, whether through the draft, trade, or free agency, and also if the existing rookie talent can develop to a very high level.

Zack - I noticed that the cheering was louder when the Mystics entered than when the Mercury entered back on June 27 and I wasn't sure if it was going to be. It demonstrated that people are there to see the Mystics, not just Brittney Griner or Skylar Diggins when they come to town.

Having never been to a WNBA game anywhere else, it's hard to compare it to anything. But I assume winning more consistently and being 20-10 late in the season as opposed to 4-1 early on, will get people's attention that this team could make a championship run. Supposedly Minnesota has one of the best fanbases these days, so that would back up the point that winning will get people to care. I feel like Washington, DC is definitely a place that will support women's basketball, especially if there is a lot of winning going on.

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