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Washington Mystics 2014 midseason grades and goals

After 17 games or exactly half of the regular season, we evaluate how the Washington Mystics are doing. We have individual grades, list which five players should have been on their All-Star ballot, and give their goals for the second half.

Photo courtesy of Stewart W. Small

With 17 games in the books, it's time to evaluate how the Washington Mystics are doing at the exact midpoint of the regular season.

To help me out with this, I contacted Ebenezer Famutimi, a/k/a "EB", another Mystics fan to add his insights. EB is probably best known for adding his insights on the team at the Washington Mystics' official Facebook page, where he gives grades to the starting lineups, their bench, and coaching staff after every game.

He agreed to help us out here. Our evaluations on the players, Mike Thibault, their All-Star ballot, and goals for them going forward are below. Happy reading.

Player evaluations

Monique Currie

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Ebenezer: C. Currie needs to be more consistent as a scorer, and stay out of foul trouble. While her fouls per game have dropped, she is committing more fouls per 36 minutes (4.7) than in 2013 (4.1) and 2012 (3.7).

Albert: C+. Currie's numbers and efficiency have been down considerably from last season. But as a veteran, she also has a responsibility to set a good example for the younger players on the team. Coach T has noted that she is doing just that, which helps her grade. This article from Pressbox D.C. talks more about Currie and the variety of roles she had throughout her career.

Stefanie Dolson

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EB: A. I'm liking a lot of things from Dolson's game and really believe she's a long term fit as the Mystics' starting center. She has a good midrange shot and is a good playmaker from the post. Dolson's 4th quarter performance against the San Antonio Stars definitely shows what she can do when she's at her best.

Though she needs more playing time, Dolson needs to stay out of foul trouble, where she is averaging five personal fouls per 36 minutes played. Yikes!

AL: B+. Dolson was really turnover prone early in the 2014 season, in part because of her passing, which oddly enough sets her apart from most other low post prospects. However, she has taken better care of the ball as the season has gone on.

Another thing that Dolson can work on is to be more aggressive trying to draw fouls and get to the free throw line where she makes over 80% of her shots. Other than that, I agree that she could very well be a long term answer at the center position in D.C.

Kalana Greene

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EB: N/A. I can't give her a grade because she hasn't played enough.

AL: N/A. I agree. But considering that she has been a starter for much of her career and isn't doing much now, I don't view that as a good thing either.

Bria Hartley

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EB: B. Hartley has shown a fearless mentality from day one, and has made a positive impact on the Mystics' offense in general with her scoring. However, she can improve her passing skills and needs to cut down on the turnovers. Still, if Hartley can make more steps in her overall game in the next couple seasons, she could be a steal in this draft, and a cornerstone for this team.

AL: A-. Hartley is playing the way that I wish Tayler Hill would have done last season. Unlike Hill for most of the regular season, Hartley won't hesitate to take a shot if she's open. Yes, she is streaky and is turnover prone right now, but I think that will take care of itself as the season goes on. I give her an A- because she has been playing at a high level given her draft position, and that other veteran backcourt players aren't playing up to par.

Tianna Hawkins

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EB: B. Hawkins hasn't played starter-level minutes for the Mystics since she was acquired from the Seattle Storm. But the thing I like about her is that she is making shots at a good rate while she's on the floor. What I want her to improve on is learning Coach T's system. She is prone to holding onto the ball too long figuring out what to do during a play.

AL: B. When Hawkins was playing for the Seattle Storm last year, she played further away from the basket than she does now in D.C. It's no accident that she's averaging 4.6 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes played, and 10.1 rebounds overall, also per 36 minutes played. Furthermore, Hawkins is grabbing about 15.4% of the possible offensive rebounding opportunities whiles she's on the floor, which is really good. In short, Coach T is utilizing Hawkins to her strengths at the offensive glass, not unlike how she was in her senior college season at Maryland. I would like to see her get more time too because of this.

Tayler Hill

EB: N/A. She's been inactive due to her pregnancy and giving birth thus far, so no grade. But it's nice to see that she came back last Sunday with her baby.

AL: N/A. No grade on Hill, but when she's in 100% playing shape next season (Hill won't be 100% this season even if/when she plays), Hill is going to be a step behind trying to be a long term starter for the Mystics, especially if Ivory Latta remains in D.C. for 2015.

Either way, the Mystics can't afford to see Hill fail because she's the only "reward" for the coaching regime before Mike Thibault took over. Hopefully, she can play at a level not unlike the three players picked before her in the Draft. But if she fails, that would set the rebuild back by a year, at least.

Ivory Latta

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EB: B. Latta was easily the Mystics' best player last year and carried the Mystics with her three point shooting and playmaking ability. This year, she hasn't quite replicated that. Latta needs to be more consistent overall, particularly with her three point shooting.

AL: C+. I also agree that Latta needs to improve her shooting consistency. I will add that she needs to find other ways to score besides shooting threes. Over the last several seasons, Latta has also been attempting fewer two point shots, AND her shooting percentage there has dropped every year from 2012 through this season. That has to improve.

Kara Lawson

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EB: C. Lawson has been disappointing since coming to D.C. She needs to be consistent and more fit in order to keep up with the faster guards.

AL: C-. Lawson was supposed to be a starter alongside Latta, but her shooting all around has not been where it was during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. That said, she often has other ways to make an impact on a game. For example on June 13 in a win against the Chicago Sky, Lawson dished 12 assists and five rebounds though her shooting overall wasn't great.

Going forward, having Lawson come off the bench isn't a bad thing either because it helps prevent a situation where the bench is made up almost entirely of rookies and sophomores. And even if she is a bench player, Lawson will still get her fair share of time, especially when she is making a big impact on the court.

Emma Meesseman

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EB: B. I loved Meesseman's performance on June 27 against the Connecticut Sun. But she still needs to be more aggressive and use her height advantage to score more in the paint. I want to see more performances from her like last Friday.

AL: A-. Meesseman has shown Mystics fans this season why she could be a long term piece for the future at one of the low post positions. She still wasn't assertive enough on offense at the beginning of the season, even with Crystal Langhorne no longer in the picture. But fortunately, that has changed recently.

Any rookie or sophomore on this Washington Mystics team should be earning a regular flow of minutes. If she isn't, then she shouldn't be on the team. 
Jelena Milovanovic

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EB: D. I liked some of her shooting performances early, but she needs to improve her shot selection and look more to pass than shoot.

AL: D. Any rookie or sophomore on this Washington Mystics team should be earning a regular flow of minutes. If she isn't, then she shouldn't be on the team.

Milovanovic had some positive moments early in the season, where she ended up playing a major role in wings against the New York Liberty on May 30, and the L.A. Sparks triple overtime classic on June 1. She has since fallen out of favor and earned some DNP-CD's. Milovanovic has missed a couple games due to a right knee strain, so that could be why she hasn't played much as of late.

But this is also something else that doesn't sit well with me. Milovanovic is the only Mystics player whose offensive rating is below 90 (hers is 85), and whose defensive rating is 103. Then she is not rebounding the ball very much given her 6'3" frame, yet she has a usage rate of 24.7% and averages 12.8 minutes per game.

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt

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EB: C. TRP needs to improve her shot selection and stay out of foul trouble. She is averaging nearly 4 fouls per 36 minutes played.

AL: C-. TRP would be a consistent starter in this league if she had a reliable jumpshot from midrange and beyond. From the Minnesota Lynx's miscellaneous statistics page, she only made a combined 2-of-18 shots from 6 to 15 feet this season. Then she's not a reliable three point shooter. However, perhaps TRP does better from 16-21 feet where she made 7-of-19 shots so far this season. Either way, TRP must improve her shooting so teams won't play five-on-four when she is on offense.

Kia Vaughn

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EB: C. Vaughn needs to be more consistent and needs to learn Coach T’s system better to avoid running time off the clock trying to figure out the next play. When her shot is falling, things are good, but if not, things can go downhill from there.

AL: B. I agree that Vaughn can be a black hole on offense, and she needs to develop a passing game. But on a team that has been turnover prone, Vaughn has been the exact opposite. She is averaging a career low in turnovers and she is also averaging a career high in her rebounding rate. These kind of things may be why she is starting over Stefanie Dolson for the time being.

Mike Thibault's coaching

The Mystics have generally played very well considering the amount of youth on the roster.

EB: B. Coach T needs to stick with consistent lineups as opposed to wholesale substitutions at any moment which breaks the players’ rhythm. He needs to properly address areas of deficiency in the second halves so as to finish games strong. Otherwise, the Mystics have generally played very well considering the amount of youth on the roster.

AL: B+. At the beginning of the season, Coach T himself didn't seem to know who to start on a game to game basis. But as the season has gone on, the starting lineup has become more consistent.

Also, we have to understand that even though the Mystics are one of the youngest teams in the WNBA, along with the Tulsa Shock and the Connecticut Sun, they have more challenges than those other teams.

First, they also do not have ANY lottery picks playing for them since Hill is out while the Sun and Shock have multiple young lottery picks playing. Then none of the Mystics' rookies and sophomores are Top-3 selections in the Draft. Connecticut and Tulsa do. So, the fact that the Mystics are 7-10 with a roster largely made up of young mid first round and second round draft picks is commendable. Not too many other head coaches can do (or even WANT TO DO) what he's doing.

Mike Thibault's GM'ing

EB: A. Coach T made some good moves the past couple offseasons, in particular the Draft Night acquisition of Bria Hartley and Tianna Hawkins. But he still needs to find an answer to the Mystics' weakness at the small forward position which he failed to do last season. Monique Currie is not the answer.

AL: A-. I like the moves that Thibault has made since coming to D.C., and personnel-wise, I'm starting to see what he wants to do here. But at the same time, the Washington Mystics do not have a superstar player on the roster. Sure, perhaps one of the mid first round picks on this team may turn into that player, but the chances of that happening are remote.

In all likelihood, the Mystics will have to be a lottery team for multiple seasons to get that player if they also want to keep the young core that they're building. But at the same time, Thibault can't get the team's current group of younger players to develop losing habits. How and whether Thibault can answer this challenge as a GM will determine his legacy in D.C. and how well this team will ultimately perform.

Who should have been the five Washington Mystics players listed on the All-Star Ballot?

Both EB and I were confused with all five of these Mystics players (pictured below) being those listed on the ballot for the 2014 All-Star game:

We didn't have an issue with some of these players on here, but if we had control over who would be on the All-Star Ballot, here are the players who we would choose. In fact, we would have put them on here before the season started:

Player Position
Ivory Latta Backcourt
Bria Hartley Backcourt
Monique Currie Frontcourt
Emma Meesseman Frontcourt
Stefanie Dolson Frontcourt

As you can tell, rookies Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson were the players we would have listed on the ballot instead of Kara Lawson and Kia Vaughn.

From a basketball only-lens, both Hartley and Dolson have played at least rotation-level minutes. In fact, Hartley has started most of the Mystics' games this season. And though Dolson hasn't started this season over Vaughn, consider this. Shoni Schimmel isn't a regular starter on the Atlanta Dream, yet she is on the ballot. The other guard on the ballot for the Dream is Matee Ajavon. To be fair, Schimmel plays rotation-level minutes, but Ajavon suffered injuries and hasn't made much of an impact for the Dream.

All-Star ballot returns so far

But then we also think the Mystics missed the ball here marketing-wise on a national scale. Yes, I'm calling Hartley and Dolson Mystics players left and right, because they're now in Monumental Red. But nationally, people still associate them more as UConn players from their college careers. UConn also has a national fanbase that would vote for both of these players often.

Given how ho-hum the East has been in the backcourt ballot returns, it would not shock us to see Hartley start alongside Shoni Schimmel if her name was on the Ballot. Sure, you can say that college fans trolled the All-Star ballots because of this, but the All-Star game is for the fans, and they want to vote for their favorite players.

Why the Mystics put Lawson over Hartley and Vaughn over Dolson remains a mystery and a missed opportunity to both of us. Yeah, Lawson and Vaughn are veterans and have established histories, but you have to try to get the fans to put your guys on the team on there because of the positive publicity.

Three goals for the Washington Mystics's second half stretch

Both EB and I have very similar goals for this team's next 17 games, so here they are.

1. Take care of the basketball. Right now they are third in the league in turnovers per game, yet are dead last in CAUSING turnovers. Needless to say, they're worst in the league in turnover differential.

2. Improve three point shooting accuracy and get to the free throw line. The Mystics have a number of good shooters on this team and aren't hesitating to take these shots (they made the fourth most threes in the WNBA so far), but these shots have to go in at a higher clip.

If the team is still not making threes at a good clip, then the Mystics need to attack the paint more. And why aren't they? Right now, they have attempted 248 free throws, dead last in the league. Yet, the Mystics made 205 of those shots. That's 82.7%, or the second highest rate in the WNBA. Every other team has attempted many more shots. SO GET TO THE LINE!

3. Finish the season strong. Try to match the 2013 team's 17-17 regular season record. This team is capable of that. If they make the playoffs, next year's draft isn't expected to be that deep, so it's not like they will miss out on multiple superstars. Besides, who doesn't want to see Bria Hartley making some killer crossovers and drives when the games "really count?"

Still, if the Mystics do miss the playoffs, that's not exactly a bad thing. They still need more high draft picks and are early in the team rebuilding process. But let's see what this team can do for the time being, and then play by ear.

Thanks again to Ebenezer for helping us out.