I'll admit it. Even though I'm looking forward to the 2015 WNBA season as a whole, I am not that excited about the Mystics.
Their first pick in the 2015 Draft was eighth in a "weak class" after a season where they overachieved. Though a couple players declared for the draft early, it doesn't console me much. But at least it did give them some more certainty on getting players who the front office wanted. Mystics General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault implied that this was the case in a video interview with Monumental Network's Jumoke Davis (embedded above).
In a draft where the Mystics didn't have many options to improve their roster, let's see which needs they had heading into the 2015 season. Also, how well do their top two draft picks: Ally Malott and Natasha Cloud could fit into the mix?
A statistical review on the Mystics' 2014 season performance
To get a better look at where the Mystics' weaknesses were in 2014 -- where they had a 16-18 regular season record -- let's take a look at some statistical metrics to see where they ranked compared with the rest of the WNBA:
|OFFENSE FOUR FACTORS
|DEFENSE FOUR FACTORS
|Pace & Efficiency
Statistics from Basketball-Reference.
From looking at the numbers here, some things stick out based on what they would like to continue or do better in 2015.
The Mystics have positioned themselves to be an elite defensive team in the future, despite having no All-Defensive Team members
If there is one thing that impressed us about the Mystics in 2014, it was that they were third in team defensive efficiency. There is no elite individual defender manning the fort. Instead, the Mystics had a mix of veterans as well as seven rookies and sophomores who contributed to that defensive rating. Washington was very good preventing the opposition from scoring at a high rate, and they also were good at preventing other teams from getting to the free throw line at a high rate.The Mystics can certainly work on improving their rebounding and causing other teams to turn the ball over more. But there's a good reason to believe that this will improve with time given that most players are returning.
The offense was stagnant, especially early in the season
The two things that were particularly frustrating for the Mystics was their offensive inefficiency.
The first impeding factor for the Mystics is pace. Since Thibault was hired, he made a point to make sure that Washington played at a faster tempo given that they were 10th in pace in 2012, the year before he arrived. In 2013, they were seventh in pace and were noticeably more efficient, especially from the three-point line that was moved back that season. However, they fell back to 10th in the 2014 season.
The paradox about the Mystics in 2014 and their slower pace was that the personnel they had appeared to be well-suited for an uptempo game. In other words, a backcourt of Ivory Latta and Bria Hartley and a group of young frontcourt players like Emma Meesseman and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt should be able to keep the pace up against the competition. But for whatever reason, they didn't play that way.
The second frustrating factor for Washington was three-point shooting efficiency. They were second in efficiency in 2013 (34.7 percent) but were ninth in (31.7 percent) in 2014. Like with pace, the perplexing thing about the Mystics' three-point shooting efficiency was that there were a number of players who were good at it, but they all seemed to be in shooting slumps. In fact, the Mystics only made 27.74 percent of all their three-point shots from May 16 to July 2, a span of 18 games. Thankfully, they improved drastically in the second half from deep.
What kinds of players will the Mystics need in 2015?
Based on the Mystics' 2014 shortcomings and free agency, the Mystics need:
- An additional reliable three-point shooter - Thibault emphasized early in his tenure in Washington that the teams who are better at making threes from the FIBA-length three-point line will do better than those who are not. The Mystics were efficient shooting from the three-point line in 2013, which may help explain why they made the playoffs that season instead of being last in the East.
- An additional post player who can play in the rotation - In light of Tianna Hawkins' pregnancy, the Mystics will need to find another post player who can either hold the fort. Or perhaps a new post player may be Hawkins' permanent replacement. Look no further than Tayler Hill's worst nightmare, a/k/a Bria Hartley, and you'll see what I mean.
- Another wing player who is taller than 5'10 - The Mystics only have one wing player taller than 5'10 in Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. Letting Monique Currie go to the Phoenix Mercury allows Washington to look for another small forward in the future. But the fact that they don't have a reliable wing player who is about 6'0 tall will be a concern.
Now, let's take a look at the two college prospects who the Mystics picked up in the Draft and see what we can come up with.
Ally Malott, 8th overall pick, Dayton
The Mystics used their first pick to select Malott, who just came off leading the Dayton Flyers to their first Elite Eight appearance in school history. Here is a look at her senior year's basic and advanced stats:
|2014-15 BASIC STATS
|2014-15 ADVANCED STATS
Data from WBB State.
What do I like about Malott? The Mystics do have a good number of proficient three-point shooters. However, all of them are guards with the exception of Jelena Milovanovic, who also had the lowest individual defensive rating of all individual frontcourt players on the team. Adding Mallot should help fill this void, and she is more of a true stretch power forward presence in an American presence than Milo is.
It's not just the shooting that I like about her, but she also rebounds at a significantly higher rate than Milovanovic even does for Dynamo Kursk, where she currently plays during the winter. I get that the competition is different between the EuroLeague and the NCAA, but I haven't seen Milovanovic be a player who is willing to get in the paint for rebounds. Malott shouldn't be in that situation as a pro.
Thibault has implied earlier this offseason that he wants Emma Meesseman to develop more of these types of skills as well. But let's also keep in mind that Meesseman also doesn't have a three-point shot in her arsenal right now, though it could happen in the future.
Are there any red flags? In two lengthy posts (here and here) about mid-major prospects and power forwards -- which Dayton is as an Atlantic 10 school -- here are the statistical factors that would indicate that Malott should pan out as a WNBA player if stats are all we have to go on:
- Does she have a two-point shooting percentage of 52 percent or higher? Malott shot 52.38 percent from two-point range in 2014-15, which just makes the cut.
- Does she have an offensive rebounding percentage of 11 percent or higher? Malott's rate was 8.22 percent, well below this mark.
- Does she have a Marginal Victories Produced (MVP) rating of 14 or higher? Malott's MVP rating was 10.95, well below the mark of 14.
As you can see, Malott's offensive rebounding and MVP ratings did not meet these arbitrary benchmarks. However, they do not necessarily mean that she is destined to be a bust.
First, let's examine the context surrounding why her offensive rebounding percentage is low. Part of that is because she took over one-third of her shots from beyond the three-point line, which will limit her opportunities to get offensive rebounds. The Mystics want to use her as a stretch four like Camille Little of the Connecticut Sun, not as a back-to-the-basket four like post Crystal Langhorne of the Seattle Storm.
Second, let's take a look at why her MVP rating is lower than 14. Based on what Nate was saying about mid-major prospects, I think that the MVP rating has to be looked at within the context of how good that team is beyond just the prospect herself. Malott played on a Top-10 team this past winter alongside guard Andrea Hoover, who also was the team's leading scorer and assister. Hoover also happened to be drafted herself, where she was the 31st overall pick to the Los Angeles Sparks. Therefore, Malott didn't play on a team where she was the number one option. Rather, she was part of a dynamic duo with Hoover, whose production would have mitigated Malott's MVP rating, and vice versa.
What role will Mallot play in D.C.? I see Malott playing as a backup power forward to Meesseman, and she will also see her times in situations where the Mystics need long perimeter shots. The results as a three-point shooter may not come immediately because the line is further back. But if Malott can develop her shot quickly and fill in some of the rebounding void in light of Tianna Hawkins' absence, she could be a valuable addition to the team's young core for years to come.
Natasha Cloud, 15th overall pick, St. Joseph's
Nate hit on most of the issues, both positive and negative on Cloud in his analysis on mid-major draft prospects. I'll elaborate a bit more within the context of being a Mystics fan. First, let's take a look at her production:
|2014-15 BASIC STATS
|2014-15 ADVANCED STATS
Data from WBB State.
What do I like about Cloud? I think Cloud is a player who helps fill the Mystics' need to have additional taller wing players. She is also a very versatile player, especially on the defensive end from her time at St. Joes.
Drafting Cloud also puts some of the pressure off of Ruffin-Pratt, who will likely have to defend an opposing team's best wing player for major stretches. This move helps alleviate that pressure given that Cloud is a tenacious defender like her.
Along with the signing of Armintie Herrington, Cloud's addition also indicates that the Mystics want to continue to be an elite defensive team for the 2015 season and the future.
Are there any red flags on Cloud? Cloud plays as a point guard but can play the shooting guard and small forward positions as well. Therefore, let's take a look at some important metrics on perimeter and mid-major prospects:
- Can she steal the ball at a good rate? (wing criterion) Cloud averaged 1.8 steals in her senior season and has averaged at least that much in each of her three seasons at St. Joe's. Her freshman season was in 2010-11 when she played for the Maryland Terrapins.
- Was her two-point shooting efficiency greater than 45 percent? (wing criterion) No. It was 37.22 percent.
- Was her usage rate at least 24 percent? (point guard criterion) Nate wrote that a point guard whose usage rate is at least 24 percent should have an easier chance making the league. Cloud's usage rate was 22.9 percent, not far below this threshold.
- Was her assist percentage at around 30 percent? (point guard criterion) I don't have the number on me. However, given that she averaged well over six assists per game, the tenth highest average among all NCAA players, Cloud's fine here.
- Is her pure point rating greater than 2.5? Yes, because it was 3.22.
- Does she have a Marginal Victories Produced (MVP) rating of 14 or higher? No, it was 13.71. That said, she was close, and also played for a team with a losing record (13-17).
What role will Cloud play in D.C.? In the above video, Thibault was clear that Cloud would likely play as a small forward to start her career in the WNBA though she can also set plays up for others, as you can see from her high assist numbers. Given her 6'0 size and her defensive ability where she was a three-time Atlantic-10 Defensive team member, this is where she will earn the bulk of her playing time.
It remains unclear as to who starts at the small forward position, whether it's Cloud, Ruffin-Pratt or if the Mystics decide to start with a small ball or a lengthy starting lineup. But even if Cloud doesn't start, she should get a chance to make an impact right away, especially if Ruffin-Pratt doesn't make the 2015 team since she is currently on a training camp contract. Between the two, I'm on the fence as to which player will ultimately have the better WNBA career. That question will be answered in training camp, and I think the player who plays better on offense will get more playing time.
For the time being, the point guard position is in a logjam of sorts where Latta and Hartley start and share the duties together while Kara Lawson backs them up. Until at least one of their current point guards leaves D.C., it's unlikely that Cloud will see much time at this position, at least for her rookie season. That said, she could still be a point forward to set the two up for long-range bombs that Latta especially makes in her sleep.
After several consecutive seasons of significant roster turnover, the Washington Mystics now appear to be set on which younger players and veterans they want to focus their rebuild around. Given that their roster, even at the top is made up of mid-first round draft picks or later, this team isn't going to win games when one player consistently dominates. Everyone, even the starters are going to have to fill roles very well in order to win games consistently. Both Malott and Cloud won't be expected to be All-Stars in their rookie seasons. But if they can play their roles effectively, that should help this team develop a strong nucleus for the future.