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Early season eye-opener: Washington Mystics

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One of early the surprises of the WNBA season is the play of the Washington Mystics. Even though it's just a small sample size, they are in first place, and have gotten off to a great start.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Two games into the WNBA season, the Washington Mystics have yet to lose a contest. The team showed resiliency in the first game of the season, capturing the win after letting the Connecticut Sun come back in the fourth quarter after previously leading by 12.

Their second game a day later showed that the Mystics have the ability to pull out the close ones, giving the Liberty their first loss of the year after a contest with 15 ties after the first score.

Looking forward, what can we expect from the team, not only on Friday night when they take on the win-less Atlanta Dream, but beyond?

Spreading the Love

The WNBA world knew from both the team's performance last year, as well as this preseason, that offense would have to come from everyone on the team for the Mystics to score effectively.

In their 2014 campaign, Washington was a middle of the pack offensive team, averaging 74.3 points per game, with an offensive rating of 99.2.

Both of those stats were good (or bad) for 9th in the league. Through two games this year, the offensive improvement has been minimal in terms of their rating, while their point production has fallen. Nevertheless, and more importantly, the team is sharing the ball and getting points from different players on the roster.

Both games saw a different player leading the way; Last Friday's lead scorer against the Sun was Stefanie Dolson, while Washington leaned on Emma Meesseman on Saturday to shoulder the scoring load.

Additionally, the team averages the fourth best assist total in the WNBA, good for a top third standing in the league.

That's impressive enough on its own, but considering that they're 10th in points per game, the percentage of their points that come from assists shows the type of team ball they play.

Dominance on the Offensive Block

The solid performances by Meesseman and Dolson didn't come by accident. The two centers have played more minutes than anyone else on the team, demonstrating Coach Thibault's affinity for a big lineup, and also helping explain why the team hasn't really looked for points on the fast break much at all.

Instead, the team has focused more on a slower attack, evident from their 11th ranked pace (87.6 possessions per 48 minutes). And though their rebounding numbers would suggest that the Mystics are an average rebounding team, their slightly above average league ranking is negatively skewed by their slow pace.

Defense, Defense, Defense

Under Coach Mike Thibault, the 2014 Washington Mystics ranked as one of the best defensive teams in the WNBA, and if the first two games of the season are any indication, that will continue throughout the summer.

After holding the Sun to 68 points and the Liberty to 62, it's obvious that scoring on the Mystics is no easy task. That's not just a factor of the slowed pace either; Washington is holding opponents to a league-best 35% from the floor, despite subpar numbers in blocks and steals.

Positioning and pace seem to be key under the Thibault defensive system, and they Mystics are executing it almost flawlessly.

Second-Round Surprise

First round pick Ally Malott hasn't yet made much of an impact on the floor, but the Mystics' second round pick from St. Joseph's has been outstanding two games into the season.

Natasha Cloud has outshone many first round picks from the 2015 Draft, and, according to WNBA.com, has dished the second most assists among rookies so far.

Though her 1 for 4 and 2 for 7 shooting performances haven't yet demonstrated the shooting prowess she showed in college, her distribution and rebounding have more than made up for it, as well as being one of the only five Mystics with a block yet this season.

Her court vision should come as no surprise; Cloud is 3rd all-time in St. Joe's history in assists, and also holds the single-season record that she set as a junior. If the 2014 Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year keeps getting minutes, she might develop into more than just a role player for the team.

As with any team without a standout offensive player, expectations weren't extremely high for Washington at the beginning of the season. But their early wins have shown some promise.

Cloud's development should be an interesting storyline to watch over the course of the season, and if the Mystics can continue to generate offense on a nightly basis with their team oriented approach, they should have no problem returning near the top of the Eastern Conference.