Two years have passed since Mike Thibault's appointment as coach and general manager of the Washington Mystics, and both of those seasons have seen the Mystics active in the postseason. Unfortunately, first round exits dampened the celebration of playoff berths in 2013 and 2014.
Mystics hopefuls still have plenty to look forward to, however; Coach Thibault was tasked with rebuilding the team in 2012 from a roster that had won only 6 games the previous year, and 5 games before that.
That rebuilding seems to be complete: after letting Monique Curry sign with the Phoenix Mercury as a free agent during the offseason, the Mystics roster holds no players from that 2012 season before Thibault's arrival.
Contrasting from the complete roster overhaul of the past few years, this past offseason saw few interesting moves other than Curry's departure. Instead, the team will depend on developing the youth on the Mystic's roster in order to find success.
Only one player on this year's roster ranked in the top 30 average scoring, that player being Ivory Latta, tying the Mystics with the Indiana Fever for the fewest entries on that list.
Latta's nightly average of 12.8 PPG shows that other players will definitely need to step up to ensure the Mystics' improvement. Thankfully for Washington, development is a specialty for three time Coach of the Year Mike Thibault, and youth is something the Mystics have in spades.
April's draft saw the Mystics select forward Ally Malott from Dayton in the first round with the 8th overall pick, and Natasha Cloud from St. Joseph's in the second. Cloud will have opportunities to step up immediately; her experience playing at the small forward position will be welcomed after Curry's departure.
Washington will need both her height on the perimeter and her defense to improve from last year's 16-18 record. As for Malott, her offensive prowess on the perimeter will help give some firepower to an offense that ranked 8th in three point percentage last year.
The two rookies join an already young core, that includes last year's pair of draft picks from Connecticut Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley. Both Dolson and Hartley played solid roles in Washington's 2014 campaign, with each appearing in all 34 of the team's contests.
Additionally, the team played last year without their top pick in the 2013 draft, Tayler Hill, who missed almost the entire season after the birth of her first child. Hill will help bolster not only the team's perimeter defense, but also their offense with her solid three point shooting.
Offense is the side of the ball that will need the most help. The Mystics defense held opponents to a league-best 73.8 points per game last year, which helped them to the third-best defensive rating in the WNBA. But their lack of a go-to offensive threat has made a big difference in their ability to score consistently, despite the team's excellence on the other side of the ball.
Without a dominant offensive superstar, the Mystics will have to rely on a team approach. But there are enough pieces there to make that approach work fine. The duo from Connecticut, the returning pair of Latta and Hill, and the two new rookies make up a solid core.
The preseason has already shown us a preview of their spread the wealth approach; each game has seen a different player lead the team in scoring. If the Mystics can continue that balance, Coach Thibault's third season with the team might be the one that finally sees Washington make it out of the first round of the WNBA Playoffs.