The start of WNBA training camp is upon us, which means we are just a few weeks away from the beginning of the 2017 WNBA season.
As the season is almost officially underway, it’s time to go over some key storylines I will be watching.
First and foremost, what will the Washington Mystics accomplish this year?
This was the most talked about team during the off-season, and for good reason.
After ending the 2016 season 13-21, they put together a deal to acquire one of the game’s most talked about stars, Elena Delle Donne.
In order to accomplish this, the Mystics sent Kia Vaughn and Bria Hartley to the New York Liberty to free up salary space. The final step was sending Stefanie Dolson and Kahleah Copper to Chicago for Delle Donne, who made it clear she had no desire to play for the Sky this season.
But the Mystics didn’t stop at the Delle Donne trade.
In early February, Washington signed free-agent Kristi Tolliver from the Los Angeles Sparks. To cap off their high-profile signings, they drafted Maryland’s Shatori Walker-Kimbrough with the sixth overall pick, just over a week ago.
All three players will help the Mystics in their own ways. Delle Donne, of course, can do pretty much everything on the offensive end. She averaged 21.5 ppg and 7 rpg last season.
The Mystics had two players last season, Tayler Hill and Emma Meesseman, whom both averaged just over 15 ppg. Meesseman was also the leading rebounder with 5.6 rpg. Based on last season’s stats, Delle Donne will likely take over in both of these categories in 2017.
Her biggest weaknesses, however, come on the defensive end. Basketball-Reference.com calculated Delle Donne’s offensive and defensive ratings, looking at how many points a player scores and gives up every hundred possessions. While her offensive rating is pretty impressive at 125, her defensive rating was the highest of her career last season at 109.
I will be watching throughout the beginning of the season to see how improved Delle Donne’s defense is with a new system and a new coach.
Tolliver, of course, will have her own impact on the offensive end.
Last season for the Sparks, Tolliver averaged 13.2 points, 3.7 assists, and 2.6 rebounds per game. Arguably her biggest impact came from behind the three-point line, as she shot 42.4 percent from behind the arc.
With Tolliver and Delle Donne, Washington now has three of the top five three-point shooters percentage-wise in the league. Emma Meesseman led the WNBA shooting 44.8 percent last year. Delle Donne was third at 42.6 percent, and Tolliver was fourth with 42.4 percent.
With all of those shooters on the floor at once, Washington is going to have a unique ability to spread the floor this season, and I’m curious to see the new offensive systems they will run.
Walker-Kimbrough most likely will not start, especially with guards like Tolliver, Tayler Hill, Ivory Latta and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. However, what is so great about this pick by Washington is that Walker-Kimbrough will get to learn from all of these guards.
She knows how to play fast and how to spread the floor, something that the Mystics are clearly looking to do. Throughout the season I’m curious to see what kind of impact she will have, and what kind of player she will develop into.
What I will be most interested in watching is how quickly head coach and general manager Mike Thibault can blend the old with the new when it comes to his roster.
He now has an overwhelming amount of players that know how to score the ball, and it’s almost scary to think what a lineup of Delle Donne, Meesseman, Tolliver, Ruffin-Pratt and Hill would look like to opposing defenses. With that many players that can score, Thibault’s biggest problem is figuring out how to make everyone effective while on the court together.
Unlike between the 2015 and 2016 season, when the roster mostly stayed intact, Washington’s strategy has completely changed. They have opted for quicker post players who can create their own shot, while stockpiling three-point shooters at the same time. That change was needed, and makes me optimistic.
This season marks 15 years since the Mystics have made it further than the first round of the WNBA playoffs. If they can’t snap that losing streak this season, it really is unclear what else they could possibly need.
While there is plenty to talk about with the Mystics, they aren’t the only team I have my eye on as training camp starts.
While Chicago let go of Delle Donne, I’m curious to see what they do next in their rebuild.
One of their most significant moves so far was using their second pick in the WNBA Draft to select South Carolina’s Alaina Coates. This was definitely a long-term move, since Coates will not be ready to begin the season due to ankle surgery.
Perhaps most importantly, I will be watching how Coates recovers. If all goes according to plan, this will obviously be a great pick for the Sky in the coming years, even though it doesn’t do much to help their rebuilding efforts immediately.
In the meantime, I’ll be interested to see who emerges as the strong post players for Chicago. They currently have 12 on their 18-woman roster, and I will be interested to see who makes the team and how they stack up against the more guard-heavy teams in the league.
Los Angeles Sparks
The Sparks are looking to defend their title this season, but without Tolliver, I wondered how they would be affected as far as their shooting. They may have solved that problem (at least partially) by drafting Oregon State’s Sydney Wiese, who averaged 41 percent from beyond the arc during her final collegiate season.
The Sparks also have the benefit of having the reigning MVP on their roster in Nneka Ogwumike, as well as vets Candace Parker, Alana Beard, and Jantel Lavender, whom all played huge parts in their title run.
The biggest thing I’m keeping an eye on this season when it comes to the Sparks is pretty straightforward: Can they defend their title?
We are months away from knowing, but only weeks away from the first games of the season. And that gives me every reason to be excited.