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WNBA 2019 Team Preview: The Washington Mystics (#3) look to return to the WNBA Finals

The Mystics will begin their campaign to overcome last year’s WNBA Finals sweep by the Seattle Storm. With new weapons, the franchise’s championship quest is on.

WNBA: Finals-Seattle Storm at Washington Mystics
Elena Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics are looking to put together another WNBA Finals run to avenge last year’s loss.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Washington Mystics made their first WNBA Finals appearance in franchise history. Washington finished the 2018 season in third place, and second in the Eastern Conference, with a 22-12 record.

Washington put up a fight in the WNBA Finals but lost 0-3 to the Seattle Storm. Although the Mystics entered the title round with their full rotation, Elena Delle Donne was not 100 percent due to injuring her knee in the semifinals.

Throughout most of the championship round, the Mystics struggled to defend a fast-paced Seattle team. The Storm destroyed Washington by running the pick-and-roll, pushing the tempo and spacing the floor. In addition to the Mystics’ defense being exposed, the team struggled to score in the fourth quarter.

With the recent injury to Breanna Stewart, the Mystics most likely won’t have to worry about a finals’ rematch against the Storm. But in order for Washington to make a second consecutive appearance in the WNBA Finals, they need to develop their rookies, remain healthy, avoid complacency and improve offensively.

Season outlook: The Washington Mystics in 2019

Familiar faces

Delle Donne will enter the 2019 season fully rested and healthy, which is a huge plus for this team. She is the team’s best player and can beat defenses with her ability to attack the rim, shoot from three or shoot over smaller defenders.

In addition to Delle Donne, the Mystics will also have other notable returning players in Kristi Toliver, LaToya Sanders, Aerial Powers, Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins. One name that fans will be excited to see on the jumbotron is Emma Meesseman. Meesseman will help this team with her passing, size and offensive feel for the game. Not to mention, her return will help provide frontcourt depth for this roster.

Toliver is the leader of this team and is always calm under pressure. Every team needs a veteran presence that can lead by example and elevate the play of her teammates.

Sanders had a lopsided Finals performance, but she is a solid, rebounding big who can do a bit of everything. Sanders continues to improve as a scorer and she is becoming an even better passer. Powers and Cloud, meanwhile, provide Washington with backcourt depth and shooting. Although both players can be streaky at times, they are strong defenders and can get hot at any moment. The return of both players will help the franchise in the long run and both will only get better with time.

Last season, Atkins won the hearts of Mystics’ fans as she exceeded her rookie expectations. Atkins provided heart, grit and energy for this team all season long. She had two games with 20 or more points and embraced multiple roles with the team. In 2018, Atkins started 24 games and did not look like a rookie at all.

Washington will enter this season with more depth, but one weakness will be generating enough points from the entire rotation. Last year, the organization sometimes struggled to get consistent scoring outside of Toliver and Delle Donne.

Notable newbies

With the 10th and 34th picks in the 2019 WNBA Draft, the Mystics selected Kiara Leslie and Sam Fuehring, respectively. Both Leslie and Fuehring will help the Mystics in the immediate and distant future.

Leslie averaged 15.9 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game at North Carolina State. She will make a solid addition to this team and most likely will be paired with Cloud and Atkins in the backcourt.

Fuehring is a selection that fans will be talking about years down the line. She is a strong frontcourt presence that can shoot the ball, rebound and set other players up. While at Louisville, she was a Jane-of-All-Trades and finished the college season with 10.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 37.5 percent from three-point distance.

Obviously, Washington did not make any trades this offseason besides sending Tierra Ruffin-Pratt to the Sparks. But by drafting Fuehring and Leslie the team, the Mystics will be able to develop the two rookies on the fly. Both players will be able to come off the bench and provide the team with balance.

One challenge the two rookies may face is growing pains and a possible lack of playing time down the stretch. The fact that the franchise made the WNBA Finals last season may prevent the franchise from making further changes any time soon.

Biggest obstacles

Here are the biggest challenges the Washington Mystics will face this season:

  1. Will Ariel Atkins rise to the pressure of being the third scoring option? Of course, the Mystics will be fine with Delle Donne and Toliver as the number one and two options. However, after watching, last year’s Finals exposed that the team needs a strong third scoring option. Atkins finished her rookie season averaging 11.3 points per game, which was the third highest on the team. If Washington is going to make another title run, someone must step up as the third option.
  2. Will the Washington Mystics avoid complacency? Normally when teams advance to the Finals and lose there is a chance for a hangover season. Clearly, Mystics head coach Mike Thibault has been doing a great job coaching this team. And even though last season ended on a sour note, this year’s team will be hungry to win their first title in franchise history.
  3. Crowded backcourt could affect Aerial Powers. Maybe it’s too early to assess Powers’ potential playing time. Needless to say, Washington drafted another shooting guard in Leslie. Right now, the backcourt could consist of Toliver, Cloud, Atkins, Powers and Leslie. Depth is a need for any WNBA team but, come playoffs, minutes can decrease and the rotation may not be as open. Last season, Powers averaged 6.1 points from nine appearances. This season could be different but the backcourt dynamic is something to watch out for come opening night.

Game zone

Preseason opener

No. 3 Washington Mystics at No. 7 Minnesota Lynx

When: Friday, May 10, at 8:00 p.m. ET

Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

How to watch: TBD

Notes: This matchup will be the first time the Washington Mystics take the floor since being swept in the 2018 WNBA Finals. On the other hand, Kiara Leslie and Sam Fuehring will get to make their WNBA debut against Napheesa Collier and Cierra Dillard.

Season home opener

No. 3 Washington Mystics at No. 4 Connecticut Sun

When: Saturday, May 25, at 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT

How to watch: TBD

Notes: Washington will start its regular-season journey on the road against a solid offensive unit in the Connecticut Sun, which will be retooling somewhat after recently trading Chiney Ogwumike to the Los Angeles Sparks.

Marquee matchup

No. 3 Washington Mystics at No. 1 Seattle Storm

When: Friday, June 14, at 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: Entertainment and Sports Arena, Washington, DC

How to watch: CBS Sports Network

Notes: Breanna Stewart will not be suiting up this season, but this matchup will still be a mental test for Washington. This game will be televised on CBS and it will be the first time the Mystics take on Seattle since the 2018 WNBA Finals.