On paper, the 7-10 Washington Mystics are down. But after the Olympic Break, they may not be out. Plagued by injuries and working with a smaller roster as a result, the Mystics have limped through the past few weeks of play and currently find themselves in the midst of a four game losing streak. Ranked ninth overall in the standings, the Mystics currently sit one spot out from the playoffs.
Though their record may be disappointing, the Mystics have been playing some exciting basketball and have an opportunity to be a real postseason threat if they become healthy. During this up and down season, the Mystics have shown us that they have talented players, and with rest and reloading, they could be real contenders come the second half of the season.
Depleted Mystics Still Talented
Even in this losing streak, the Mystics have proved that they have elite pieces on their roster. Oftentimes competing with just eight active players, the athletes below have proven their talents, giving hope that with rest, the Mystics will come back ready to shine after the Olympic break.
Tina Charles Is Playing the Best Basketball of Her Career
Entering the season, there was some concern about Charles joining the Mystics. After missing the 2020 season, many wondered how much gas the 2012 WNBA MVP had left in the tank and how she would pair up with Mystics leader Elena Delle Donne. Charles almost immediately proved the doubters wrong, and to date, she leads the league in scoring (25.8 points per game) in what many consider a MVP caliber season. With EDD still out, Charles has the opportunity to take over the game for the Mystics. With the newly added presence of a three-point game to compliment her dominance inside, Charles has enjoyed her most productive offensive season, averaging over 20.0 points per game for just the second time in her 12 seasons (the other season being 21.5 in 2016). Charles leads the league in points in the paint per game (13.3) and has connected on 31 of her 86 attempts from three. Often double, and sometimes triple, teamed, Charles is still able to tally such high numbers while facing added attention from some of the league’s top defenders. Strangely enough, time away with the Olympic team may be a bit of a break for Charles, who leads the league in usage percentage (32.7). On a deep roster full of talented post players, Charles should be able to rest some at the Olympics, tallying less than the 33.3 minutes per game she has this WNBA season.
Refreshed Plaisance Back in Game Shape
In my last piece, I discussed Theresa Plaisance’s miraculous return to the game after struggling through a serious back injury and infection. At this point in the season, it is clear that Plaisance has more than survived her injury—she has thrived. Serving as a full-time starter due to the Mystics’ limited bench, Plaisance has been putting up career-best per game numbers in blocks (.9), steals (.8), assists (1.6, opposed to .4 over her past seven WNBA seasons), and rebounds (4.9). Her 7.5 points per game is second after her 7.7 season with Dallas in 2017, and over the past seven games where the Mystics were particularly hampered by injuries, Plaisance has averaged 12.3 points per game. The highlight of Plaisance’s season surely was a 25 point performance against the Atlanta Dream. After the Mystics lost to the Dream on June 13, Plaisance was the only forward available for the Mystics when they again faced the Dream on June 17. Tina Charles was scheduled to miss the game, Erica McCall was injured in warmups and Myisha Hines-Allen left the game injured after just 10 minutes. As the only forward on the roster, Plaisance played 35 minutes, went 5-of-8 from three-point range and led the Mystics to an unexpected victory. Plaisance has shown that she is able to contribute, and with rest, she will continue to contribute in what could prove to be a career season for the 6’5” center.
Still Got It: Leilani Mitchell Shines as Starting PG
Leilani Mitchell appeared to be lost in the mix, averaging 3.6 points and 2.6 assists per game across the first 10 games of the season. Known as a talented facilitator with a three-point shot, Mitchell failed to find her groove playing in lineups featuring fellow point guard Natasha Cloud. But since Clouds’ injury, Mitchell has had lone point guard duties and the results speak for themselves. Over the past seven games, Mitchell has averaged 13.6 points and 4.0 assists per game, rising to the occasion and showing that she still has what it takes to be a competitive player in the WNBA. Mitchell’s three-point percentage has also increased over the past seven games, going from 25.0 percent (10-of-39) in the first 10 games to 44.6 percent (25-of-56) over the last seven games. In her best performance of the season, Mitchell tallied 26 against the defending champions, the Seattle Storm, going 6-of-8 from three. From these games with a short bench, we have learned that come full strength, it may be best for Cloud and Mitchell to collect their minutes separately as they have both shown great moments as the only PG on the floor.
The Glue: Consistent Atkins Holds Team Together
A force on offense and defense, Ariel Atkins is the heart behind the Mystics. A talented player and developing leader, the Mystics are at their best when Atkins shines. Often tasked with guarding the opponent’s top guard while also handling the responsibility of being a primary scoring option, Atkins has shown flashes of greatness, even in the Mystic’s losing spree. Atkins is leading the team in steals (24) and three point shooting percentage (40.0 percent) while also coming in second with 58 total assists. A consistent and dangerous all around player, Atkins averages 31.1 minutes per game on the season and 34.4 minutes per game since injuries hit the Mystics. With some rest (while competing for Olympic gold) and with the addition of a healthy guard option, Atkins could be primed for some even more impressive performances in the second half of the season.
Things to Be Hopeful for: Possible Returns and Interesting Matchups
In addition to injured players Myisha Hines-Allen, Natasha Cloud and Erica McCall, the Mystics roster has several question marks. Should any of these players take the court with the Mystics after the Olympic break, they could be a fresh upgrade for DC’s playoff hopes.
Tori’s Town: Shatori Walker-Kimbrough Returns Home
After limited time and success from guards Stella Johnson and Kiara Leslie, the Mystics re-signed familiar face Shatori Walker-Kimbrough to a seven-day contract on July 1. Selected sixth overall by the Mystics in 2017, Walker-Kimbrough played two seasons for the Mystics before being traded to Phoenix as part of the deal to bring Tina Charles to DC. She was cut by the Atlanta Dream days before the start of the 2021 season. Walker-Kimbrough, who started 10 games for the Mercury last season, averaged 7.3 points per game and shot 43.1 percent from three-point range in 2020. Walker-Kimbrough is a speedy “three and D” type player who can really thrive in a Mystics system that is missing Cloud’s guard scoring. Should Walker-Kimbrough’s contract be renewed, she has the potential to step into the rotation and help the Mystics on both sides of the ball.
What was first reported to be a six game recovery period for Elena Delle Donne has stretched on as we are now 17 games into the season without seeing the 2015 and 2019 MVP. And at this point, if we do see EDD, it’s safe to assume that she won’t immediately be back at the MVP level she played in 2019. BUT—should EDD return from injury on this Tina Charles-focused team, she could be an added boost off the bench, providing relief for posts while reacclimating herself to the game. This still is a big if, but if EDD returned as a highly skilled sub readjusting to the game, she would still be a huge asset for the Mystics, who are holding a roster spot for her already and currently have eight active players.
Will She or Won’t She: Emma Meesseman’s Return
Emma Meesseman is very committed to the Belgium National Team, and she and former Mystics player Kim Mestdagh are set to represent the Cats at the upcoming Olympics. But after that, Meesseman’s plans are up in the air—she may report to the Mystics, or she may stay overseas. Should Meesseman return to the Mystics, her impact would be felt instantly, possibly entering the starting lineup for Plaisance or continuing her successful season off the bench in 2019 (Meesseman is the only player to win WNBA Finals MVP while coming off the bench). A versatile big who can score inside and out, Meesseman’s presence would instantly make the Mystics a strong playoff contender.
The Mystics season has not been a total wash—they have a signature win against Seattle and single digit losses to the Sun and the Aces. With some added rest and a possible new addition like Walker-Kimbrough, EDD or Meesseman, the Mystics have the potential to steal some big wins in the second half of the season. With matchups against middle of the pack teams—like the Mercury and the Wings—and teams that the Mystics have already beaten (New York, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle) on the horizon, the Mystics have the potential to sneak ahead and earn a spot in the playoffs. And if they make it there, a healthy Mystics team would be a threat. While the odds may seem to be stacking up against the Mystics, a bit of rest and relaxation has the potential to push the Mystics back toward the top of the league.
Another well written piece from Jon bird, thank you Jon!