The Washington Mystics ended the season with a 22-14 record, good for the fifth seed in the WNBA playoffs. They ended up losing to the Seattle Storm, unable to win a game in the series. Despite the disappointing exit, the season was a positive one for Washington. Elena Delle Donne was able to return and was her MVP-caliber self; Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins were All-Defensive First Team and Shakira Austin joined the All-Rookie team. Still, despite the success, they fell well short of their goal of winning their second WNBA title. So what does Washington have to do to join the elite ranks of teams such as Chicago and Las Vegas?
According to Her Hoop Stats, only five players have contracts for next season, but they are their most productive players: Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, Myisha Hines-Allen, and Shakira Austin. So the core of what made the Mystics good this season is secured, but with up to seven roster spots open, general manager/head coach Mike Thibault will have to put on his GM cap and build a deep roster that can compete with the top tier teams in the W.
With so many spots available, I don’t think the Mystics have to focus on a home run in free agency; they need to build out a bench mob. The team had an elite defense last year, ranking No. 1 in defensive rating at 96. So, can they add some scorers to the bench to complement the defense?
As currently constructed, Washington will go as far as Mike Thibault and Elle Delle Donne take them. EDD is still the engine driving the team, and with her back and healthier than she’s been in years, it’s no surprise the Mystics had a bounce-back season. However, more is needed if they want to compete with the two best teams in the WNBA: Chicago and Las Vegas. This is why Thibault’s decision-making as a general manager will dictate this team’s ceiling. If he brings in replacement-level players, then a middle-of-the-pack team is the best it can be, with a puncher’s chance to shock a team with Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud playing at their highest level. If he can optimize his roster and create a bench mob with some offensive firepower, then Washington may very well find themselves back at the WNBA Finals with a chance to win another title, just like they did in 2019 with Thibault and EDD at the helm.
The ex-factor for Washington is the core players they already have signed on the team. How much better can Cloud get? It seems unreasonable to ask more from her, but she has improved literally every season she’s played, so the question has to be asked: How much more upside can she access? And what about players like Austin and defensive stopper Atkins? What if they take huge strides next season? Maybe that pushes Washington to the top of the league. To get that kind of progress, they’ll need Thibault to utilize his coaching cap, get the most out of these players and put them in the best position to excel in his system.