It goes without saying that the Mystics were disappointed in their 2016 season. After going to the postseason in each of head coach Mike Thibault’s first three seasons at the helm in Washington, the team’s last campaign was full of challenges that stemmed from untimely injuries and plenty of youth.
But perhaps most important is what Thibault and his staff learned about that youth on their roster throughout this season. Despite the tough year (13-21), Tayler Hill and Emma Meesseman broke out as bonafide rising stars in the WNBA. And while they weren’t alone – rookie Kahleah Copper’s off-the-charts athleticism shined in her first season, for example – it’s clear that they will lead the Mystics into the future as a dangerous offensive duo.
Meesseman added another weapon with a 3-point shot, and led the league from beyond the arc in her first year shooting from deep regularly. Hill, a long-range sharpshooter by trade, went the other way and attacked the basket more, scoring inside and getting to the free throw line at a clip that landed inside the WNBA’s top 5 for the season. For a team that didn’t qualify for the playoffs, the immediate future is bright in D.C.
Wednesday night, the Mystics had some more good fortune that could help jumpstart the team as soon as next season. With just a 10.4 percent chance to land the No. 1 pick in the 2017 WNBA draft, the lowest odds of the four qualifying teams, Washington landed a couple spots higher than projected and secured the No. 2 pick next April. The potential gravity of moving up a couple spots wasn’t lost on Thibault – who joined ESPN2’s halftime broadcast during the Lynx-Mercury playoff game – on Wednesday.
“This is a terrific moment for our organization,” said Thibault. “We will have the ability to add an excellent player to our roster and continue the progress towards becoming an elite team. We still have a lot of work to do, but this is an important piece.”
With the core that Thibault has already built through previous drafts with Hill, Meesseman, Copper and center Stefanie Dolson, the chance to land an elite talent in the spring could be just what the doctor ordered to push the Mystics not only back into the playoffs, but into a postseason run.
It’s also important to keep in mind that while the Mystics undoubtedly gained valuable experience during a tough season, they’ll still be young next season, too. After all, the oldest of the aforementioned Hill, Meesseman, Copper and Dolson will be Hill at age 26 heading into 2017.
Next, Thibault and his staff will look to turn that combination of experience and youth into a long period of success for the franchise. The pieces are all in place, and the Mystics will able to add one more promising young player to the fold before they make a run at a return to the postseason next summer.