Draft Gives Mystics Chance to Continue Magical Off-Season

Thursday’s WNBA draft presents an intriguing opportunity for the Washington Mystics.

The Mystics were able to score big with their first pick last year, landing Marissa Coleman with the second overall selection. This year, with pick No. 6, Washington is unlikely to land a prospect of Coleman’s caliber. But the Mystics are in the position to target someone who can bolster their depth for 2010 with the potential for growth.

“I think there will be some quality players in the draft, players that will certainly be able to develop into solid pros,” Mystics general manager Angela Taylor said. “But as far as that impact player that you’ve seen the past couple of years, I think there’s fewer of those types of players.”

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Mystics. They already made noise this offseason by signing perennial All-Star guard Katie Smith, and are returning most of their key contributors from last year’s playoff team.

So with its first-round pick, Washington can afford to draft a player that won’t be relied on for heavy minutes, but will still have the potential to be an impact player in the future.

“With the No. 6 pick this year, it allows us to continue to build and add another nice piece to our young core that we hope will be together for a long time,” Taylor said. “We’d love to be able to get [Connecticut forward] Tina Charles, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t those other type of players that will have the opportunity to develop into something similar over time.”

The addition of Smith as well as the re-signing of forward Monique Currie means the Mystics will most likely be targeting a post player with their first pick. Washington has a plethora of wing players and could use a young post player to pair with Crystal Langhorne for the foreseeable future.

Charles and Stanford’s Jayne Appel are the two best post players in the draft, but in all likelihood will be gone by the time the Mystics are on the clock. If Washington does in fact target a low post player, two realistic targets are 6-foot-2 Nebraska forward Kelsey Griffin and 6-foot-5 Mississippi State forward Chanel Mokango.

The safer choice is Griffin, a reliable four-year contributor for the Cornhuskers. She steadily improved her production each season, and averaged 20.3 points and 10.3 rebounds as a senior to garner Big 12 Player of the Year honors.

Mokango would be more of an upside pick. Already a known defensive quantity (she rakced up 174 blocks in two seasons at Mississippi State), Mokango’s value skyrocketed with an eye-opening NCAA tournament performance in which she averaged 19.7 points and 8.7 rebounds as the Bulldogs advanced to the Sweet 16.

“I think the NCAA Tournament has been a tremendous stage for some kids that don’t get a lot of exposure,” ESPN analyst Carolyn Peck said. “Two kids that stick out in my mind are Chanel Mokango and Armelie Lumanu of Mississippi State. They’ve had tremendous NCAA Tournaments. The programs that are not traditionally on national television have gotten some tremendous exposure.”

The Mystics also have two second-round picks (Nos. 14 and 18) and one in the third round (No. 30), but whomever gets picked in those sports will have a hard time finding a spot on an already crowded Washington roster. Regardless, Taylor and her staff will be using every available minute to pour over scouting reports and tweak their draft board until it’s time to make a pick.

“We have to be prepared for every possible scenario that could take place, and we want to make sure we’re doing our due diligence on players that are currently on our board,” Taylor said.

Mike Fratto is a sportswriter formerly with the Washington Times. He has covered various beats including college football, the NBA, and the WNBA.