Washington Mystics Season Preview
Will No. 4 overall pick Tayler Hill help to bring about a new era in DC?
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After a winter of surprises -- most notably, the one that handed them the first pick in the Draft after the can't-miss Big 3 -- the Washington Mystics figured they might as well throw one more into the mix.
So, when the rest of the women's basketball world seemed to reach a consensus that Washington would select Texas A&M center Kelsey Bone at No. 4, the Mystics traded for Quanitra Hollingsworth and selected Ohio State guard Tayler Hill instead.
And they're hoping that Hill's the first of many fortunate surprises to descend, at last, on The District.
Brand-new coach Mike Thibault has reasons to suspect that they might. Granted, the issue with coming off a five-win season is that you still have most of the players from that five-win season -- "We kind of need everything right now," Thibault said before Draft. But with Crystal Langhorne and Monique Curry forming a veteran core and Hill joining the fold, the foundation's getting stronger. Throw in fellow offseason additions Kia Vaughn (from the Liberty) and Ivory Latta (from Tulsa) and a 20-year-old training camp revelation named Emma Meeseman, and it's not hard to find progress in a town known for stalemates.
In any other Draft year, Hill would have lived in spotlight, not shadow. As creative and capable a scorer as anyone in the country not named Elena Delle Donne last year, she put up 21.1 ppg while playing through complications from strep throat. She can defend, too: she posted more than 240 steals in her career at Columbus.
But this is still Langhorne's team.
The Mystics' leading scorer over the past three seasons is coming off her lowest scoring average (14.7) since 2009, albeit during a season in which she shot 56.2 percent from the field. What that meant? Langhorne was more than the focal point of the Washington offense. She was the offense. And as she earned double-teams, she took fewer shots.
But with the additions of Hill and Latta on the perimeter and Vaughn on the inside -- whom the Mystics picked up from the Liberty in February trade -- she should have a little more room to operate this year.
Not to mention a little more gas in the tank, thanks to a different approach from her Dynamo Moscow team.
"Langhorne had a coach in Europe who realized she needed rest," Thibault said. "They haven't been the usual two-a-day practices. She's feeling good about it."
Had Thibault not been able to cajole the Liberty into letting go of Vaughn, a Sixth Woman of the Year Candidate in 2011 who saw her minutes slide last year, they'd likely have selected Bone. But with Vaughn, a force on the glass and in the paint on both ends of the floor, the coach said he's found the right compliment to Langhorne.
"Bone is an intriguing talent, but right now, today, Kia Vaughn's a better player," Thibault said.
And if Meeseman works out, Thibault may have one of the biggest surprises of the WNBA season. The 20-year-old Belgian led her U18 Belgian team to a European Championship title last year and earned the rank of top European Young Women’s player in 2011. But, according to washingtonmystics.com's Jeremy Hyman after signing a deal with Spartak, the Russian power allowed her to spend her first two years closer to home in Northern France. And when Meeseman expressed interest in coming Stateside to play in the WNBA, Thibault jumped at the chance, selecting the phenom with the No. 19 pick.
If she sticks, Meeseman will provide a tall (6-foot-4) frame that can also expand the floor, giving the Mystics a much-needed boost after the team shot just 30 percent from 3-point range last year.
Ditto on Latta, a point guard who hit 39 percent of her shots from behind the arc for Tulsa in 2011. And if Currie can regain the form that saw her go .446 from distance in 2010, this Mystics team could do a lot more than simply surprise.
1. Crystal Langhorne (14.7)
2. Monique Currie (12.0)
3. Jasmine Thomas (8.2)
1. Crystal Langhorne (6.3)
2. Michelle Snow (5.4)
3. Monique Currie (3.6)
1. Jasmine Thomas (2.8)
2. Shannon Bobbitt (2.6)
3. Matee Ajavon (2.0)