Mystics preview: Young and restless - or playoff bound?

Mystics preview: Young and restless - or playoff bound?
May 16, 2014, 7:30 am
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The Washington Mystics open the 2014 season Friday night at home against the defending champion Minnesota Lynx. Here’s what you need to know about the Mystics entering the 2014 season.

In 2013: In the first season with head coach and general Mike Thibault, the Mystics tied for second in the Eastern Conference with a 17-17 record before losing in the opening round of the WNBA playoffs to Atlanta. In the previous two campaigns, Washington won 11 games total.

Since then: Not content with a .500 team and thinking long-term, Thibault traded for veteran guard Kara Lawson and shipped out long-time Mystics star Crystal Langhorne and guard Matee Ajavon. Washington’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder last season, Langhorne went to Seattle in exchange for former University of Maryland forward Tianna Hawkins and guard Bria Hartley, the seventh pick in the 2014 draft. One selection before Hartley went fellow Connecticut teammate, center Stefanie Dolson. The pair led UConn to an undefeated season and the NCAA Championship. Now they are two of Washington’s first or second year players. Also part of that group, 2013 first round Tayler Hill, who will miss at least half the season due to pregnancy.

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Starting lineup: After speaking with Thibault on Thursday, my sense of the Mystics starting lineup is as follows:

Emma Meesseman, F/C, 6-4: The Belgium baller showed significant pick-and-pop promise as a rookie. Now Meesseman takes over the power forward role following the Langhorne trade. Thibault is a believer so look for a breakout season.

Monique Currie, F, 6-0: The lone holdover from before Thibault took over as coach and general manager before the 2013. The D.C. area native and 3-point threat averaged 10 points last season and will be counted on for leadership along with the other perimeter starters.

Kia Vaughn, C, 6-4: Second in rebounding last season (5.2). Vaughn is the only member of the frontcourt with more than one year of WNBA experience. Backed up by first-round pick Stefanie Dolson from Connecticut.

Kara Lawson, G, 5-9: Washington acquired the Olympian, Northern Virginia native and 11-year veteran this off-season in a deal with Connecticut involving ex-Mystic Matee Ajavon. Lawson, who played under Thibault with the Sun, is a career 40-percent 3-point shooter.

Ivory Latta, G, 5-6: Last season the wide-eyed sparkplug led the Mystics in scoring (13.9), assists (4.4), 3-point shooting (39.6 percent) and free throw percentage (90.2). Latta’s infectious enthusiasm played a factor in the Mystics reaching the postseason.

Roster: The Mystics announced their opening day roster on Thursday. Beyond the starters –

Frontcourt - Dolson, Hawkins, Jelena Milovanovic 

Backcourt - Hartley, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, Kalana Greene        

*The team suspended center Quanitra Hollingsworth after she failed to report to the team following her professional season in Turkey.

Strengths and style: Thibault’s plans involve an up-tempo approach with Latta running the point, Lawson and Currie serving as floor spacers on the perimeter. That trio along with Vaughn will provide the experience to one of the league’s youngest teams. Though Hartley is one of the newest players, Thibault said her work in training camp was that of a veteran.

Weaknesses: In time Dolson’s interior presence will help with Washington’s rebounding, but for now that area remains a concern entering the season. As mentioned previously, this is an inexperienced roster, especially in the frontcourt, where there is little proven talent.

The East: The Chicago Sky, led by Elena Delle Donne, is the conference favorite, though a torn labrum injury to All-Star center Sylvia Fowles is worrisome. Prolific scorer Angel McCoughtry leads Atlanta, which added Swin Cash and could challenge Chicago, while perennial All-Star Tamika Catchings leads the Indiana Fever.

Forecast: In Thibault we trust and the same could be said of Latta, Lawson and Currie. Better to be young up front than in the backcourt and that’s the case here. With good health and good fortune, we’re probably looking at a playoff team especially in an Eastern Conference loaded with uncertainty.