Tayler Hill of Ohio State was the fourth pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft to the Washington Mystics.

With Thibault, the Mystics have nowhere to go but up

May 1, 2013 - 12:37pm
Expectations are high for a turn around in Washington under new head coach Mike Thibault. (Photo by Teri Priebe)

Expectations are high for a turn around in Washington under new head coach Mike Thibault. (Photo by Teri Priebe)

The new motto of the Washington Mystics might as well be “In Thibault We Trust.”

For while there’s no game-changing center or charismatic point guard headed to D.C. -- thank you, draft lottery -- the Mystics do believe they've finally found the correct leadership answer in new coach/general manager Mike Thibault, the winningest active coach in the WNBA.

Thibault’s track record will be put to the test in Washington, however, which has endured a two-year series of pratfalls. A year ago at this time, with the Wizards coming off a six-win season, fans figured at least things couldn’t get worse. Turned out even that bar was too high -- Washington managed just five victories in 2012 and ended the season on a 13-game losing streak. Making matters even worse, fans were left with the general impression that the organization had no idea how to reverse course.

Thibault, by contrast, led Connecticut to two WNBA finals and eight playoff appearances in his 10 seasons and is one of the most respected figures in the league. Furthermore, the 62-year-old Thibault seems energized by the challenge of reviving the Mystics and said he looks forward to turning the Washington into “an elite franchise.”

Of course, the coach can’t make shots or grab rebounds, and it remains to be seen how long it’ll take Thibault to acquire and mold the talent to do those things well enough to break into the league’s top tier. “Obviously, when you win only five games the year before, there’s a fair amount of work to be done,” Thibault said.

Still, Thibault’s resume gives fans reason to believe he’ll figure things out, and that this franchise is finally poised to awaken after its two-season nightmare.

Point guard: Ivory Latta, Shannon Bobbitt, Nadirah McKenith, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt

Thibault made acquiring a uptempo point guard his top priority upon taking the reins in Washington and believes he scored a coup by nabbing Latta, formerly of Tulsa, in free agency. “We want to play at a faster pace, and Ivory is going to be a great energizer for this team,” Thibault said. Latta’s reputation as a shoot-first point guard was enhanced by the fact that she had 99 more field goal attempts than anyone else on her team last year. But she also had 14 assists in one game, the most by any player in the league last year. Bobbitt has proven she can play in the league but figures to be challenged for backup minutes by McKenith, a second-round pick, Peddy, the Atlantic 10 Player and Defensive Player of the Year two seasons ago, and perhaps even the undrafted Ruffin-Pratt, who while not a pure point displayed toughness and defensive ability at North Carolina.

Shooting guard: Tayler Hill, Matee Ajavon, Ashley Corral

The consensus was there were three elite players in the 2013 draft: Brittany Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins. Thibault believes that a few years from now, folks may say there were four. “Tayler’s a dynamic wing scorer, and those are very hard to find,” Thibault said of Hill, who the Mystics nabbed with the fourth overall pick. “She runs the floor well -- we don’t want to be a slow team any more -- handles the ball well in the pick-and-roll and was first-team all-Defense in the Big Ten three years in a row.” The incumbent two guard, Ajavon, was one of the best players on the team last year, but the Mystics hope that, in time, Hill can develop into one of the best players in the league. Corral, the former USC star who was a late cut by Seattle last year, was signed to address the Mystics’ lack of 3-point shooting.

Monique Currie #25 of the Washington Mystics was defended by Kalana Greene #32 of the Connecticut Sun in the Mystic. (Photo by Terri Priebe)

Small forward: Monique Currie, Natalie Novosel

Currie was a key component (14 ppg) on the 2010 Mystics team that won an Eastern Conference-high 22 games, and she returned to that form last season after missing most of 2011 with a knee injury. Novosel, the eighth pick in the 2012 draft, played sparingly a year ago but spent time with the new coaching staff during the offseason and will try to create an opening for herself.

Power forward: Crystal Langhorne

The franchise player, Langhorne did what she always does last season -- make more of her shots that just about anyone in the WNBA. The former Maryland star ranked second in the league in field goal percentage; it was the fifth time in her five seasons Langhorne ranked among the league’s top three in that category.

There’s no backup listed here in part because there’s really no Plan B if Langhorne isn’t on the court for 34 minutes a game. Thibault could go small and play Currie at the four for a while, or double up with one of the centers, but Langhorne is the player the offense revolves around – and Washington needs her to stay healthy.

Center: Kia Vaughn, Michelle Snow, Emma Meesseman, Avery Warley, Quanitra Hollingsworth

Thibault identified rebounding as a major Mystics’ weakness so it’s hardly surprising he moved in several directions to address it. Vaughn, who was acquired via trade from New York, fits in with Thibault’s goal of getting younger and will be the player to beat for starter’s minutes.

Snow, who started 21 games last season, could have something to say about that. Also from New York comes Hollingsworth, who sat out last season to play for Turkey in the Olympics, Hollingsworth has more obligations with the Turkish National Team this spring and is expected to join the Mystics in July. Warley, a D.C. native who spent most of last season with Phoenix, is a pure rebounder -- she ranked fifth in the league in rebounds per 40 minutes as a rookie.

And then there’s Meesseman, a 6-4 Belgium native the Mystics drafted in the second round. Honored as the 2011 FIBA Young Women’s Player of the Year, Meesseman reportedly plays with great intelligence and instincts. Still, she won’t turn 20 until May 13 and it remains to be seen if she is physically ready for WNBA play right away.

After the draft, Thibault said that his projected starters were Vaughn, Langhorne, Currie, Ajavon and Latta, but it’s new day in D.C., and the lineup could look much different by September. And so, Mystics’ fans hope, will the win total.