Heading into their second-to-last regular season game last year, the Mystics seemed poised to snag one of the WNBA’s eight playoff spots. Needing only to beat the Liberty to secure a berth, Washington fell 91–80, squandering a golden opportunity it wouldn’t get back.
“We didn’t come in ready to play,” guard Natasha Cloud said afterward. “We didn’t come in ready for the game scheme. And we didn’t buy in completely. That’s frustrating when our season is on the line. … I think we made them look like All-Stars.”
After Sunday’s draft lottery results, however, it is Washington who is set up to add another All-Star to its already talented core.
Cloud watched from inside ESPN’s Bristol studios as the Mystics leap-frogged the Fever and the Dream to secure the top pick in the next April’s WNBA draft. Indiana will pick second, followed by Atlanta and Dallas, who entered Sunday’s drawing with the fourth-best odds after acquiring the selection from Los Angeles.
“We have a window right now that’s been opened up again a little bit,” general manager and coach Mike Thibault told reporters. “I want to win now. I’m not gonna be coaching for the next 10 years. I want to win a championship. Every team if they have the opportunity to win a championship wants to make the most of it.
“The window is wide open for us to win a championship again.”
Here’s a look at some of the winners and losers of the 2022 WNBA draft lottery.
Let’s start with the obvious: Washington is the biggest beneficiary of Sunday’s lottery. The team will now have the ability to shape the WNBA draft whichever way it so chooses.
Having choices in how to proceed is something that Thibault harped on in his comments to reporters, saying, “It’s a great opportunity because it gives us so many options going through the next four months. There’s a variety of players to look at. It can help us maybe in free agency decide a few things if we have to. I don’t know if it will, necessarily. You always have the option to trade the pick if there’s the right offer. But it just puts so many things on the table for us that you don’t have otherwise.”
Two-time league MVP Elena Delle Donne has played in only three games over the past two seasons, but Thibault said Sunday on ESPN’s telecast that she was making “great progress” after needing multiple back surgeries since taking home the league title in October 2019. Joining Delle Donne will be Cloud and U.S. Olympian Ariel Atkins, as Washington is guaranteed to return some of its core pieces.
The Mystics do have a number of major questions this offseason, however, as 2021 MVP candidate Tina Charles and forward Myisha Hines-Allen are free agents and ’19 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman’s future with the club is also in question. (Thibault said he was “not optimistic about her chances to return due to national team commitments.) But, now with the No. 1 pick in hand, the team’s front office has, perhaps, the best asset of the offseason.
“We have a really good squad back in D.C., but we need some puzzle pieces added to it,” Cloud said on ESPN’s broadcast. “So this No. 1 pick is going to make all the difference in making another championship run for D.C.”
Indiana entered Sunday’s drawing having never possessed the No. 1 pick in the draft. That fact remains true coming out of the lottery as the Fever, despite winning just 12 games over the past two seasons, slipped out of the top selection.
Indiana enters the offseason still looking for a franchise centerpiece. In her fourth season, guard Kelsey Mitchell proved to be a solid offensive player, averaging a career-high 17.8 points per game, but she’s yet to emerge as a consistent All-Star or All-WNBA player. The same can be said of 6′ 7″ center Teaira McCowan, who ranked third in the WNBA rebounds and fifth in blocks but at times struggles to defend more mobile bigs. Perhaps Indiana will find its star via the draft or free agency, but Sunday’s result was disappointing nevertheless.
Winner: NaLyssa Smith or Rhyne Howard
Thibault told reporters Sunday that he believes this year’s draft class is stronger than the draft classes from the last two years. As it currently stands, the two top prospects in the class of 2022 appear to be Baylor senior forward NaLyssa Smith and Kentucky senior guard Rhyne Howard. Smith is averaging 20.5 points and 13.3 rebounds for the Bears, and she’s lauded for her versatility and finishing ability on offense. Her three-point shot, however, remains a clear area for growth as she has made just four all season and has taken only 12 threes in 11 games this year.
Howard is similarly excellent around the basket, shooting 53.5% on two-pointers this season, while averaging 18.7 points per contest. Compared with Smith, she has also been a more consistent three-point shooter, shooting more than 37% in each of her first three seasons with the Wildcats. However, this year Howard has regressed from deep and is shooting just 33.3% on 5.4 attempts per game.
While Thibault said Sunday it’s fully possible that whomever the Mystics pick—if they do end up making the selection—will open the season coming off the bench, either Howard or Smith would likely serve as super-subs and inject plenty of energy, and offensive dynamism, to Washington’s lineups.
Dallas entered Sunday as one of the league’s most intriguing franchises, possessing both high-level top-line talent in the present, in All-Stars Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally, and a host of other high-potential young players, including last year’s No. 1 and No. 2 selections Charli Collier and Awak Kuier. Already a playoff team, it would have been fascinating to see how the Wings would have handled holding the No. 1 pick in the 2022 WNBA draft, considering their lack of open roster spots and current upward trajectory. They certainly didn’t need the top pick, but it would have been a major boost. Maybe they weren’t a loser on Sunday in the traditional sense, but we, as the viewing public, might be losers for not getting to see this potential scenario play out.
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