The young players may not be ready to take big roles just yet, but on the other hand, Washington doesn’t look significantly better on paper. That’s good news for their 2016 WNBA Draft prospects, for now.
Washington Mystics General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault announced that he signed Armintie Herrington to a contract and signed Ivory Latta to a multi-year extension on Tuesday. Being the pro-youth movement guy I am, I was not happy. I am particularly frustrated with Herrington’s signing, and the announcement Latta now figures to be a long-term piece for Washington is cause for concern.
That said, the moves are done, so what do these signings say about the Mystics? Here are five takeaways I got from it:
1. Bria Hartley isn’t ready to be the Mystics’ starting point guard.
Photo – Stewart W. Small
In the 2014 season, Hartley shared point guard duties with Latta, and in 2015, it’s safe to assume that we’ll see more of the same. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself because both guards are able to score in bunches and make plays for others, as they combined for 22.1 points and 6.4 assists per game in the 2014 WNBA season.
But in the 2014 WNBA season, Hartley had a high turnover rate at 19.9% and in simpler terms, she averaged 3.1 assists and 2.5 turnovers per game, which is a concern if the Mystics did let Latta go and handed her the keys to the bus. Even for UNIQA Euroleasing Sopron, Hartley is still showing signs of being very turnover-prone, where she is averaging 3.2 assists and 2.6 turnovers a game. As you might have expected, Hartley also isn’t playing the point guard position full time for UE, where veteran Hungarian player Iva Ciglar has those duties where she averages 4.4 assists and 2.1 turnovers per game. In addition Hartley’s not shooting particularly well from three (28.9% overall, 11 of 38 shots), so that’s not really helping her case to be a starting point guard.
Since European competition is generally less competitive than the WNBA, you would think that Hartley’s stats would be better and more efficient than her WNBA ones. However, they aren’t, and that does raise questions on how effective she could be over the long haul.
None of this is meant to say that Hartley isn’t a WNBA starter – she plays as a starter and has shown a lot of promise last year. However, there is a legitimate reason not to make her a full-time point guard at the present time given her weakness of taking care of the basketball.
2. Tayler Hill isn’t ready to be a significant contributor for the Mystics.
Photo – Stewart W. Small
Last week, Thibault stated that Tayler Hill is a player who figures to be a major part of the future. But that doesn’t mean that he believes that she is ready to be a contributor at the present time. These signings all but confirm that Hill isn’t worth giving significant playing time to right now. Therefore, assuming this roster holds up, I find it unlikely that she’s starting this season unless multiple guards are injured. In fact, shouldn’t be a shock to see her hardly playing altogether at times.
With that in mind, I see Hill being in a position like Washington Wizards swingman Otto Porter. Like Hill, Porter is a high draft pick (#3 in 2013), and he too hasn’t played as many minutes as other high draft picks normally should. During his two seasons in the NBA, he has seen his playing time fluctuate wildly. On the one hand, Porters started four games for the Wizards in the 2014-15 season. But he also played sparingly, at other times this season. Unlike Hill’s case, seeing Porter in a bench role for the Wizards is more understandable. Part of the reason why is because starting small forward Paul Pierce is still playing at a high level despite his advanced age at 37.
But more importantly, the Wizards can afford to stash Porter as a bench player because they still figure to be in the Eastern Conference picture, even considering Bradley Beal’s right leg stress injury which was announced on Wednesday. The bottom line is that the Wizards are in their window of contention, when young player development isn’t as high of a priority, and they know that John Wall is their franchise player, who happens to be starting in the NBA All-Star Game this weekend.
In Hill’s case, it’s less understandable as to why she shouldn’t be playing more minutes on the court. The Mystics aren’t on anyone’s short list for the 2015 WNBA championship, let alone the Eastern Conference Finals, despite what WNBA.com says.
And as I’ve pointed out repeatedly — and will continue to point out until it happens — the Mystics do not have a franchise player to build around unlike the Wizards. That said, there are some young players, including Hill who could form a supporting cast around that player once the franchise player is drafted sometime in the future. It only makes sense to let her play, especially in a season where the 2016 WNBA Draft could really help them contend sooner than later.
Therefore, these veteran moves make absolutely no sense given the Mystics’ situation, unless Hill doesn’t figure to be in the Mystics’ plans. But assuming that Hill is playing for the Mystics this summer, hopefully she doesn’t have erratic playing time like Porter has had during the Wizards’ season.
3. The Mystics may believe that the 2015 WNBA rookie class will be so weak that getting veterans is better than picking up rookies who won’t be in the league a year later.
Photo – Kim Klement, USA Today Sports
The 2015 WNBA Draft class appears to be a snoozer, especially after the lottery picks are drafted. The Mystics’ first pick is 8th overall, and perhaps Thibault believes that there is no one at that spot who figures to fit in the roster. Barring the Mystics trading into the Top-3, they aren’t getting UConn senior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (pictured above), who doesn’t have as high a ceiling as another player on her team. We’ll talk about her later. Trust me.
The Mystics’ lack of a high or even a mid-first round pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft could also play into any rationale to sign Latta and Herrington as opposed to making an attempt to get more draft picks in a weak year.
4. The Mystics are having trouble finding a suitable replacement for Monique Currie.
Photo – Stewart W. Small
The 2015 Mystics roster will be the first team that is made up just of players that Thibault drafted, signed, or acquired from trade. If there is one significant weakness on the team, it’s that there isn’t a starting caliber-small forward who can replace Monique Currie, who now plays for the Phoenix Mercury.
Even when Currie was in Washington, the position was thin depth-wise, but now this is a pretty big hole on the roster, especially at a position where Elena Delle Donne, Angel McCoughtry, and Tamika Catchings play — and that’s just the Eastern Conference. The addition of Herrington especially implies that the Mystics may be willing to experiment with some small ball lineups in 2015 in an attempt to push the pace of play, which is something Thibault has wanted to do since arriving.
Perhaps there could be a three guard lineup of Latta, Hartley, and Herrington this summer for stretches, or it could be the Mystics’ starting guard rotation. In addition, Kara Lawson, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, and Tayler Hill also could be part of these small lineups that would be designed to outrun opponents.
Perhaps the Mystics could also go bigger with the small forward position, where Jelena Milovanovic or power forward Emma Meesseman could play here. That would put centers Stefanie Dolson and Kia Vaughn out on the floor, assuming both start.
Either way, the Mystics have a big hole at the small forward position, and there aren’t any realistic replacements for them in 2015. They will be horribly outmanned there one way or another, so assuming that they are trying to win games in 2015, they’re going to either be really small or big at that spot. That said, wins shouldn’t be the Mystics’ priority anyway.
5. The Mystics are still a realistic candidate to get in the 2016 WNBA Draft Lottery.
Photo – David Butler II, USA Today Sports
Of all the takeaways, this is the most important one. Do these moves significantly hurt the Mystics’ chance at the 2016 WNBA Draft Lottery? Not really.
I think we’re all in agreement that despite the Mystics’ lack of a franchise star and depth at the small forward position, they still should find a way to be competitive. In and of itself, re-signing Latta and signing Herrington show that the Mystics want to put a competitive product on the floor. That said, neither signing makes them significantly better in 2015 talent-wise.
Assuming the Mystics make no further moves, they are still going to be the WNBA’s least talented team in 2015, though they will be the best-coached. Even though there’s a risk that Thibault’s coaching could force the Mystics back onto the “Treadmill of Mediocrity,” Washington’s still a safe preseason choice to miss the playoffs, especially if the rest of the Eastern Conference is healthy.
So maybe Thibault is trying to have the best of both worlds. On the one hand, he has a Mystics team that at least some believe could make the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2002. That makes fans who would rather see them win happy, even though I believe that just means another run on the “Treadmill of Mediocrity.”
But on the other, things may not work out from a win and loss perspective, and the Mystics don’t look any better on paper than they did last week. Thibault will still have a good chance to get a franchise player in 2016 when he can finally make some real steps to make the Mystics a legitimate contender. The realistic possibility of the Mystics missing the playoffs keeps hope of a contending Mystics team alive for other fans like me, because I’m sick and tired of this team just aiming for mediocrity.
What are the things that stick out from the Mystics’ re-signing of Ivory Latta and their signing of Armintie Herrington? Let us know in the comments below.