The Mystics open their season Monday afternoon on the road when they play at Tulsa at 3 p.m. It is the only regular season game for Washington currently scheduled to be shown on ESPN2. For the Shock it is one of three. And it is a pretty good one for Shock fans to see on ESPN2 despite the weak opponent in the Mystics because it will be Skylar Diggins’ home debut in the WNBA, effectively beginning the Diggins era in Tulsa. It will also be the beginning of the Mike Thibault era for the Mystics, which, based on Thibault’s track record in Connecticut, could be a very successful one when it’s all said and done.
Scouting report on the Shock:
The Shock drafted the third of the “Three to See” in Notre Dame point guard Skylar Diggins, and their hope, as is the hope of Phoenix and Chicago is to be a changed team right away.
However, Tulsa (9-25 in 2012) began 2013 with a 17-point loss Saturday night in Atlanta. Their brightest spot was not Diggins in her much-anticipated WNBA debut (although Skylar was second on the team with 15 points, which is in the same ballpark as her collegiate average of 15.7). Instead, second-year guard and former 17th overall pick out of Miami Riquna Williams was the team’s star against the Dream, dropping a game-high 22 points.
Williams averaged 10.5 points per game in a what was a solid rookie campaign last year. Tulsa also returned double figure scorers in forward Glory Johnson and guard Roneeka Hodges. Williams came off the bench in the opener, as she did for most of 2012, while Johnson and Hodges were joined by forward Kayla Pedersen, Diggins and new addition from the Lynx Candice Wiggins in the starting lineup.
The first thing the Mystics will want to watch is the guard play of the Shock. That’s what stood out the most in Tulsa’s opener. Williams and Hodges combined to shoot 5 for 11 from downtown Saturday night, and Diggins is certainly capable of heating up from outside as well despite an 0 for 2 outing on her first night getting used to the WNBA.
Inside, the Mystics will also have to deal with 6-8 center Liz Cambage, who has three inches on Michelle Snow. Cambage had 13 points and was 5 for 5 from the line against the Dream. She is shooting 80.1 percent from the line for her career and it is always difficult to stop a post player who makes their free throws, because it makes fouling less of an option. The shock as a team had an incredible night at the line Saturday, making 28 of 30 free throws (93.3 percent). Williams led the way with an 8 for 8 performance.
Tulsa definitely showed that they have some weapons other than Diggins, but Skylar is one of the three most hyped players in women’s basketball right now so all eyes will be on her to see how she performs on her new home floor for the first time.
Diggins’ shooting performance against the Dream wasn’t anything special. She made just one mid-range shot, as well as two layups and a bank-floater at the tail end of the first half en route to a 4 for 13 night from the field. Like her team, she did a large portion of her damage at the free throw line, where she was 7 for 8.
On the defensive end, Diggins didn’t seem to miss a beat, as she held former Mystic and third-year player Jasmine Thomas scoreless until well into the contest. Skylar was 18th in the nation as senior with 3.08 steals per contest. She had two in her WNBA debut.
Another x-factor in the game besides Diggins will be guard Ivory Latta, who was Tulsa’s leading scorer last year and is now in Washington. The Mystics will put a lot of faith in their offseason acquisitions this year and hope that Latta can be a co-star to the likes of Crystal Langhorne and Monique Currie. And it will be interesting to see if Latta’s addition will at least make Washington better than her former team.
The Mystic backcourt should have their hands full with Diggins and some of the other talented guards Tulsa has, but based on Saturday night’s game it looks like the Shock may still have a ways to go before they are a dominant team. So don’t be too surprised if the Mystics are able start off 2013 with a win against one of their fellow lottery teams.