After a month-long hiatus for the summer Olympics, the Washington Mystics and the rest of the WNBA returns to action this week with the locals playing at Indiana on Thursday. Depending on one's point of view, the break for the Mystics (4-14) was either: Much needed so the players and coaches could analyze and ponder how best to fix the woes of the first half, one that included three losing streaks of at least four games. Or...Poorly timed seeing as the Mystics closed the first half with a rousing 70-53 win at New York, their largest margin of victory on the season.Sure, you can point to the latter position with some legitimacy, but the overall ills during those initial 18 games cannot be denied. Slow starts were a repeat offender; Washington did not own a lead at the end of the first quarter until the 13th game of the season. Spotty point guard play certainly did not help generate consistent early offense.The one constant on offense and on the boardsremains forward Crystal Langhorne, who topped the team in points (16.6) and matched Michelle Snow with a team-high 6.7 rebounds. The former University of Maryland star combined with DC native Monique Currie for 40 points in the victory over New York and tallied 22 points and 13 rebounds in the Mystics stunning 67-66 win over the Fever (10-7) on June 15.Overall the Mystics offense has been stagnant and simply lacking, averaging a league-low 69 points per game. Currie (10.6) is the only other playing averaging double figures, Matee Ajavon (9.2) is averaging nearly five points a game fewer than she did last season, sinking only 32 percent of her shots. The real issue for coach Trudi Lacey's squad offensively comes with those directing traffic. Free agent signee Dominque Canty went from starting point guardto waived after only five games. Second-year guard and former first-round pick Jasmine Thomas is still transitioning into a floor leader role and the growing pains are evident at times.In-season pick-up Shannon Bobbitt became a 5-foot-3 sparkplug for a while, but she failed to tally a single point in four of her last five games. Natasha Lacy also received time, but nothing stuck. Even if the losses continue to mount, letting Thomas and 2012 first-rounder Natalie Novosel take control of the backcourt at some point could be Lacey's best path.Indiana, led by Olympic Gold medalist and small forward Tamika Catchings, ended the first half in second place behindEastern Conference leading Connecticut. Catchings paces the Fever in points (18.2), rebounds (7.4) and steals (2.0), though the do-everything star missed 10 of 14 shots in the June loss to the Mystics. The two sides square off three times over the final five-plus weeks of the regular season including twice in Indiana where the Fever are 6-3.Meanwhile the Mystics lost seven of eight road games with the win at New York representing the only triumph away from the Verizon Center. Seeing as they open the second half playing six of eight on the road, the Mystics better hope they remembered that winning formula.
The play of Kelly Oubre, Jr. over the past calendar year had made the Wizards picking up his contract option an increasingly easy decision. On Saturday, they opted to keep him for the fourth year of his rookie contract, the 2018-19 season, and did so with a week to spare before the deadline.
Oubre, 21, has emerged as a key contributor for a Wizards team with expectations of a deep playoff run. He is still finding his trule role in the NBA, but with his youth and potential, and the fact he's still on a rookie deal, Oubre has a unique place on their roster.
John Wall and Bradley Beal have already emerged as stars. Otto Porter still has room to get much better, but has already arrived and earned a max contract. Oubre, though already established in their rotation, has plenty of room to grow.
Oubre, the 15th overall pick in 2015, doubled his minutes last season to 20.3 per game under head coach Scott Brooks with averages of 6.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.7 steals per game. He earned Brooks' trust mainly on the defensive end with his versatility and high motor.
Consistency is where Oubre needs to improve, but through two games this season he appears to have taken another step. Oubre added two inches to his vertical leap over the summer despite rehabbing from platelet-rich plasma treatment on his right knee. He also gained some muscle, allowing him to make strides as a rebounder. Oubre has 15 rebounds through two games and said it's specific focus of his.
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The Wizards are a good enough offensive team currently to where Oubre can focus on defense and rebounding. But his growing confidence on offense has been evident so far this year and especially in the preseason. He has worked on dribbling with his right hand and the result is more aggression attacking the rim. Though still not a polished product, Oubre is taking small steps to emerge as a more dangerous scoring threat.
The Wizards will have another decision to make on Oubre this time next year. One day before the 2018-19 regular season begins, they will have to choose whether to hand Oubre a rookie scale contract extension. They weren't able to beat that deadline with Porter and the next summer he received a $106.5 million max deal after hitting the market as a restricted free agent.
Oubre at this very moment wouldn't command that type of money in free agency, but the same was said about Porter at this point in his career. Porter was able to improve significantly in his fourth season.
Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis said this summer that he would love to have Oubre force the issue with his performance on the court.
"He's going to come back and work really, really hard and challenge us to pay him a lot of money, too, which I'm glad to do," Leonsis said.
It's early in the season, but Oubre may be on his way towards making the Wizards ponder his long-term future.
The Washington Post first reported Oubre's contract option getting picked up.
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Clippers guard Patrick Beverley made a point to embarrass Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball in the latter's NBA debut. After dominating him on the court, Beverley said he had to "set the tone."
On Wednesday, Wizards point guard John Wall will get a crack at Ball when Washington plays the Lakers at the Staples Center. Wall knows why Beverley went after Ball like that, but says he doesn't blame Ball himself.
"I think his dad put him in a situation where guys are going to target him," Wall said on the Wizards Tipoff podcast, referencing LaVar Ball. "Lonzo is one of those kids that is very talented. He's been a good player for years, he just don't say much. I think his dad does all the talking for him."
Ball, 19, was the second overall pick in this June's NBA Draft. He had just three points on 1-of-6 shooting against the Clippers on Wednesday, but bounced back for 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists against the Suns on Friday.
Wall thinks Ball will be fine as long as he can keep up his production on the court to back up his dad's trash-talking.
"He's a great kid from what I've seen on the outside looking in," Wall said. "A lot of people in this league are going to take it personally. It's not the son's fault. He went back and had a better game [vs. the Suns]. That's all he's gotta do is go out there and play. He's not gonna do any talking anyways. If he gets killed or don't get killed or kills somebody, he's not going to be the guy talking."
Wall is as competitive as they come and will give Ball a tough challenge on Wednesday night, but it doesn't sound like he plans to pull a Beverley and overtly embarrass him.
Listen to Wall's full 1-on-1 interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast: