On top of playing the entire WNBA season in a bubble this season, the Mystics will have another obstacle. The team will only have 10 players on the roster assuming that Elena Delle Donne does not play this season. Delle Donne is in the high-risk group for the coronavirus despite the WNBA denying her medical opt-out request.
And on top of only having 10 players, the team will look far different. No Delle Donne, no Natasha Cloud, no LaToya Sanders and no Kristi Toliver, who was the lone player of this group who physically left the team.
Still many of the remaining players were on last year's championship roster. They have the championship pedigree that some teams just can't obtain through free agency. So, who is going to fill into those open holes on the team? How will the depth chart shake out?
Head coach Mike Thibault has kept his cards close to the vest during training camp. He doesn't want to give their game one opponent, the Indiana Fever, any insight into how their rotation works.
That doesn't mean we can't guess how it will play out.
Here is the 10-player roster for the 2020 season based on position (* denotes newcomer):
While Kiara Leslie and Shey Peddy may not be familiar names for the Mystics, they are a part of the organization's system. An injury prevented Leslie from playing after being the 10th overall pick in 2019. Peddy actually filled in for a limited time when Emma Meesseman and Kim Mestadh competed with the Belgian National Team.
The good news, if there are any of the opt-outs, is that losses were spread out across the board. If anything, the biggest concern is now the center position (losing Charles and Sanders), but Thibault already rotates players into the No. 5 spot on the court with the idea of positionless basketball.
PG - Leilani Mitchell - Shey Peddy - Myisha Hines-Allen
SG - Aerial Powers - Kiara Leslie - Leilani Mitchell - Shey Peddy
SF - Ariel Atkins - Essence Carson
PF - Tianna Hawkins - Emma Meesseman - Myisha Hines-Allen - Essence Carson
C - Emma Meesseman - Aliana Coates - Tianna Hawkins - Myisha Hines-Allen
Leilani Mitchell will likely come in starting at the point to run the offense. She brings in 11 years of WNBA experience at a position where the Mystics lost their top two options. Last year she started most of the season for the Phoenix Mercury (27 starts). With a condensed offseason, Mitchell is the answer for Thibault and also able to bring experience to what will be a relatively young starting group.
"[Mitchell] was a prime target for us this offseason regardless of what we knew at the time about Kristi (Toliver), we were we were trying to sign her to be on our team regardless," Thibault said.
The two guard will be an intriguing position. Last season, Aerial Powers helped direct the second unit on the court as a ballhandler. But her best game is behind the 3-point arc. Her 11.4 points per game a year ago was fourth-best on the team.
There will be options behind her though in the depth chart. The Mystics are also excited about what Leslie can bring to the team in the future this will be her first season playing in the league. Mitchell, another excellent shooter, could backfill the role as well depending on how often Thibault wants Hines-Allen playing as a point-forward.
Tianna Hawkins will likely elevate as a starter given her knowledge of the system. At times last year, she was familiar with being the tallest Mystic on the floor so can go between the four and the five spot.
Essence Carson will be a great plug and play piece that has played essentially every position except center. Her time will be spent across all roles and her veteran presence, especially if she's on the second unit will be vital.
And by signing Aliana Coates, the team gets a player that is just looking for a second chance.
For those familiar with Thibault's philosophy these projected positions will likely fluctuate within a season and even within games. A short bench will force the coaching style to get creative and often roll out small lineups based on the talent on the floor. Even though she may be the "five," Meesseman will still likely be in a role that she was last year.
Additionally, Thibault has hinted about having a strong offensive spark coming off the bench. There's no better evidence of that than what Meesseman brought to the team playing on the second unit last season. The best options to provide that burst of energy are either Powers, who is the second-best returning scorer from last season, or Atkins who is the lone returning starter.
Only 10 players to work with will also force some adjustments. An injury or a player in foul trouble could drastically shuffle everything.
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