The Washington Mystics last held a lottery selection (picks No. 1-4 in the WNBA Draft) back in 2017. It was coming off the first season in which a Mike Thibault-coached team had not made the playoffs since 2010.
This year the Mystics hold a lottery pick again and they're hoping the impact their 2022 First Round pick has is as impactful as what they did with that pick in 2017. Whether that is drafting a top-tier star or trading that pick remains to be seen.
"The last time we [had a lottery pick] was the year we did the deal for Elena (Delle Donne)," head coach Mike Thibault said at the end of the season. "We missed the playoffs (in 2016), we had a lottery pick that gave us a chip to use in a trade and we need to use this chip that we have wisely.
"I don't like not being in the playoffs. But if we're not in, then we have an opportunity with the lottery pick. And some little bit of flexibility as far as choosing how we use our cap money. We have an opportunity to fix some things."
The trade that sent Delle Donne to Washington included the second overall pick of 2017, Stefanie Dolson and Kahleah Copper from Washington.
Salary cap-wise, a move to acquire another MVP would drastically pigeonhole the organization even more than they already are. Unless Tina Charles decided not to re-up with the Mystics, something of that magnitude would likely be out of the cards.
Additionally, the pieces Thibault used in 2017 were extremely valuable young assets that Chicago used to help parlay it into their championship this season. Copper became a WNBA Finals MVP. Right now, there are few young assets (aside from the 2021 lottery pick) that Washington hasn't already made a long-term financial investment in.
But that is not to say a move is not in the realm of possibilities this time.
"We're trying to build ourselves with the ability to win a championship. The similarities is [sic] in neither in 2016 or this year, have we had we made the playoffs, I don't think we're good enough to win a championship in either of the years," Thibault said.
Still, a high-pick, especially if it becomes the first or second overall pick, is highly valuable.
Last season, the Liberty gave up the No. 1 pick in a three-way trade to get Natasha Howard. In 2010, the Minnesota Lynx got Lindsay Whalen and the No. 2 pick in exchange for the No. 1 selection (which became Tina Charles) and Renee Montgomery.
Teams hold the top picks in high regard even with the 2021 rookie class not making much of an impact. The 2022 draft class, for now, doesn't appear to have the breadth of talent that was expected in the 2017 draft class nor the franchise stars of the 2013 class. There is, however, a ton of potential in some of the prospects.
"While it's tough not to be in [the playoffs], I can see a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, if we're smart enough to make use of our resources and do the right evaluations," Thibault said. "Whether the lottery pick becomes a young player in the draft or whether it becomes a trade chip like it was in 2016, that's to be determined and I have no idea at this point. "
Washington may hold on to the pick, where they hold the third-best odds for the top selection (they were out scouting at the recent South Carolina-Duke contest). On Dec. 19 at 3 p.m. ET (ESPN) we'll find out exactly the full worth of the pick and where the Mystics will be selecting.
It will spark the beginning of Washington's offseason plans and likely weigh heavily on their free agency plans. But there's no question Thibault and the organization believe this pick could change their future. It's all about making the right choice.
"We have an opportunity to get back into the elite group right now. And so that's going to be kind of the opportunity we try to take."