The Washington Mystics have announced their final 12-woman roster for the 2019 season. Headlined by forward Elena Delle Donne and guard Kristi Toliver, the roster includes nine returners from the 2018 team. A tenth, forward Emma Meesseman, played for the Mystics from 2013-17 but sat out in 2018 to focus on playing for the Belgian national team. The final roster spots went to two WNBA rookies, 23-year-old Kiara Leslie and 29-year-old Kim Mestdagh.
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As I wrote in my Mystics season preview, the Mystics return nearly every player who made significant contributions to last season’s run to the WNBA Finals. All five starters return, including four who averaged double-figure scoring: Delle Donne (20.7 points per game in 2018), Toliver (13.9), Ariel Atkins (11.3), and LaToya Sanders (10.2). In the offseason, the New York Liberty tried to sign the Mystics’ fifth starter, guard Natasha Cloud (8.6 points per game), but Washington was able to match New York’s offer and keep the starting lineup intact.
However, the Mystics will not necessarily start that quintet throughout the season. For one thing, Delle Donne’s status for the first game is up in the air as she deals with a jammed left knee. And Sanders’ time in the starting lineup might be limited, despite playing very well at center in 2018. Washington head coach Mike Thibault has indicated that he will likely start Meesseman in favor of Sanders after she returns from the EuroBasket tournament, which runs from mid-June to early July. As a starter for the Mystics in 2017, the 6-foot-4 Meesseman averaged 14.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, and she is a career 39 percent three-point shooter. She is one of the position-less, versatile players that are so highly sought after in the modern WNBA, and she and Delle Donne can pose significant matchup problems for any opponent. At times, Thibault may also deploy (or even start) a lineup featuring Delle Donne, Meesseman, and Sanders alongside two guards.
Kiara Leslie, a wing out of North Carolina State, was Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2019. Despite Leslie being projected as a second-round pick, Thibault raved about her abilities on both ends of the court. That gave Mystics fans a sense of déjà vu, as Atkins was a surprise first-round pick in 2018 and exceeded all expectations in her first season.
Unfortunately, any on-court déjà vu will have to wait until at least August, as the team announced a few weeks ago that Leslie would miss three to four months after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Instead of Leslie providing depth behind Atkins on the wing, Thibault will rely on Aerial Powers (who is also dealing with a minor injury), Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, and perhaps even Myisha Hines-Allen, a second-year player who reportedly expanded her game in the offseason after playing the four and five positions last year.
The final roster spot ostensibly came down to guards Kim Mestdagh and Shey Peddy, two 29-year-olds who have hadsuccessful international careers but had never made a WNBA roster. Mestdagh was a late arrival to training camp due to her overseas commitments and did not play in the Mystics’ two preseason scrimmages, while Peddy averaged 4.5 points and 1.5 assists in just under 13 minutes per game. However, Mestdagh apparently made up for lost time, securing the roster spot and the opportunity to play alongside Meesseman, her teammate on the Belgian national team.
The selection of Mestdagh means that the Mystics will lose two players to the EuroBasket tournament in a few weeks. Along with Leslie’s injury, that leaves the Mystics shorthanded, and the team may end up signing Peddy to a temporary contract to help compensate for the Belgians’ absence. Both Peddy and Mestdagh should help the Mystics’ offense go: Peddy averaged 12.7 points and 5.5 assists for TTT Riga (Latvia) in 2018-19, and Mestdagh averaged 16.2 points per game playing alongside Meesseman in the 2018 World Cup.
Time to “run it back”
With the announcement of the final 12-woman roster, the Mystics took their first step toward “running it back,” or getting back to the WNBA Finals in 2019. Peddy was the unlucky 13th player and the team’s final cut, but she could still play a role in the Mystics’ championship aspirations. The Mystics open the season on the road, taking on the Connecticut Sun on Saturday, May 25, at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time. The game will be streamed on Twitter.
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