The Washington Mystics made the splashiest moves during WNBA free agency by trading for 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne and signing all-star point guard Kristi Toliver, who started for the reigning league champion Los Angeles Sparks.
The flurry of transactions, including adding veteran center Krystal Thomas, left Washington without a pressing need at any position, so with the WNBA draft set for Thursday night, Mystics Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault indicated he’s taking a wait-and-see approach as to what the club may do with the sixth overall pick.
The Mystics also own the 18th and 27th selections in a draft general managers, coaches and analysts have said includes no consensus franchise player such as Breanna Stewart, the top pick last year.
“We would like a player that can play multiple positions possibly,” said Thibault, entering his fifth season in the nation’s capital. “It’s not the be-all end-all, but someone that can play 2-3 or 3-4 or 1-2, but we’re not limiting ourselves to that. Clearly it’s not a post draft, and for us it’s not as big a need for what we want to do long term.”
Thibault has not ruled out trading the pick or using it on a wing player as he assembles a roster in which the regulars are able to prosper at two to three positions, if not more. Among the top prospects at the wing include South Carolina’s Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis as well as Maryland’s Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, all projected first-round choices.
Washington guard Kelsey Plum is the top candidate to go No. 1 overall to the San Antonio Stars, who also have the fifth pick in the first round. Plum set the all-time scoring record in women’s college basketball this past season.
Walker-Kimbrough, according to a handful of online mock drafts, has been linked perhaps to the Mystics or the Atlanta Dream, which is in need of offensive punch following the announcement two-time WNBA scoring champion Angel McCoughtry will sit out at least a portion of the season.
“I think the most exciting thing about her going into the WNBA is that she actually has that speed and the length on the wing and size that you need to be successful in the league,” ESPN women’s basketball analyst LaChina Robinson said of Walker-Kimbrough, listed at 5 feet 11. “She’s wiry, very active, and I think that’s something you look at as you’re adding pieces to a WNBA team.”
Maryland’s fourth all-time leading scorer also shot 46 percent from three-point range while at College Park, including 55 percent as a junior to lead major college basketball.
Walker-Kimbrough joins Brionna Jones as Terrapins players forecast to go in the top 10. Jones was among the premier post players in the country this past season, averaging 20 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 69 percent to lead Division I. She finished tied for sixth in scoring all-time at Maryland and was third in rebounding.
“Brionna obviously had an incredible college career, and I think she’s an interesting one because offensively her game definitely translates,” ESPN women’s basketball analyst Rebecca Lobo said. “Her efficiency, her ability to rebound, her uncanny ability to score over double-teams and over bigger defenders. I think if there’s any question with Brionna, it would be defensively.”
The Mystics, meanwhile, are awaiting word on the status of defensive specialist LaToya Sanders, a forward-center whose foot ailment may require surgery, according to Thibault. In 2015, Sanders finished tied for second in the WNBA in blocks with Delle Donne but missed most of last year because of international obligations.
To acquire Delle Donne, a restricted free agent, the Mystics dealt this year’s No. 2 overall pick, center Stefanie Dolson and guard Kahleah Copper to the Chicago Sky. Washington cleared additional cap room to sign Delle Donne by trading center Kia Vaughn and guard Bria Hartley to the New York Liberty.
With both top centers from last season gone, Thibault plugged the void in part by signing Thomas, a 6-foot-5 veteran who was selected in the third round of the 2011 WNBA draft. In 2012 with the Phoenix Mercury, Thomas set the franchise single-season record with 93 offensive rebounds.
The Mystics also re-signed 6-3 forward Tianna Hawkins, the former Terrapins standout who came back to play 24 games last season after sitting out 2015 following the birth of her first child.
“I don’t see very many players in this draft becoming starters on the teams they go to right away,” Thibault said. “It may depend on a certain team or injury or something else, but this draft is to add depth to a team more than it is to change the look of a team.
“We’ve had discussions with different teams about different kinds of scenarios. I don’t think anything will happen for us until the draft actually starts.”