February 6, 2021 

Washington Mystics add elite talent and depth

Charles is set to make her long-awaited Mystics debut after sitting out in 2020

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Team USA center Tina Charles (left) and Team Canada guard Kia Nurse (right) welcome the fans before a FIBA World Cup exhibition game between Team USA and Team Canada in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on September 8, 2018. Photo credit: Chris Poss

Last April, Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault called trading for 2012 WNBA MVP Tina Charles “a no-brainer,” even though she joined the Mystics on just a one-year contract. The move didn’t quite go as planned, as Charles sat out the 2020 season due to extrinsic asthma and became a free agent again in 2021.

But on Friday, the Mystics “ran it back” by re-signing Charles to a one-year contract worth $175,000, the same amount she earned in 2020. They also traded their 2022 third-round draft pick to the Minnesota Lynx for forward Erica McCall, bolstering their depth on the front line.

“When we traded for Tina last year, it was a big moment for our organization,” Thibault said in the team’s announcement. “It was disappointing for her and for us when she had to miss the 2020 season. Tina’s high-level preparation this off season and her hunger to win a championship will be a huge catalyst for us to continue as one of the elite teams in the WNBA. We can’t wait to get started.”

Charles has played 10 seasons in the WNBA, averaging 18.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.0 blocks while shooting 45% from the field. The 6’4 center has been remarkably durable, playing in at least 29 games every season and averaging 32.4 minutes per game over her career. In addition to her MVP award, the 32-year-old Charles is an eight-time All-WNBA selection, a seven-time All-Star, and a four-time selection to the league’s All-Defensive team.

Ever since Charles first signed with the Mystics, Thibault was confident that she would be in DC for longer than one year. Now that he has been proven right, he can think anew about how best to use her alongside 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, three-time All-Defensive team guard Ariel Atkins and new acquisition Alysha Clark.

In her career, Charles has used the second-highest share of her team’s offensive possessions of any active player and the fifth-highest all-time, suggesting that a lot of the offense might run through her. However, Thibault indicated last April that he would ask her to do less and be more efficient—perhaps closer to the 25.1% usage rate she had in her MVP season than to her 30.2% rate in 2019, which was a relatively inefficient season for her. He will also likely ask her to focus on post scoring and take fewer outside shots, and the Mystics’ strong 3-point shooting from other players should give her the space to be effective inside.

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Thibault also said that Charles’ defense and rebounding would be difference-makers for the Mystics, and those expectations are likely unchanged in 2021. Charles is two inches taller than fellow center LaToya Sanders, which may help the Mystics against opponents with significant frontcourt size. Charles also ranks fifth in league history in total rebounds and was the fastest player to record 500 career rebounds.

However, it’s still unclear how much Charles will play for the Mystics in 2021. For one thing, the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging, and Charles could again sit out for medical reasons. Charles, along with Delle Donne and Atkins, may also miss a few games if she is named to the U.S. Olympic team.

The uncertainty around Charles and Delle Donne’s availability—not to mention Belgian national team forward Emma Meesseman, who may not join the Mystics until after the Olympics—makes acquiring McCall a logical move for Thibault. McCall is an athletic, 6’2 forward who has played four seasons in the WNBA, averaging 2.6 points and 2.4 rebounds in just over 10 minutes per game. As a member of the Indiana Fever in 2018, she had the fourth-highest offensive rebounding rate and the fifth-lowest turnover rate in the league, showing a glimpse of her potential.

“Erica will be a valuable addition to our post rotation,” Thibault said in a statement. “She is someone who is just starting to reach her professional potential. We were impressed by her continued improvement last summer with Minnesota and feel like she will take another step forward with us this season.”

McCall’s role for the Mystics may be similar to the role Myisha Hines-Allen played in 2018 and 2019, getting limited minutes off the bench but providing energy, rebounding, and toughness when she was on the court. The two forwards have similar size and explosiveness and were both second-round draft picks, McCall in 2017 and Hines-Allen in 2018. The 25-year-old McCall also adds some youth to the roster, which is important because the Mystics currently have six players who are at least 31 years old.

Charles’ contract is less than the maximum of $190,550, marking the second straight season she has taken a discount to sign with the Mystics. She is currently just the third-highest-paid player on the 2021 roster, behind Delle Donne and Clark. McCall reportedly signed a two-year contract that will pay her $72,000 in 2021, leaving the Mystics just under $250,000 to sign two or three more players. (If point guard Natasha Cloud re-signs for the $117,000 salary she would have received in 2020, which appears likely, that will leave the Mystics just over $130,000 for one to two players.)

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McCall has spent the offseason playing for KSC Szekszard in Hungary, where she is averaging 14.0 points and 7.7 rebounds. She also played for the team last winter and averaged 14.8 points and 9.0 rebounds, including a 25-point, 17-rebound outing against Germany’s Herner TC.

Meanwhile, since Charles last played a WNBA game, she has been active in the arts and on social justice issues. In November 2019, her film Charlie’s Records, which is about her father and his recording studio, was screened at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and she released a three-part video series this summer through her company Thirty-One Enterprises. This week, Thibault said that Charles is in the process of filming another documentary. Charles also participated in protests against police brutality this summer and donated her entire 2020 salary to support Black Lives Matter.

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Charles and McCall’s signings give the Mystics nine players under contract for the 2021 season and bring Charles one step closer to finally donning a Mystics jersey. Re-signing Meesseman, if she elects to play in the WNBA this season, is likely the only frontcourt move remaining for the Mystics. As a busy week of signings wraps up for the Mystics and the roster takes shape, the team has to be considered a title favorite in 2021 with its combination of top-end talent and depth.

Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. (She also writes the "Family Rivalries" series for The Next.) Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.

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