January 31, 2021 

What the Mystics lose, gain with Powers’ departure and Clark’s arrival

The two players have different strengths, but Clark fits nicely into a team with championship aspirations

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How does a general manager respond to losing a WNBA champion in free agency? If you’re Washington Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault, you apparently sign a two-time champion.

On January 28, Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported that former Mystics guard-forward Aerial Powers had reached an agreement with the Minnesota Lynx. (Teams can currently negotiate with free agents, but contracts cannot be signed until February 1.) In 45 career regular-season games with the Mystics, the 5’9 Powers averaged 11.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 19.7 minutes per game.

The Mystics had hoped to re-sign Powers, who is just 27 years old and was acquired from the Dallas Wings in a 2018 trade that looked better for the Mystics by the day. She was having a career year in 2020 before a hamstring injury ended her season, averaging 16.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. The Washington Post’s Kareem Copeland reported that the Mystics offered Powers a contract, but she declined it.

“I want to first thank the Washington Mystics, from Coach [Mike Thibault] to everybody on the staff for welcoming me with open arms,” Powers told Yahoo Sports. “I want to thank the fans for supporting me through my injuries. Their support never wavered. I won a championship with that franchise, and I’m extremely grateful. It’s the best experience a player can have. I also want to thank Monumental Sports, Ted and Zach Leonsis for supporting me.

“But right now, it’s only right that I sign with the Lynx. I’m ready to win another championship. I’m excited to be coached by Cheryl Reeve. I’m excited to bring a championship home to the Midwest, where I’m from Detroit.”

Also on January 28, Winsidr’s Rachel Galligan reported that the Mystics were “close to a verbal agreement” with Alysha Clark, a 5’11 forward who played the past nine seasons with the Seattle Storm and won WNBA championships in 2018 and 2020. Copeland reported a few hours later that an agreement was in place.

The following day—without specifying her destination—Clark wrote a heartfelt Instagram post confirming that she would not return to Seattle.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CKodvGLDHqM

“Seattle, Thank you 💚,” she wrote. “… Thank you for being a place where I got a chance to grow as a woman and a player. … Thank you to all of my teammates I had the honor of suiting up with. Each of you has helped me grow in a different way and I love you endlessly for it. … Lastly, to the ownership I want to say thank you for believing in me and taking a chance on me in 2012. I was ready to walk away from this league and you gave me one more chance. That chance changed the course of my life.”

Although Powers and Clark play similar positions and both stuff the stats sheet, they bring different strengths to their respective teams. Let’s look at what the Mystics gain and lose with these roster changes.

Powers is out

Had Powers re-signed with the Mystics, she could have stayed in DC for most of her career. The Mystics saw her as part of their core group and seemingly expected her to return, as she was involved in filming promotional videos for the team this offseason.

However, multiple teams were vying to sign Powers, a versatile offensive player who has steadily improved over the past few years. She is an excellent slasher, ranking in the top 8% of WNBA players in free throw rate for three straight seasons, while also shooting 37% from 3-point range as a Mystic. And despite using a relatively high share of her team’s possessions when she was on the court, she ranked in the top 20% of players league wide in points per scoring attempt in the past two seasons.

Powers started 13 games in three seasons for the Mystics but primarily served as the team’s spark plug and offensive catalyst off the bench. As former teammate Shatori Walker-Kimbrough put it in 2019, “She’s our ball of energy.” The Mystics will need other players—perhaps last season’s breakout player, Myisha Hines-Allen, or second-year guard Stella Johnson—to fill that void.

Mystics fans were quick to share their support of Powers and sadness about the move on Twitter. One fan wrote, “I’m not even sure I still want to sit on the floor, seat 2, baseline north side. I still lovers [sic] you AP and truly wish you well, success but I am also heartbroken.” Another chimed in, “Get ready Minnesota you’re about to get a shot of pure adrenaline!!”

Elena Delle Donne (left) and Natasha Cloud (right) both posted Instagram stories on January 29 welcoming Clark to the Mystics.

Clark is in

Two inches taller and six and a half years older than Powers, Clark gives the team another veteran leader alongside players such as Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles, LaToya Sanders, and Leilani Mitchell. (Charles is a free agent but has verbally committed to re-sign with the Mystics.) Clark played in 200 regular-season and 20 playoff games with the Storm, starting nearly every game over the past six seasons.

Clark doesn’t score as prolifically as Powers, averaging 6.9 points per game for her career and 8.9 over her past three seasons. However, she is more efficient, with a career effective field goal percentage of 58.3% to Powers’ 47.0%. Clark’s specialty is 3-point shooting: in her career, she has hit 40% of her 3-pointers, including a ridiculous 52% last season, and about 42% of her shots have come from behind the arc.

Clark is also an elite defender who was a unanimous selection to the WNBA’s All-Defensive first team in 2020 and a second-team selection in 2019. A potential starting backcourt of Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, and Clark would have six All-Defensive selections between them and could create havoc for opposing offenses. (Not to mention, Charles has four All-Defensive honors of her own, Sanders is an elite interior defender who was arguably snubbed for those honors in 2019, and guard Kiara Leslie is growing into the role of defensive stopper off the bench.)

Like Powers, Clark rebounds well for her size, averaging 4.1 rebounds per game over her past three seasons, and is versatile, chipping in 2.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game. In Game 1 of the 2020 WNBA semifinals, Clark came up with the game-winning offensive rebound and putback despite facing a defender who was four inches taller.

In short, Clark can fill a variety of roles depending on team needs, evolving from leading the NCAA in scoring twice at Middle Tennessee State to a lockdown defender at the professional level. For the Mystics, she will provide excellent floor spacing around players such as Delle Donne and Charles, and Charles’ presence in the post may have closed down some driving lanes for Powers anyway. Clark may also take a couple fewer shots than Powers, freeing up shots for other players.

The fact that Clark turns 34 in July could be considered a negative, as the Mystics have essentially replaced a player nearing her prime with one nearing the end of her career. However, given the Mystics’ salary cap situation, it could work out well for Thibault. The terms of Clark’s contract have not been disclosed, but it is likely to be a relatively short deal. That would allow her to help the team win right away but free up money to re-sign players such as Atkins, Hines-Allen, and/or Leslie in future offseasons. A longer contract for Powers could have stretched Thibault’s ability to do that.

Next steps for the Mystics

Assuming Clark and Charles sign their contracts as expected, the Mystics still have work to do in free agency. Re-signing forward Emma Meesseman becomes the biggest priority, and Tianna Hawkins is also a free agent. Thibault has stated that he wants to re-sign Meesseman, though he notably did not designate her as a core player this offseason, which would have given her a one-year supermax contract ($221,450) and prevented her from negotiating with other teams.

If Meesseman plays in the WNBA in 2021, it’s hard to envision her with another team, as she has played for the Mystics for her entire seven-year career. However, she may sit out the 2021 WNBA season to prepare for the Olympics with the Belgian national team.

Having Meesseman would unquestionably help the Mystics in their quest to win two championships in three years. But either way, adding Clark—who just accomplished that feat with Seattle—advances that goal by making the Mystics better on both ends of the court.

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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