November 13, 2022 

Why the Washington Mystics see a bright future even after losing draft lottery

The Mystics will pick fourth in the 2023 WNBA Draft—one year after taking Shakira Austin at No. 3

With Friday’s results in the 2023 WNBA Draft lottery, the Washington Mystics learned what their payoff would be from a trade made months ago.

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The Mystics got the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft, then flipped it to the Atlanta Dream for the No. 3 overall pick, the No. 14 overall pick and the right to swap first-round picks. The No. 3 pick became Shakira Austin, who was a WNBA All-Rookie Team selection and a perfect fit for the Mystics both offensively and defensively last season. The No. 14 pick became Christyn Williams, who did not play due to injury but could be re-signed in 2023. And the pick swap was with a pick that Atlanta had acquired from the Los Angeles Sparks, so the Mystics waited to see whether that pick would be better or worse than their own.

When the Sparks fell out of the playoffs in 2022 and the Mystics finished fifth in the regular season, the swap gave the Mystics a lottery pick instead of the No. 8 pick for 2023. The question remained, though, of exactly how far the team would rise in the draft.

The Mystics entered Friday’s draft lottery with 17.8% odds of getting the No. 1 overall pick, 23.0% odds of getting the No. 2 pick, 38.7% odds of getting the No. 3 pick and 20.5% odds of getting the No. 4 pick. They ended up with the fourth pick, meaning they will draft four spots higher than they would have without the pick swap.

“Last year, we beat the odds in the lottery, and unfortunately, didn’t this year,” Mystics general manager and head coach Mike Thibault said in a press release. “However, as a result of the trade, we have moved up four spots in the draft. We will get an excellent player with the fourth pick.”

Just as she did a year ago, point guard Natasha Cloud, the longest-tenured player on the roster, represented the Mystics at the draft lottery. She wore her Grandpa Duane’s lucky watch for the second straight year, hoping to continue the lucky streak that the Mystics started last year after years of misfortune in the draft.

Before the results were announced, ESPN’s LaChina Robinson asked Cloud what the Mystics most needed to add to their roster. Cloud immediately mentioned the importance of having everyone healthy, which the team has struggled with since winning a championship in 2019. She added, “Getting back to our offensive dominance. We got away from it this last season while being the defensive No. 1 team in the league. We got to find our offense and then just [add] a little bit more depth.”

The lottery results were then revealed in reverse order, and when the first envelope for the No. 4 pick came up Mystics, Cloud only gestured in disappointment with one arm — a much more understated reaction than she had a year ago to getting the top pick. The Mystics know that they are still in good position regardless, with core players Cloud, Elena Delle Donne, Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen all signed for 2023. And Thibault suggested that there wasn’t much difference between picking second, third or fourth.

“I don’t think there’s a consensus beyond one player this year — who should be two, three, four or five,” he told The Washington Post’s Kareem Copeland. “… If you get a pick in the first round, you’re going to get a player that could play in our league.”

The Next’s latest draft board shows the same, with South Carolina center Aliyah Boston the clear top prospect but four players behind her graded about the same. In order, those players are Stanford wing Haley Jones, Maryland wing Diamond Miller, Ohio State guard Jacy Sheldon and UCLA point guard Charisma Osborne.

However, there is a significant difference between picking fourth and eighth, according to The Next’s draft board author, Em Adler. Adler projects the players available at four to become slightly above-average backups in the WNBA and the players available at eight to become fringe rotation players.

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The Mystics have had the fourth overall pick twice since the current lottery format was adopted. In 2002, they selected Asjha Jones, who played two seasons with the Mystics and 12 seasons overall and became a two-time All-Star. In 2013, the Mystics had strong odds to land the No. 1 overall pick but fell to No. 4 in a draft that had three surefire stars in Brittney Griner, Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins-Smith. They selected Tayler Hill, who had the best years of her career in Washington and was eventually traded for Aerial Powers, who became a key reserve on the 2019 championship team.

We still won’t know who Thibault will draft at No. 4 or what that player will develop into for a while, and it could take years to determine which team truly came out ahead in the 2022 trade. But we got a step closer to knowing all that on Friday with the lottery results. And even without luck on their side, the Mystics appear to be in good shape for 2023, with Austin and the No. 4 pick complementing the team’s veteran returners.

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. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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