April 11, 2023 

With 2023 roster largely set, Washington Mystics focus on future in WNBA Draft

Mystics select USF’s Elena Tsineke, acquire future assets

Entering the 2023 WNBA Draft, the Washington Mystics and general manager Mike Thibault had an excellent problem: They risked having too much talent.

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This season, the Mystics are bringing back their top five scorers from 2022 in Elena Delle Donne, Ariel Atkins, Natasha Cloud, Myisha Hines-Allen and Shakira Austin. They added guards Brittney Sykes and Kristi Toliver and center Amanda Zahui B. in free agency. And they re-signed longtime reserves Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Tianna Hawkins, giving them a near-complete roster well before the draft.

“We really didn’t want to be in a position, both from a [salary] cap standpoint and from a roster management standpoint, to bring in another player in the first round who maybe was good enough to make our team but would force our hand to maybe cut somebody else that we really liked,” Thibault told reporters after the draft.

So Thibault decided to prioritize the future rather than the present with the three draft picks he had entering Monday night.

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The Mystics began by drafting 6’6 Brazilian forward/center Stephanie Soares out of Iowa State with the No. 4 overall pick. But mere minutes later, even before the next pick was made, the WNBA announced that the Mystics had traded Soares’ rights to the Dallas Wings. In exchange, the Mystics received Dallas’ 2024 second-round pick and Atlanta’s 2025 first-round pick, which Dallas had acquired previously.

The additional picks will supplement the Mystics’ draft assets, which were somewhat depleted when they traded their natural 2024 and 2025 second-round picks to Las Vegas for the rights to Zahui B. in February. In addition, the 2024 and 2025 drafts are expected to be loaded with talent such as Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, UConn’s Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, Stanford’s Cameron Brink, Notre Dame’s Olivia Miles and DePaul’s Aneesah Morrow.

“I think the depth of those drafts could be very significant, particularly in ’25, when we have two first-round picks now,” Thibault said. “… We have three firsts in a two-year period, and … having multiple firsts allows you to have more options.” Those options include making additional trades or using those picks on players who are young and on team-friendly contracts, which is especially valuable as the Mystics’ core gets older.

Thibault said that conversations about trading the No. 4 pick had started several months ago with multiple teams, but Dallas had the most attractive offer. The Wings wanted to see what happened with the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks before committing, so the trade could not be completed ahead of the draft. The deal was cemented while Dallas was making its first selection at No. 3 overall, after South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston and Maryland wing Diamond Miller were drafted as expected.

Washington had acquired the No. 4 pick last year, trading the 2022 No. 1 overall pick for a package that included the No. 3 overall pick and the option to swap 2023 first-round picks with Los Angeles. The Mystics used the No. 3 pick to draft Austin, who became a WNBA All-Rookie Team selection, and the pick swap is now something that could benefit the Mystics for years to come.

“Getting Shakira Austin, that worked out for us,” Thibault said. “And so to do that and get what we wanted a year ago and get something that improved this year and into the future, that’s probably the most you can hope for from something like that. And so [we’ll] just keep trying to play it forward until we see the player that fits the next thing we want.”

The Mystics used their two remaining 2023 picks on a player who will compete for one of the final roster spots and a 19-year-old who could join the team in future seasons. With their second-round pick, they selected 5’7 Greek guard Elena Tsineke out of the University of South Florida. Tsineke, the American Athletic Conference Co-Player of the Year, averaged 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game this season while shooting 38.3% from 3-point range. In their April 6 draft board, The Next’s Em Adler and Hunter Cruse compared Tsineke to another USF guard, seven-year WNBA veteran Courtney Williams, and praised Tsineke’s athleticism and ability to score off of ball screens.

“I think she can come in and play her game,” Mystics head coach Eric Thibault told reporters after the draft. “She’s got a very kind of modern point guard’s game. She can stretch the floor. She can shoot off the dribble. She can get in the lane and make plays. And one thing I really liked … [was that] she made a step up from her junior year to this season. So that shows you that’s a player that wants to get better and puts work into her game. And so she just has to come in and be herself and … she’ll be fine.”

“She’s going to be given an opportunity to compete,” Mike Thibault added. “… It’s an uphill battle, but we liked the kind of kid she is and how she battles, literally. And she has great skill sets.”

In the third round, the Mystics were specifically looking for an international player who “has upside” for the future rather than the present, Mike Thibault said. They selected 5’11 Spanish guard Txell Alarcón, who will not join the team this season as she continues to develop.

Alarcón averaged 7.9 points and 2.3 rebounds per game on 46.6% shooting this season for Kutxabank Araski, which plays in Spain’s top league. Over the past three seasons, she shot 41.7% from 3-point range on almost 200 attempts.

Adler and Cruse projected Alarcón as a top international prospect for the future, writing, “Alarcón has a specific and defined role that every team is looking for, as a shooter and smart off-ball mover who hits spot-up looks at a good rate and has some utility with the ball in her hands, rarely making risky plays.”

“We always are going to put a premium on shooters,” Thibault said on Monday.

Overall, the Mystics used Monday’s draft to add a crafty guard to their roster and make significant investments in their future. It could take years to determine whether Tsineke, Alarcón or one of the future draft picks will end up being the biggest prize — or whether any of those pieces will be repackaged for another return. For now, what it all adds up to is plenty of options and shrewd strategy given the Mystics’ roster and salary cap crunch.

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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