December 20, 2021
What winning the WNBA draft lottery means for the Washington Mystics
'It puts so many things on the table for us'
The Washington Mystics’ first-time representative at the 2022 WNBA draft lottery knew exactly what to do.
Point guard Natasha Cloud wore her Grandpa Duane’s lucky watch to Sunday’s event and assured head coach and general manager Mike Thibault that she would be the franchise’s good luck charm. Indeed, she and Grandpa Duane delivered just the second No. 1 overall pick in franchise history.
“I told you, Coach!” she exclaimed live on ESPN shortly after the results were announced.
The Mystics entered Sunday with only the third-best odds to receive the top pick, at 17.8%. But they jumped the Indiana Fever (which earned the No. 2 overall pick) and the Atlanta Dream (No. 3) to land their first No. 1 pick since Chamique Holdsclaw in 1999.
With the picks being announced in reverse order, Cloud chuckled as Dallas Wings head coach Vickie Johnson reacted to her team getting No. 4 pick, then rubbed her hands together in anticipation after Atlanta got the No. 3 pick. When the No. 2 pick was revealed to be Indiana’s, Cloud put her hands in the air and let out a yell as Atlanta co-owner Renee Montgomery shouted, “Are you kidding me?! Wow!”
This lottery luck represented a notable reversal of the Mystics’ fortunes: Since 2011, they had had the third-worst lottery luck in the WNBA, behind only Atlanta and Indiana. They were especially unlucky in 2013, getting the fourth pick in a draft with three stars despite having the best chance at the top pick, and three years later, the WNBA changed the rules so that the team with the worst record could only slip as far as third.
“This kind of has a little bit of karma feeling to it,” Thibault told reporters after the lottery. “And it’s a great opportunity because it gives us so many options going through the next four months. There’s a variety of players to look at. … You always have the option to trade the pick if there’s the right offer. But it puts so many things on the table for us.”
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Thibault may well keep the pick, selecting first just as he did in 2010, when he brought future WNBA MVP Tina Charles to the Connecticut Sun. A talented player on a low-cost rookie contract would surely help balance the Mystics’ salary cap, which will be a significant challenge over the next several months. Thibault said that he and his staff had been evaluating about eight players for their first-round pick, but because the No. 1 pick gives the Mystics full control over their selection, they will trim that list to four or five players and evaluate them “on an extended basis.”
“My mindset right now, today, is that the draft [pick] will be whoever we think is the best player for the long term, whether it’s a guard or a post or whatever,” he said. “Each of the players at the top of the draft bring different kinds of strengths. And we’re going to try to weigh that out, learn more about them as individuals and what kind of teammates they are, what their drive is and what their motor is. And I think those are all going to be traits that are important to us in how we play and what kind of player we want in our Mystics organization.”
He later added that any draft pick would not need to be “a savior” for the franchise, which won a championship just three seasons ago. Although he’s looking for a player with long-term star potential at No. 1, all he expects right away is for that player to be unselfish, high energy and willing to learn from the Mystics’ veterans.
However, Thibault has not been afraid to trade lottery picks, either, most recently flipping the No. 2 overall pick in 2017 as part of a package for another MVP, Elena Delle Donne. If he trades this pick, he will be looking for players who can help the team win championships right away alongside Delle Donne, Cloud, Alysha Clark and Ariel Atkins.
“I want to win now,” he said. “I’m not going to be coaching for the next 10 years. … If everybody keeps progressing with their injuries, the window is wide open for us to win a championship again.”
As Mystics fans rejoiced over the top pick, former and current Mystics also reacted on social media. Delle Donne recorded her live reaction in an Instagram story, while current forward Erica McCall and Mystics alumna Nikki McCray took to Twitter to share their joy. “[Cloud] only brings good vibes, I knew the top draft pic [sic] was coming when I found out she was repping the team today,” McCall wrote.
Cloud was also jubilant, writing on Twitter, “I called it again [speaking emoji] guaranteed. Facts. Periodt” and, referring to the other teams’ representatives at the lottery, “Told them ‘I won’t see y’all again’ [joy emoji].”
Although Cloud was seemingly the team’s lucky charm, it was Holdsclaw who was originally slated to represent the Mystics at the event. But she and her wife are expecting the arrival of their daughter, so the team asked Cloud to step in.
“It means everything,” Cloud told ESPN of representing the team at the lottery. “Y’all know I’ve been in DC my whole career, eight years going strong, and it’s my second home. So I’m really honored to be here to represent our team and to bring us some luck and get this number one pick.”
“I felt Tash would represent us well,” Thibault said. “She was upbeat. She said she was really nervous. I don’t have a lot of superstitions when it comes to stuff like this … I sent her an emoji of a four-leaf clover this morning and that was it, wished her luck. And she was excited to do this. She feels like she’s a big part of what we’ve had going since she’s been here the last eight years, and so I was excited for her that she could be successful on that stage.”
Successful in more ways than one, as it turns out. Cloud told Thibault, and the world, on ESPN about the deal she had struck with associate head coach Eric Thibault before the lottery: If she brought home the top pick, she could sit out of a defensive transition drill in training camp.
“Yeah, you got it. No problem,” Mike Thibault replied, still beaming as he took in a historic day for the Washington Mystics franchise.
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.