As Mystics stars return healthy, there won't be a reliance on No. 3 pick

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As Mystics return healthy, there won't be a reliance on No. 3 pick originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Drafting in the WNBA Lottery usually indicates that a franchise is in need of a significant piece to revitalize the organization and steer it in a new direction. However, while the Washington Mystics are drafting third during the WNBA Draft on Monday evening, they aren't approaching the selection as a player that needs to jumpstart a rebuild.

The Mystics are not devoid of talent. There's an MVP, two other All-Stars, Natasha Cloud and Alysha Clark likely making their starting lineup. For this WNBA Draft, there isn't a prospect that could crack that top rotation.

Missing the playoffs last year - and thus being in the draft lottery - was the result of injuries and absences plaguing the team throughout the season. Elena Delle Donne played only three games (just 9% of all games). Clark, a free-agent acquisition from 2021, missed the entirety of the season after being named to the WNBA's All-Defensive First Team the year prior in Seattle.

Myisha Hines-Allen also missed 15 games to injury last season. Cloud missed five, Ariel Atkins two and the list goes on for several former Mystics who are no longer on the roster.

And with the Mystics expecting to have Delle Donne and Clark participating at training camp, there's a good sign they'll be back for a majority of the season. Fully healthy, Washington should be a team competing for a WNBA Finals berth at the season's end.

"For us, we're a little bit different than [the Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever] in that we have some players coming back to our team," head coach Mike Thibault told the media on a pre-draft conference call. "Coming in healthy, we're a different kind of team. We're a veteran team. And so whoever we draft is not going to be expected to play 25-30 minutes. So I feel like all three of those players that we have identified would fit the bill for us."

It is further evident that Washington is not feeling the pressure to nail this year's selection when they traded back from the No. 1 overall pick last week. The coaching staff stated they are content with drafting any of the three players at the top of their big board.

Across the league, it is presumed that Rhyne Howard (Kentucky), NaLyssa Smith (Baylor) and Shakira Austin (Ole Miss) are the top three prospects and will be the top three selections in some order. One of those three will be available for the Mystics at No. 3. There's no glaring top selection so it could realistically be anybody.

"I think it says a good thing about the draft. You have three or four or more players that could have an impact right away and there may be more than that," Thibault said.

Related: Natasha Cloud wants to run for public office after basketball

"They can contribute, we're going to need - down the road - players at different positions regardless... And so we enjoyed our interviews with all three players. We think they're all going to be good players. But I don't think it was a situation where we had to have one of them to make a certain particular impact on our team. I think they're all going to do well."

Just because Howard, Smith and Austin are the consensus top three, doesn't mean Thibault won't zig while the other team's zag. Their top three could be different than everyone else's. They just might be more interested in who has the biggest potential five years from now when Delle Donne is nearing the end of her career.

A deep roster has really opened the door for whichever direction Washington chooses to go. At the end of the day, whoever Washington drafts, at best, will be the seventh player in the rotation this season. That's regardless of the team's needs at the backup point guard and center positions.

No one has won or lost the WNBA championship by bolstering who is their second-best player off the bench. Drafting a player that could be the center of a new Mystics core - who's not a projected top-three selection - might just be the difference several years from now.

The 2022 WNBA Draft begins at 7 p.m. on Monday, April 11. It will be broadcast on ESPN and on the Watch ESPN app.