How the Washington Mystics are preparing for the 2021 WNBA Draft without a pick

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Tyler Byrum
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How the Mystics are preparing for the 2021 WNBA Draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

A year ago, the Washington Mystics gave up their 2020 first-round pick and all three of their picks in the 2021 WNBA Draft to bring in a former league MVP in Tina Charles. 

Charles has yet to play a game and Washington is entering a draft with no draft picks. If there's no pick selected by the Mystics this draft, it will be the first in the team's history where they did not select a prospect. 

But, not owning a pick does not mean that head coach and general manager Mike Thibault is not prepared.

"I think you always have to approach every college season in some form or another as if you do have a draft pick because you never know what happens in the month or two leading up to the draft," Thibault said at the end of the 2020 season. "Is there a trade that's worth doing where all of a sudden you don't want to be surprised a week before the draft? And all of a sudden you have the first pick of the second round or the last pick of the first round and you haven't done your homework?

"We'll always do our homework as if we were going to draft."

Since taking the reins over the Mystics organization, Thibault has not been afraid to make big moves. Twice he has acquired former WNBA MVPs Elena Delle Donne and Charles (with draft picks being used as bargaining chips). For Charles, that move happened in the days leading up to the 2020 draft. 

The time is ticking for a move to be executed before draft night on April 15. Trades on draft night are not unheard of, but definitely less frequent than their NBA counterparts. 

It's not out of the question for Washington get a pick in the final days, but it won't likely be just for the sake of getting a draft pick. It would have to be a part of a bigger move with multiple players involved (and for Washington, players who can contribute).

The reason being, if Washington does acquire a pick, the roster pretty loaded. Like the Mystics' two 2020 draft picks, in all likelihood, any player Washington selects will likely get waived. Already 11 roster spots are claimed (including the injured Alysha Clark) with only one potential roster spot available. The Mystics don't even have to fill the final spot if they so choose. 

Even without a pick, pieces are in place for the future. Using last season as a trial period, Washington got quite a handful of looks at young players.

"We told Stella Johnson she's our draft pick for this year. So since we don't have any, she's our draft pick," Thibault said. "She'll act as if we drafted her this year and she's got some experience now."

Johnson had a huge role with the Mystics in the WNBA bubble before she got shut down with a season-ending ankle injury. Added in the middle of the season, Johnson averaged 9.2 points in the five games she played. One of those was a 25-point breakout performance that included six made 3-pointers.

The 22-year-old was drafted by Phoenix in the third round of the 2020 WNBA Draft. Waived by the Mercury before the season started, and then picked up and released by Chicago, Washington signed her. 

Any potential draft pick would have to compete against those players on training camp contracts as well. All but one has WNBA experience. And of the 15 players in the Mystics organization right now, these numbers don't even include Emma Meesseman who has yet to sign a contract but her status is in limbo due to her overseas obligations. Only 12 can make the roster.

Still, that doesn't mean the Mystics won't take a waiver on an undrafted player to a training camp contract. There are currently 57 players eligible to be drafted, so 21 of them will not hear their name called.

"We'll rank players, we'll scout them," Thibault said. "Every year somebody goes undrafted that you want to bring to training camp to get a look at. And so we'll be in that position to scour for those kind of players. It's gonna be tough for somebody to make our team but you never know what happens with injuries and everything else."