Photo by Ben Standig for The Sports Capitol

Exclusive: Mystics coach/GM Mike Thibault on Tayler Hill trade

BY BEN STANDIG | JULY 24, 2018

The Sports Capitol spoke exclusively with Washington Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault following Monday’s trade that sent 2013 first-round pick Tayler Hill to the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward Aerial Powers. The Mystics included a 2019 second-round pick and the right for the Stars to swap first-round picks in 2019.

The genesis of the trade, according to Thibault, essentially came from Washington’s overflow of guard depth — and the impressive play of 2018 first-round pick Ariel Atkins. 

The 5-foot-9 Hill, selected fourth overall in 2013 behind Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins, only received limited minutes since returning to the lineup June 19 following a season-ending knee injury during the 2017 campaign. Hill, who averaged a career-high 15.4 points during the 2016 year, averaged 3.0 points and 9.0 minutes in 13 games this season.

Powers, selected fifth overall in the 2016 WNBA Draft, averaged over 10 points per game in each of her first two seasons with Dallas. In 15 games this season, the 6-foot-0 averaged 6.2 points in 15 games.

Washington entered Tuesday’s game at Connecticut 14-10, tied for fifth in the WNBA standings with Minnesota.

Here is the transcript from the phone interview, which was edited slightly only for time and space.

The Sports Capitiol: Was this trade made by Mystics general manager Mike Thibault or Mystics head coach Mike Thibault?

Thibault: “A little bit of both… When we became aware that there was a deal out there to be done in discussions with Dallas – they were looking to get a shooting guard to play behind (Allisha) Gray and Skylar Diggins. It seemed like something that fit, but we hadn’t agreed on the terms. We had off and on discussions. I really didn’t know if it would get done.

“For Tayler, it’s a situation where she can get a new lease on life. She’s been here almost six years. She’s had a year she missed because of pregnancy, half of last year (following knee surgery). She’s trying to get her game back. She’s finally kind of getting back to healthy, but she’s now stuck behind a young player in Ariel Atkins who is kind of the future of our backcourt. There’s some frustration trying to play your way back into some regular minutes. We have the luxury with Ariel and Shatori (Walker-Kimbrough) and Mo Currie and [Tierra Ruffin-Pratt], (Natasha) Cloud and (Kristi) Toliver, we have a pretty deep group. It was a situation where she could get a fresh start and we could get a different kind of player. It’s one of those trades that seemed to work.”

TSC: Aerial Powers had some good moments in the league, but hasn’t played as much lately. What do you like about her game?

“They sat her out the last several games thinking they were going to make a deal 10 ago, two weeks ago. They talked to a couple of different teams. They were being extra cautious about whereas we felt we’d go about our business and play, do what we had to do. If it worked, it worked. (Aerial’s) role kind of changed for that team. (Minutes went to Kayla Thornton and Azura Stevens, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2018 WNBA Draft.) I think it was a good move for both players to go to a new situation. [Aerial] can defend. She’s got a good scoring ability. We’re not in any hurry to rush her. We’ve got a pretty good rotation, but down the road she’s going to help us.”

TSC: Obviously, you’re pleased with Ariel’s play since you drafted her, but how surprised are you that things have escalated to the point where you felt you could move a player like Tayler?

“That’s a good question. I don’t know if it was a conscious thought at the time. It just kind of evolved that way. As I said earlier in the year, I wasn’t sure how aggressive Ariel Atkins would be, she’s proven that that hasn’t been a problem. She’s been a quick learner. She’s as focused as any young player I’ve been around in a while. Every day she goes about her business the right way. When you have a player like that and depth around her, then it just became obvious to us this was something we had to look at for a myriad of reasons. It made the whole thing a whole lot easier based on how Ariel has played.”

TSC: How do you feel about where the team is now (heading into Tuesday’s game/the All-Star break).

Thibault: “We’re missing Natasha Cloud with her concussion. Hopefully, this week will allow her to get recovered. When we come back from the All-Star break we’ll have nine games left to play. Hopefully, we can get on a little run. The schedule is really tough. We have one of the 2-3 hardest schedules left, so we’ve got that to face. We can get some practice days in there in the next two weeks where maybe make some progress. We need to clinch a playoff spot first, but get ourselves on a roll going into the playoffs somehow.

“We’re excited about [the trade], but it’s one of those trades where you have mixed feelings when you have a player who has been with you for that long. It’s a change I think everyone thinks we needed to make for the long-term betterment (of the team). We’re getting a little bit different kind of player.”

Ben Standig is a host, writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. This D.C. area native grew up rooting for all the local squads and dabbled in the professional media world after college before making a full shift to sports writing in 2005. Since, Ben has covered every team and big event in town for several outlets including the Associated Press, NBCWashington.com and Scout.com.

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