August 7, 2020 

Emma Meesseman breaks out for Mystics

Amid balanced attack, Meesseman still represents the go-to scorer Washington needs

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Washington Mystics forward Emma Meesseman shoots the ball against the Indiana Fever on July 25, 2020. Photo credit: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Entering Wednesday’s game against the Las Vegas Aces, Washington Mystics forward Emma Meesseman was shooting less than 45% from the field and averaging just 11.3 points per game. But on her team’s first possession, Meesseman set a screen and found herself open for a jump shot just inside the three-point line. Swish.

“I was like, ‘Oop, that’s a good sign,’” her teammate Tianna Hawkins said. “And she kept on killing it.”

Meesseman scored nine of the Mystics’ first 13 points and finished with a season-high 24 points and 13 rebounds in the 83-77 loss to the Aces.

“Vegas seems to bring out the best in her,” head coach Mike Thibault said postgame, referencing how Meesseman averaged 21.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game against Las Vegas in last year’s WNBA semifinals.

The Mystics won three of their first four games this season without Meesseman leading them in scoring. That was surprising because Meesseman had averaged 13.1 points per game in 2019, good for second on the team, and led the team in the playoffs with 19.3 points per game on 58% shooting. Instead, through the first four games in 2020, she led the team in assists with 5.3 per game.

“I think everybody knows that I like to pass the ball, sometimes too much,” Meesseman said after the Mystics’ win over Seattle on July 30. “So my shot is not really going in right now, so I’m happy that I can find the open person … And for now, it worked really well.”

Despite how strong the Mystics looked without Meesseman scoring at her usual clip, Thibault emphasized last week that, one day soon, the Mystics would need her to carry the load. Wednesday was that day, and she delivered.

“It was just good to see her have that look in her eye like, ‘Okay, I can do more offensively,’” Thibault said on Thursday. He was still smarting about the loss but identified her play as the silver lining from a foul-filled, frustrating game.

Without a doubt, Meesseman’s resurgent game is great news for the 3-2 Mystics. They have now had four different leading scorers in five games, and they have had at least three players in double figures in every game. They rank second in the WNBA with 89.4 points per game and have the league’s second most efficient offense, seemingly picking up right where they left off last season.

Yet the Mystics have a very different roster after losing three players in the offseason and having four more sit out this year. It can be tempting to try to find like-for-like replacements on this year’s roster: Point guard Natasha Cloud is sitting out; enter new acquisition Leilani Mitchell, and so on. That exercise would likely peg Meesseman to fill the shoes of 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last season who is recovering from offseason back surgery. That comparison is made easier by the fact that both players are 6’4 forwards who shot better than 40% from behind the arc in 2019.

However, orienting this season around players who are not on the roster does a disservice to the current group, and expecting Meesseman to lead the team in scoring every night like Delle Donne could is misguided for two reasons. First, Meesseman is more different from Delle Donne than people recognize.

“I think they’re completely different players,” Asjha Jones, the Mystics assistant coach who works primarily with the forwards, told The Next recently. “… This is how they’re similar: you’re trying to … get them to get more shots up. But I think their style of play is different. And that’s why they complement each other well when they’re on the court together. They both can space the floor, but I think Emma’s more of a point forward type, where[as] at the end of the shot clock … you want to get Elena the ball because you know she’s ready to take that shot.”

A few days later, Thibault added, “I think that’s a lot of outside expectations on [Emma] because everybody wants her to be ‘Playoff Emma’ every day. … We are playing through her, to a degree. … [But] I think this whole summer is a work in progress for this group. And so we can’t expect them to be what it was exactly last year.”

Meesseman (#33 in red) contests a shot by Connecticut Sun guard Jasmine Thomas in Game 5 of the WNBA Finals on October 10, 2019. Teammate Elena Delle Donne (in mask) is to her right. Photo credit: Domenic Allegra

Second, teams are not all gameplanning for the Mystics in the same way, which gives different players more room to operate on different nights. “We don’t know how teams are really going to play this group yet,” Thibault said last week. “I don’t know what the scouting report is on us yet from other teams, other than, as a general rule, they try to make life miserable for Emma.”

Forward Myisha Hines-Allen had a breakout game with 27 points against Indiana in the season opener, and she said postgame that she felt that the Indiana players were not paying much attention to her because they were concerned about Meesseman. After that, defenses had to focus more on Hines-Allen in addition to Meesseman—and Washington responded by making 15 3-pointers against Seattle.

On Wednesday, Aces coach Bill Laimbeer told the media that he was less concerned about Meesseman and Hines-Allen than about high-scoring guards Ariel Atkins and Aerial Powers, and he was content to give the Mystics more room to operate inside if it meant they weren’t making 3-pointers.

Against New York on Friday, the strategy may change again. The Liberty lead the league with 41% of their shots taken from behind the arc, in contrast to the Aces’ league-low 16%. Perhaps Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins won’t be as worried about the Mystics making threes as he will about Meesseman and Hines-Allen, who combined for 42 points and 23 rebounds on Wednesday. Or he could try to limit the Mystics to 2-pointers and get 3-pointers on offense to build an advantage.

Regardless of what opposing coaches decide, though, they will have to make tradeoffs because of the number of offensive threats the Mystics have. All five starters are averaging at least nine points and two assists, and all five can initiate the offense both in transition and in the half court.

Thibault said before the Seattle game that the Mystics are a dangerous team for two reasons: because other teams underestimate them and because they have balanced scoring. After the impressive win over Seattle, followed by close losses to Chicago and Las Vegas, future opponents are unlikely to look past the Mystics. But Meesseman’s performance against the Aces only reinforces the Mystics’ ability to get a big game from many sources. If the Mystics make another postseason run in 2020, that balance will likely be the reason why—not because Meesseman scores at MVP levels every night.

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. (She also writes the "Family Rivalries" series for The Next.) Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.

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