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Why did every Mystics player not named Emma Meesseman miss the mark in 2016?

Emma isn’t the problem. Everyone else? It’s a different story.

meesseman latta Stewart W. Small

So the Mystics ended up at the bottom of the Eastern Conference this year after peaking in June, as the fourth overall seed in the Association, then dropping to tenth after a winless July and an agonizing September.

Who wasn’t the problem?

Emma Meesseman

We already know who the best, most consistent player on the team was: Emma Meesseman. She ended the season as the most efficient three point shooter in the entire WNBA, and was also the Mystics’ overall leading scorer and rebounder.

I look forward to the day when the W takes notice of her prescient defense and efficiency. Evidently, they can only pay attention to a certain cast of characters. But it was a great she got a shoutout from the Wall Street Journal at the end of the season, that I talked about, here.

Regardless, Meesseman was not the problem last year. (Why didn’t she score more? We will address that later.)

What were these players’ shortcomings?

Tayler Hill

This was a break-out year for the guard after three very uneventful seasons for the Mystics. Hill spent most of the off-season working with assistant coach Eric Thibault, instead of playing overseas, which paid dividends in the first half of the season.

However, Hill’s game equated to generally shooting threes or drives to the basket. As defenses realized that she could usually hit wide open shots and driving to the basket were her bread and butter, she had a much harder time executing. No one cares if you score 15 points on 5-of-22 shooting. Or 11 points on 4-of-16, in losses.

Overall, with the season in the Mystics’ hands in September, she shot 36-of-105. Hill only had two games out of eight, where she shot over 40 percent.

If you’re going to play with a ‘me first’ attitude, you better be shooting better than that. Or you should be getting more than 2.9 assists per game.

I am sure Thibault was encouraging her to take on the responsibility, but it did not pan out over the course of the season.

Kia Vaughn

The savvy veteran acquitted herself nicely coming off the bench for the majority of the season. She had a few starts and increased her points, shooting percentage, and rebounding from last season. The upside to her is that you know what you will get, smart and gritty in the paint.

The downside is that she’s older and faces younger, taller, and more athletic players who pose a greater challenge. More than once, defenders were able to out hustle her or swat away her shots. All-in-all, Vaughn was a much-needed veteran, professional presence regardless of her actual production.

The Missing In Action players

Stefanie Dolson

Big Mama Stef had ONE double-double this season. Ouch!

By June 5, Thibault had pulled the plug on her starter minutes. She only played over 25 minutes five times after that. Dolson also had seven games with two or fewer rebounds. For her talent, height and pedigree, that is the definition of a disappearing act.

After her All-Star campaign last year, it was astonishing — and brutal — to see her under-perform to such an obvious degree. And to make matters worse, she showed up at the very end of the season, when it no longer mattered. She herself stated in her exit interview that she got ‘pushed around’ this year. Though she came into the season slimmer and fitter, she also realized that she needs to get ‘stronger’.

As someone who owns some of her gear, I am rooting for her to do just that. Hopefully, beating people up in China this off-season will help. I think Coach T is unwilling to give up on her right now, but one more year of averaging nine points and four rebounds, and she will be rocking the pine for someone else.

Natasha Cloud

It’s hard to get to upset with a second year player, so I am not. But the Mystics desperately needed more production from her starting minutes. She scored five or less points 14 times last season. That is just shy of half the season.

In the final game, Cloud had one point, shot 0-of-4 from the field in 23 minutes. What the hell? She averaged 5.7 points over the course of the season. These numbers aren’t the bad for a bench player, but she is a starter.

If she had averaged eight assists a game, that would be acceptable on some level, but she didn’t. She averaged just under four. Again, I don’t think Coach T is throwing in the towel on her. But Cloud cannot average 34 percent from two, 33 percent from three, and 75 percent from the charity stripe, and continue to start. I would like to think running an offense in Australia this off season will tip the scales in her favor.

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt

In 2015, TRP helped anchor the fourth best defense in the association. This year, the Mystics were tenth. Her footwork, decision making and execution on defense fell off. Shooting 37/30/75% overall was nowhere near helpful enough for a starter. Averaging seven points, four rebounds and 2.6 assists, along with leading the team in turnovers with Bria Hartley, was just not what fans expected to see this year. She had three ZERO point games. Unacceptable, after proving what she is capable of in 2015.

I will also note that there were times where her body language was just terrible. I thought to myself, does she even want to do this? In an association with so few teams, chemistry is critical to success, you simply cannot have a starter that has not bought completely into the system, and I am wondering if TRP has.

The Inconsistent

Ivory Latta, Bria Hartley, Kahleah Copper, Tianna Hawkins

Latta came off knee surgery this year and played in 22 games. She averaged 8 points and 2 assists, major drop offs to her 2015 averages of 13 points and 2.6 assists when she played every game. A huge drop off that really hurt the team.

Hartley scored in double digits in six of her 24 games, leaving the team early due to pregnancy. She scored five points or more twice after June 18, so picking up Leilani Mitchell for her was a blessing, considering Mitchell shot the ball better, 43 percent to Hartley’s 37 percent. Mitchell also looked to dish instead of just running under the basket.

Copper, as a rookie, certainly had some shining moments, but not enough to warrant any acknowledgement from the W in her 2016 class. Her speed and athleticism was obvious to all. Hopefully, her playing a season in Belgium and EuroCup will be helpful to her development and decision making. But we won’t know until next year, when it will no-doubt be imperative that she average more than six points a game.

Hawkins may have been waived toward the end of the season, but Coach T noted that he is open to bringing her back next season. She also had some fantastic minutes. Her grit and three point shooting was so unbelievably helpful, but she only played in 24 games and averaged 10 minutes in them, ending up with five points and 2.5 rebounds overall. I think she can do some serious damage next year if her minutes double, and if she comes back to D.C.

When these four showed up, it was very helpful. But for the most part, it was too little too late, and all over the place.

Speaking of late...

The Late Comers

LaToya Sanders, Leilani Mitchell

Both veterans were a breath of fresh air late in the season, but Sanders played in four games and Mitchell, ten. That simply is not enough to make any overall impact, regardless of how good they are.

Sanders may not be playing for the Turkish national team anymore, but she is playing a full season in EuroLeague. Given her advanced age and her proclivity for injuries at this point, that is not helpful to the Mystics. No matter how healthy she is, she will not have a scoring average over 12 points in the W. Four blocks very possibly, but her shooting efficiency and usage percentage is nowhere near what it is on other teams.

Mitchell, on the other hand, played the point guard very well in her ten game showcase, and she could be the ‘Kara Lawson’ the team needs next year, minus the defense. Mitchell is a smidge bigger than Latta, so she will continue to get run over/blown-passed, no matter what. But the Aussie’s decision making and ball distribution was what you expect from a veteran, and the Mystics need anything they can get in that department.

The Disappointing

Ally Malott

With her 6’4 frame and with one of the quickest releases in the association, I had high expectations for Malott last summer. Granted, she sprainer her shooting elbow in the first game of the season, but she averaged 30/31/82% shooting from the floor in her limited minutes. Terrible.

Malott is playing in Australia this offseason. From what I have gleaned, she is enjoying it, but she is by no means dominating like someone of her size and supposed talent. (For example, Meesseman is the same size and a year younger.) I can’t see Coach T trading her one-for-one, but if she is traded, she would clearly be a part of a package deal.

Here is how the frontcourt looked in June, which happened to be their best month of the season:

Mystics Frontcourt June 2016
Elle Ward

And here is the backcourt’s production in June:

Mystics Backcourt June 2016
Elle Ward

And here is how July looked like from the frontcourt. To recap, that was Washington’s worst month.

Mystics Frontcourt 2016 July
Elle Ward

And here’s the backcourt’s scoring performance. What in God’s name is this?

Mystic’s Backcourt July 2016. Sweet Jesus.
Elle Ward

The moral of the story is this: Emma Meesseman cannot play every position. She clearly needs help.

There is a lot to look forward to in 2017. We will keep you updated on the players as they make their way through the fall and winter in their respective associations. The most critical being Meesseman’s Belgian national team playing later this month for a shot at the 2017 EuroBasket tournament. It will have a major impact on the Mystics next year if they can make EuroBasket for the first time in a decade.

***

P.S. Meesseman has some more hardware to add to her trophy case when UMMC Ekaterinburg won the FIBA Europe SuperCup against ESB Villaneueve d’Ascq: