It has been widely reported that WNBA superstar Elena Delle Donne, the MVP of the 2015 season, could end up playing for the Mystics next year.
All in favor, say AYE!
This is fantastic news. Credible news, to the extent that EDD herself had some nice things to say about Head Coach and GM Mike Thibault on Howard Megdal’s podcast. The upside to M’s fans is palpable. Nothing but enthusiasm.
But let’s discuss WHY something like this could happen to the ‘lowly’ Mystics.
1. Players want to play for Mike Thibault
He is a player’s coach. He understands his players. Their families. Their lives. Their up and downs in life. There is a lot of evidence to support this but certainly not limited to his response to Ivory Latta’s cancer scare.
For someone in EDD’s situation, this type of relationship makes sense.
He is also sporting more wins than any other coach in the WNBA, currently at 270. So that certainly speaks for itself, but has never won a championship. Some people believe that he will never win one, but that seems far-fetched. If he signs EDD, I will take back every DM to friends pulling my hair out over his rotations the last two years. Gladly.
2. Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman will make a scary frontcourt duo
EDD mentioned that teammates and wanting to win a championship were important to her.
The Mystics have determined that Emma Meesseman is untradeable. Thibault gave Meesseman her extension well before the 2016 season started, to send a message to her, the fans and teams that she was off the table in terms of a trade.
At that time, in February, she had just had two 30 point, 15 rebound games for her national team, and was signed by Russian powerhouse UMMC in the middle of the EuroLeague season to push for a Championship that they ultimately won. I am sure it was not lost on Coach T that she would be spending months and months with Diana Taurasi. Since Meesseman was just 22 years old last year, that must have been very encouraging to him.
So it is worth asking the question, where can Emma Meesseman be in five years?
Based on the evidence provided over the last four years, the sky is the limit. Meesseman can be more than just a key part of a WNBA championship team.
I mentioned about a year ago that I noticed that Meesseman had a knack for either bringing great players to her, when Ann Wauters came out of retirement to play for the Belgian national team, or that great teams wanted her to play with them, as was the case when UMMC signed her. So even though this is a surprise, it is not strange to me that the Mystics would be on EDD’s radar.
Here is a quick snapshot of the shooting efficiency between Meesseman and Tina Charles through the first half of the 2016 season, another Mike Thibault protegé who was the 2012 MVP, and now the centerpiece for the New York Liberty.
It’s not even close who wins the efficiency battle here. Before you get to the tired narrative of “Emma isn’t shooting enough,” Meesseman averaged 15.2 points a game by shooting less than 12 times a game at a 53.3 percent rate. Charles averaged a career high 21.5 points, but she also shot nearly 20 times a game, and her shooting percentage overall was 43.9 percent. In other words, Charles produces numbers but isn’t very efficient getting there.
There are many similarities between EDD and Meesseman. They include a laid back demeanor and taking success as it comes on their own terms. They are always in form during the season, comfortable in their own skin, and willing to play various roles to help their teams win.
It is hard to imagine that EDD’s and Meesseman’s differences would stand in the way of making an incredible duo. You cannot leave either one of them alone, or with a single defender. Meesse will eat teams alive if opponents try to double up on EDD. And vice versa. They will be a very tough match-up for anyone.
It’s not like EDD doesn’t know how good Meesse is. One of her many 20 point performances came against the Sky.
3. The Mystics have many trade pieces to facilitate a major deal
The silver lining of Thibault letting literally everyone get minutes on the Mystics last season was that everyone got a chance to show their potential. Even if it wasn’t the most glittering showcase. But in a situation where new Chicago GM and Coach Amber Stocks may have to rebuild, there many current Mystics players she could acquire to keep the Sky competitive.
Yes, Stocks would want Meesseman in a trade involving Delle Donne, but she’d be doing this deal from a position of weakness, so Meesseman isn’t going to Chicago. In addition, I believe that Ivory Latta and LaToya Sanders are off the table, per contract agreements. But that leaves a roster full of players that may very well live up to their potential in a new city.
Stefanie Dolson would be one trade chip in a possible deal. She is just two years removed from her All-Star sophomore season though she wasn’t in form last season. But if someone was looking to the future, Dolson would make sense to complement Imani Boyette at center. You could make a similar case for Kia Vaugh.
Tayler Hill could provide a boost for the Sky as well. She was the team’s per-game leading scorer last season by a fraction over Meesseman. They already have a number of good guards on their team with Cappie Pondexter, Courtney Vandersloot, and Allie Quigley. Pondexter is now past her prime, while Vandersloot and Quigley aren’t aggressive scorers. Hill should be able to emerge as their primary offensive option from the perimeter, since she did that well last season in D.C.
Natasha Cloud and Ally Malott also spring to mind to sweeten the pot. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt could return to her 2015 defensive form, which would be an asset for every team. And finally, the Mystics have the #2 pick in the 2017 Draft.
4. Good things come to those who wait
The Mystics haven’t had a great franchise history over their 20 year history. They’re the only WNBA team that hasn’t made the Finals. They didn’t get the right draft pick to pick some of the best players in women’s basketball history. And they’ve had numerous front office changes which led to a culture of instability.
But since Thibault has taken over, they have taken many steps in the right direction. The Mystics have hit more than they missed on their draft picks. They have committed to playing a very young roster more often than not. And those young rosters helped the Mystics make the postseason three years in a row, the first time that’s happened in franchise history.
Finally, the Mystics have allowed Thibault to lay the groundwork for a consistent winner. A lot of these steps have been incremental, but it seems to be paying off.
Some of their players like Meesseman and Hill have broken away from the pack and figure to be major contributors wherever they are. And their younger players from two or three years ago are becoming a savvy veteran core faster than they would have anywhere else.
Other teams and players see this. So if Elena Delle Donne plays for the Mystics, it isn’t simply because Washington is rather close to her house. It’s because they’ve gradually built a culture and a foundation of a perennial winner that just needs one more boost to get past the hump.
If Elena Delle Donne joins the Mystics next year, it will most certainly be worth the wait!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays Mystics fans!