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Emma Meesseman continues to improve, but still isn't a "superstar" yet

Ned Dishman, NBA/Getty Images

Last winter, I wrote two columns on Emma Meesseman detailing why she could be on track to be a WNBA superstar. In the first column, I detailed her shooting efficiency from practically anywhere on the court as well as her young age. In the second column, I compared her against a group of other veteran combo forwards who are already superstars.

We are now just over halfway through the 2016 WNBA season, so now is a good time for us to revisit that question.How much has she improved? And are there things outside the stat sheet that we should consider when it comes to evaluating her? Let's find out.

1. Meesseman maintains excellent shooting efficiency despite defenses focusing more on her than before

Last season, Meesseman shot above league average from nearly every distance on the court. Here are the 2015 numbers again:

1-5 ft 6-10 ft 11-15 ft 16-21 ft 3 Pointers SEASON TOTAL
Player FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG%
Emma Meesseman in 2015 76 111 68.47% 23 43 53.49% 23 45 51.11% 50 108 46.30% 6 13 46.15% 178 320 55.63%
WNBA in 2015 5273 9551 55.21% 930 2639 35.24% 1012 2637 38.38% 2156 5817 37.06% 1965 6046 32.50% 11336 26690 42.47%

meesseman fg percent 2015

This season, that trend has continued for the most part:

1-5 ft 6-10 ft 11-15 ft 16-21 ft 3 Pointers SEASON TOTAL
Player FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG% FG FGA FG%
Emma Meesseman in 2016 41 68 60.29% 21 41 51.22% 11 23 47.83% 20 40 50.00% 16 28 57.14% 109 200 54.50%
WNBA in 2016 2893 5009 57.76% 582 1444 40.30% 530 1317 40.24% 1057 2847 37.13% 1099 3336 32.94% 6161 13953 44.16%

meessseman fg percent 2016

I expected Meesseman's efficiency from some areas to drop a bit in part because I expected her to shoot more this season. I was a bit surprised that her shooting efficiency from 1 to 5 feet dropped considerably. This is likely due to a combination of defenses focusing more on her, but also her increased focus on getting to the foul line.

Either way, Meesseman is still as good of a shooter from anywhere on the court, including from three-point range. When a starter player is able to shoot well above league average from almost anywhere on the court, that player is definitely someone to look out for at a bare minimum.

2. Meesseman is a bit more involved in the offense and is looking for her shot

One of the key areas that I was concerned about with Meesseman is that her usage rating (percentage of possessions where she shoots, assists, or turns a ball over) has been low throughout her entire career. She has once again gradually increased her rating above 20 percent in 2016, and it will likely increase as the season goes on:

meesseman usage

Second, her free throw rate has gone up considerably from a career low of 12.8 percent in 2015 to a career high (so far) of 19.9 percent.

meesseman free throw rate

Since Meesseman makes free throws at above 80 percent and is a post player, this improvement is a good sign, but it's only slightly better than her rate in 2014. One possible explanation is her evolving shot distribution. Meesseman generally scored at the basket or from mid-range in her first two years in the league including in 2014 when she wasn't that efficient shooting beyond 10 feet.

Her shot distribution has become considerably more perimeter oriented in the last two seasons as her shot improved. But with that comes a lower chance of her getting fouled.

3. Despite her improvement, Meesseman still lags behind many other established or "anointed" WNBA superstars in certain key areas

So far, the good news is that Meesseman is improving and she would easily be an All-Star this season if there was a game held. However, let's compare her against other WNBA frontcourt superstars.

Who do you compare Meesseman to?

I will use four players who play forward, are All-Star caliber players, and have bigger brand caché than Meesseman does:

  • Elena Delle Donne, Chicago Sky (2015 WNBA MVP, also in the 2013 rookie class like Meesseman)
  • Maya Moore, Minnesota Lynx (2014 WNBA MVP, 2013 WNBA Finals MVP)
  • Candace Parker, Los Angeles Sparks (2008 and 2013 WNBA MVP)
  • Breanna Stewart, Seattle Storm (three-time Naismith Award winner, possible 2016 WNBA Rookie of the Year)

If you recall from the comparison piece I wrote last winter, I already compared Meesseman to Delle Donne, Moore, and Parker. However, I added Stewart now because she also possesses many of Meesseman's raw skills like ball handling, rebounding, and perimeter scoring.

In addition, Stewart is not in her prime because she is just 21 years old, like Meesseman who is 23. The other players on this list are entering or are in their primes since Delle Donne is 26 years old, while Moore is 27 and Parker is 30.

The Good: Meesseman is still more efficient at scoring than these WNBA superstars

Last year, Meesseman totally dominated over Delle Donne, Moore, and Parker shooting the basketball from everywhere.

FG% meesseman vs superstars

This year, the trend is still there overall and from the perimeter. But her shooting from 1-5 feet is behind everyone except Parker. For reference, I also included the league's average percentages as well:

meesseman vs superstars shooting

In regard to Meesseman's lower percentage from 1-5 feet, again, it is partly because her shot distribution has evolved toward the perimeter. But I'd still say Meesseman has the edge shooting the basketball over the rest of the players here in a vacuum.

The Bad: Her usage rating and shot attempts per game still lag behind the superstars

Yes, Meesseman's production has increased, and in part because she is playing more than 30 minutes per game. But her usage rating is still very low compared with other superstars, whose ratings hover closer to 25 percent at a minimum:

meesseman vs superstars usage

With a low usage rating, one of the areas where Meesseman still lags behind the superstars is how many shots she takes per game. If Meesseman took another couple shots per game. she's likely going to average at least two more points a game than her season average of 14.9 points per game*.

meesseman vs. superstars fga

Some take issue with Meesseman being compared to players in their primes as opposed to younger stars. This goes in particular with Delle Donne, who was drafted in the same year as Meesseman, but is three years older than her.

However, even when you compare Meesseman's production against Stewart's, the same issues persist because she is not taking enough shots and/or being utilized more in the offense.

Meesseman is by far the most efficient player in this group -- which is why she should be in the conversation for being a superstar in the near future. But if her numbers consistently seem to be capped for whatever reason, you can be sympathetic as to why there are people who don't think she should be in that conversation to begin with.

I still don't exactly get how other less efficient Mystics players still get utilized more than Meesseman when you look at the stats. Last year, it was Ivory Latta and Stefanie Dolson who had considerably higher usage ratings than Meesseman. This year, it's Tayler Hill, whose usage rating is above 25 percent. She's had a great year herself all things considered, but I still don't get how she can have the ball more during plays or take more shots than Meesseman.

TL;dr: Meesseman isn't a superstar right now, but she is taking the next steps to get there

Emma Meesseman remains a mystery to many WNBA fans, and even to me as well to some extent. A combination of her lack of an American basketball upbringing and her quiet demeanor in games over the years make it easier for the American fan to say, "oh, she's good, but she doesn't have the 'killer instinct' to win."

In America, the WNBA superstars play in college, dominate there, and are often called superstars before they go pro. All of the players I compared Meesseman to certainly fit that mold.

Meesseman never played for a college program and really has been "under the radar" for practically her entire playing career unless you're from Belgium and closely follow European women's basketball. Also, she has been accustomed to playing a certain way that just doesn't fit quite as well into the norms or narratives of what many expect basketball superstars to be like in America.

That said, Meesseman should know at this point what the Mystics think of her and what they want her to become. Talent isn't the issue with her now. I've shown you that she has elite skills and 2015 was no fluke. But Meesseman has to improve in areas where stat sheets and algorithms can't explain everything. She needs to embrace the "American superstar mentality" or that "killer instinct" a bit more if she hasn't already. That means Meesseman should be able to dominate games at will and being a more vocal leader when she has to be.

Meesseman has taken some steps to get there and her first quarter performance against the Lynx on June 26 certainly qualifies as a game where she had it. But I think she needs to develop that mentality more, and it will take time. Here's to hoping that she will.

*All 2016 stats are for games played through July 3, 2016.