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An Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman frontcourt will open up the Mystics’ playbook this season

Canada v United States - Women’s Basketball - Olympics: Day 7
Elena Delle Donne (pictured above) will join the Washington Mystics where she will pair up with Emma Meessem an.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images


2015 All Star game. They might be aware of each other.

As it was pointed out, it seems as if Elena Delle Donne was attracted to the Washington Mystics and had her eye on D.C., quite some time ago. Proximity and Coach Mike Thibault evidently played a large part in the decision.

But one of the key reasons why Delle Donne wanted to play here was because of the “team that Coach Thibault has built,” to paraphrase. From a Mystics fan’s perspective, it’s a nod to 23 year old franchise cornerstone, Emma Meesseman.

Thibault signed her extension at the earliest possible moment last year*, well before the deadline, in February 2016. He also is or appears to be unwilling to part ways with veterans like Ivory Latta and LaToya Sanders, a top 5 defensive specialist.

The bottom line is that Thibault was not going to give Meesseman up for Elena Delle Donne, or anyone else, by design this offseason.

It has been mentioned in several national articles that EDD will be getting a sharp shooting partner in Meesseman (The Wall Street Journal thinks so). They were both drafted in 2013, coincidentally. Delle Donne went second, Meesseman went 19th.

Delle Donne was 23 years old and took a different path than the one expected by turning down UConn at the last second, and continuing to be one of the “Three to See” in that draft.

Meesseman was 19 and coming up through the European style of basketball grooming. She played on her local and national youth teams before playing on major International teams where she excelled as a teenager.

Her mother, Sonja Tankrey is an accomplished basketball player in her own right. Tankrey was the Belgian player of the year in 1983. So, the apple did not fall far from the tree when she was Basket Feminin’s Rookie of the Year in 2010 (link in French) while playing for the Ieper Blue Cats.

Though Meesseman was already a rising European star in 2010, she didn’t get much love here in the States. It looks like only Tina Charles, then-Sky and Sparta&k head coach Pokey Chapman and Thibault heard that apple drop.

Mystics fans thought they got hosed in the 2013 Draft Lottery and think they don’t have enough talent despite playoff appearances and Meesseman’s improvement. That has been the non-stop narrative around this team. But the long game has proven out so, let's ask a question.

Why does it seem like a good fit to pair 6’5 Elena Delle Donne with 6’4 Emma Meesseman?

I may have mentioned it 34 times last season — and I believe Bullets Forever Twitter can corroborate that Meesse needed help. Now, Meesseman has it. And vice versa. Neither Meesseman or Delle Donne have played a game together in Monumental Red, (but they did play together in the 2015 All Star game, hey), so the picture above is a snapshot.

These are simply the numbers that both players put up without the help they needed in the frontcourt, so I took a look at what they might do together, in time.

Delle Donne and Meesseman will make an offensive powerhouse

This comparison is taken from the statistics. Because Meesseman played less minutes per game than Delle Donne, I have used the Per 36 Minutes advanced stats to level out what their totals might look like together on the court in 2017. I am using extrapolation, below.

What if the sum is greater than the parts ?

2016 Per 36 Pts Reb Asst Stl Blk TO PF FGA
2016 Per 36 Pts Reb Asst Stl Blk TO PF FGA
EDD 23.3 7.7 2.1 0.6 1.7 1.4 2.5 17
Meesse 18.7 6.9 2.8 1.5 0.9 1.6 3.2 14.2
TOTALS 42 14.6 4.9 2.1 2.6 3 5.7 31.2

To put that into perspective, 2016 MVP Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker, the LA Sparks WNBA champs last year, averaged 35 points and 16 rebounds together. They dominated teams. [Check out the Team vs. Opponent stats.] Ask the Mystics how they faired. Spoiler: not well.

I definitely wanted to see how many attempts EDD and Meesse averaged, because that seems reasonable for players that shoot as efficiently as they do, as you can see.

Top two 3 point shooters in the W

2016 2P% 3P% FT%
2016 2P% 3P% FT%
EDD 50.3 42.6 93.5
Meesse 55 44.8 80
AVG 52.7 43.7 86.8

This is also what the frontcourt combo would look like, below.

IF Couch Thibault let them play full games, we might see this. Menacing.
Elle Ward

Here is another way to look at it.

The Team average, below, is calculated by averaging each category for the Mystics and the Sky’s overall statistics last year. I then used the Per 36 minutes of EDD and Meesseman, above, and combined them.

So essentially, two players or 16 percent of the team, may contribute 50 percent of the points, on 45 percent of the attempts.

Even if they shoot well under 31 times per game (the Sky averaged a league high 72 shots per game), it still gives the rest of the team plenty of shots to get their numbers because Delle Donne and Meesseman should be more efficient this season now that they are together.

It is reasonable to expect Delle Donne and Meesseman to get 43 percent of the team’s rebounds. But they can also get roughly 30 percent of assists and steals, which is terrific for a front court because of their length and athleticism. All that said, there is room for improvement in turnovers and personal fouls.

I expect them to average more blocks once they develop some chemistry and can push opposing players into each other’s strengths on defense. Once they get things going,

The Delle Donne/Meesseman frontcourt makes life easier for the backcourt

2016 Pts Reb Asst Stl Blk TO PF FGA
2016 Pts Reb Asst Stl Blk TO PF FGA
Team AVG 83.5 34.2 17.8 6.6 4.1 11.6 19.7 69.2
EDD+Meesse 42 14.6 4.9 2.1 2.6 3 5.7 31.2
16% = 50.30% 42.80% 27.50% 31.90% 63.40% 26.00% 29.00% 45.10%
Elle Ward

Can the Mystics move the ball more freely?

The Mystics took an average of 66 shots per game last year, and the Sky took 72. The Sky were 3rd in Pace last year, while the Mystics were 10th.

I expect Coach Thibault to push the pace so players can take and make more shots.

What I noticed right away when looking over the Sky’s season last year, and their roster, was that the Sky had two players that averaged under 40 percent shooting.

The Mystics had five. Five Mystics’ players making less than 40 percent of their shots was not helpful.

After looking at the Sky’s backcourt efficiency, I did not expect to see them jockeying for additional Mystics players in the trade.

How will the backcourt improve?

Since Meesseman will miss part of June to get ready for EuroBasket with her Belgian National team, an opportunity certainly presents itself for the backcourt to get some rhythm with EDD.

And for Coach T to integrate her without Meesse. I don’t see how that can hurt regardless, since winning is winning, and that is exactly what the Belgian Cats are supposed to do. They scooped an excellent EuroBasket draw.

The only single digit game Meesseman had in 2016 for the Mystics was the first game of the year. She missed training camp due to UMMC commitments, *winning a EuroLeague Women’s Championship, with some other superstars - Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and 2016 WNBA Champion/new teammate Kristi Toliver, in Istanbul, so no one seemed mad.

Final Takeaways

It will undoubtedly take some time to get things to fully click, but of course, I do think Elena Delle Donne will have a positive impact regardless how the beginning of the season shakes out. Her consistency speaks for itself.

Ultimately, it is how well she plays with Meesseman that would determine how far the team goes in the playoffs. So I am definitely looking forward to that!


PS: I put this comparison together, randomly, after the 2015 season, between the Sky and Mystics frontcourts. Let’s see how Delle Donne and Meesseman improve on that.

Add this together on a bad day.
Elle Ward