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Roundtable: Reflecting on Emma Meesseman’s time with the Mystics

We discuss Meesseman’s impact on the Mystics in a joint roundtable with Zack Ward and Eric Nemchock Swish Appeal, SB Nation’s women’s basketball blog.

WNBA Finals Portraits
While we differ in how good Emma Meesseman was for the Washington Mystics, we can never take away the fact that the was the first building block for their 2019 championship team.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

On this Thursday of Emma Meesseman Week, we will have multiple pieces on the Mystics great, in part because the Belgium women’s national basketball team is playing later today against Puerto Rico at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. Tip-off is at 4:30 p.m. ET.

That said, it’s just as important to reflect on Meesseman’s time with the Mystics with some additional voices. To that end, we have multiple writers on two of our sites, this one and Swish Appeal, SB Nation’s women’s basketball blog.

BF Editor-at-Large Diamond Holton, writer Lyndie Wood, SA site manager Zack Ward, SA writer Eric Nemchock and I were part of this two-part roundtable. The first part will be here on Bullets Forever and it focuses on Meesseman’s time with the Mystics. The second will be published on Swish Appeal tomorrow, which will focus on Meesseman’s future with the Chicago Sky.

And without further ado, here is the roundtable.

How do you feel now that Emma Meesseman is no longer with the Mystics?

Chicago Sky v Washington Mystics Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Zack Ward: Meesseman’s rookie year was my rookie year covering the WNBA (in earnest - I covered two Mystics games in 2012). I spent the summer of 2013 living on campus at the University of Maryland, covering Mystics home games, back when “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis was the Mystics’ warm-up song at what was then called the Verizon Center.

I have covered Meesseman since she was just 20 years old and saw her Finals MVP performance on TV when I was just getting back into covering the league on Swish Appeal in 2019.

For those reasons, she will always hold a special place in my sportswriting heart. It will be sad to see her in a different jersey and it’s weird to think she won’t be joking around with Myisha Hines-Allen as a teammate anymore, but I’m excited about the success she could have in Chicago.

Albert Lee: Very sad. Like Zack, my first full WNBA season on Swish Appeal was in 2013, Meesseman’s rookie year. So seeing her no longer in a Mystics uniform and in another WNBA team’s makes it especially tough to swallow. Before the news of her going to the Sky came out, I thought she was staying in Europe for the foreseeable future.

In the beginning, I hoped that Tayler Hill, Washington’s first round pick would become a borderline All-Star. As for Meesseman, I didn’t think much of her when Nate Parham wrote that she was drafted No. 19 overall or when I wrote she would go to training camp.

Of course, I was wrong. Hill didn’t pan out after several years in D.C. and other teams. But Meesseman quickly stood out from the rest of the players in her rookie class and even the team as a whole. By 2014, she was starting at power forward and made the All-Star team in 2015. And you know the rest which I’ve written at length for years. She will be missed because the last player from the beginning of Mike Thibault’s tenure in Washington is now gone.

Lyndie Wood: It’s hard! Emma was a core part of the “Mystakes”-to-WNBA Champion transition that happened under Thibault. I’ve gotten used to her not being with the team (due to the time she’s missed to focus on playing with the Belgium WBB team) but seeing her play for another team will be really strange. But she’s given DC a lot and I hope she always gets a warm welcome in the city.

Diamond Holton: I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bothered by Emma’s absence. She was a critical piece during the 2019 championship season. I mean, she was the Finals MVP! But at the same time, what’s the difference between Meesseman’s absence now and most of her absences during her tenure with the Mystics over the last four years?

That said, Meesseman’s departure is not a loss for Washington. Her commitment to playing overseas superseded her commitment to the Mystics. Quite frankly, it was a problem having someone as good as she is playing for half a season or not at all in three of the past four years. It messed up the chemistry already developed and having to make changes mid-season. Though I am bothered by her absence, that won’t overtake me wanting what’s best for who wears the Mystics colors all season.

Eric Nemchock: Considering she’s reportedly signing with my favorite team…happy! But in all seriousness, she is one of those players you grow to associate with their respective WNBA team. As with any player who has been with only one WNBA franchise throughout their career (it’s hard to believe Meesseman has been a WNBA player for almost a decade now!), it’s going to take a little while to get used to seeing her in a different jersey.

How much credit do the Mystics deserve for Meesseman’s rise from second round draft pick to being an All-Star?

WNBA: AUG 13 Sky at Mystics
Meesseman received a lot of playing time early in her career where she could get experience against other star players, like Elena Delle Donne before she came to D.C.
Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Eric: Mike Thibault and his staff have a reputation of getting the most out of young players and I think it’s well-earned. Granted, it was immediately obvious that Meesseman had a great feel for the game from day one. But her fit with the Mystics staff seemed to be just as great, if not better. At the very least, they deserve credit for being patient with her throughout her numerous international obligations.

Zack: Meesseman wasn’t an instant star as a rookie. I think Thibault deserves some credit for her improvement over the years, though at the end of the day the player always deserves the most credit. I think Thibault had a great relationship with Meesseman and that allowed him to coach her well.

Some Mystics fans have felt that Meesseman was not a long-term piece after the 2019 championship season. When did you, if ever, think that her time in D.C. was over?

I go back to Belgium’s 2017 Women’s EuroBasket run as the first moment when I had a feeling that Meesseman’s time in Washington would soon come to an end.
Photo credit should read MICHAL CIZEK/AFP via Getty Images

Lyndie: The Mystics have had too many starting-caliber post players for a while now. I agree that it makes a whole lot of sense to commit to Myisha Hines-Allen, who is also incredibly talented and doesn’t have the same level of commitments outside of the WNBA. I hoped that they would find a way to keep Meesseman, but I think over the past couple of years it became increasingly clear that she probably wasn’t in the Mystics’ future.

Zack: During the 2021 free agency period. I looked at the salary cap numbers and knew the Mystics couldn’t afford her if she had decided to play last year unless she took a major pay cut.

Eric: I agree with Zack. With Meesseman, Hines-Allen and Tina Charles all off the books, I figured that the Mystics would have to pay up for one of them. Hines-Allen got a three-year, protected-salary contract, and given Meesseman’s national team status, I understand if there was some hesitancy on the team’s part to offer her a similar deal.

Albert: I quietly thought Meesseman’s days in D.C. were numbered at the end of the 2017 season, though I denied it until after she signed a one-year contract in 2020. Regarding 2017, Belgium didn’t just play in Women’s EuroBasket that year. They won the bronze medal and earned an automatic berth to the 2018 FIBA Women’s World Cup.

I felt and still feel conflicted about the Cats’ performances. These runs were great for their fans in Belgium and Belgian basketball as a whole. And those same runs would deepen her commitment to them (as she should). But because EuroBasket is in the middle of the WNBA season, that’s going to conflict with the Mystics and their goals as Diamond mentioned earlier.

How does Meesseman’s departure from the Mystics affect their championship goals, whether now or in the future?

Atlanta Dream v Washington Mystics
The Mystics will need to lean on Delle Donne more now that Meesseman is gone.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Diamond: As I mentioned earlier, Washington is used to Meesseman’s absences, so I don’t think her departure affects the team’s championship goals.

They did really well in the offseason and with Elena Delle Donne supposedly back and better than ever and also Myisha Hines-Allen re-signed who is the best point-forward in the game, the Mystics should have no worries. Coach Thibault signed an extension but he’s not getting any younger so it’s looking like a win-now mentality could be in effect.

Zack: It hurts their chances in the short term because Meesseman is a big star and could have been considered a part of a big five with Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles, Ariel Atkins and Hines-Allen had she played last year. There are a lot of loaded teams out there and you need a lot of stars to win a championship. Meesseman may not be Delle Donne, but she added star depth.

Eric: I see Meesseman as more of a complementary player. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because what she brings at her position is so important. The 2019 Mystics were a shining example of how difficult it is to defend a well-spaced floor, and it’s hard to achieve that in today’s game without at least one big who can shoot. Meesseman was the player who put the Mystics over the top in 2019, and I think her presence in Washington will be sorely missed.

Where does Meesseman stand in Mystics franchise history?

WNBA Finals Portraits
Who doesn’t love this picture?
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Albert: She is one of the all-time greats, but I wouldn’t put her above Delle Donne or Crystal Langhorne, in large part due to her international absences and lack of WNBA awards like another All-Star Game appearance or an All-WNBA team mention. Still, if you saw Meesseman out on the court, you knew she was capable of being an MVP if things played out right. Thankfully, we got to see her do just that in the 2019 playoffs.

Zack: She is an all-time great Mystic, not just for her play, but also for her loyalty and dedication to the franchise.

Eric: She’s definitely up there. She has the statistics, the tenure and the championship. Like I said, when you think about the Mystics in recent years, Meesseman is probably one of the first players who comes to mind.

Diamond: She’s part of the first championship and was Finals MVP so she’ll go down as an all-time greats especially with D.C. showing her so much love from the rebuilding years of 2013-16 through their championship run.

What is your biggest “What if?” moment on Meesseman’s time in D.C.?

WNBA: JUL 09 Liberty at Mystics
Meesseman and Tina Charles were teammates in 2020 but they never played together.
Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Eric: I have to look at 2018. I’m not sure if anyone was going to beat that Seattle Storm team with the way it was playing, but Meesseman would have made the Mystics more difficult to defend, at the very least. Comparing the 2018 and 2019 Mystics, her impact on the rest of that core of players was pretty clear.

Zack: The 2020 and 2021 seasons. What if Delle Donne, Charles and Meesseman had all played together both seasons? Would the Mystics have won a second or third championship?

Diamond: Belgian Cats fans please forgive me, but what if Meesseman never played overseas or internationally and was 100 percent dedicated to the Mystics? What if Meesseman and Tina Charles played together in the 2021 season…would they have made the playoffs? Even better… in the 2018 season when Washington was banged up would her presence have at least given them a win or two against the Storm?

Albert: To Diamond’s point, I will add something that will make Belgian fans cringe: What if Emma was an American but with the same skillset and talent? She wouldn’t have had to worry about playing for another national team since I think she’s the type of low-usage post that Team USA can use.

Also, what if Belgium didn’t make Women’s EuroBasket 2017 and 2019 despite having Meesseman on the roster? Could low performances in those years discourage her from playing for the Cats in the future? If so, that could have been a time where she may have spent on the Mystics where she could have fully capitalized on her superstar talent potential in the WNBA.

Did we hype up Meesseman too much over the years as a superstar-level player?

Las Vegas Aces v Washington Mystics - Game Two Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Albert: Nope! I will now allow everyone to take their day shots at me for this one.

Zack: I put Meesseman at No. 21 on my Top 30 WNBA players list entering 2021. Maybe she would have been higher if I had made a list entering 2020 when she was coming off her Finals MVP performance. I think Albert would put her higher than No. 21, maybe much higher. I think she has superstar potential though and has been a borderline superstar at times throughout her career.

Lyndie: Meesseman has superstar talent. But she has a reluctance to take on a superstar role in the WNBA (putting the team on her back, recognizing that taking a bad shot or otherwise forcing the issue might still be best for the team), though she’s been more aggressive with the Cats. So she’s a bit of a weird player, in that depending on the context she can be extraordinary, or she can be underwhelming because we know the talent is there.

When the team is clicking, Meesseman can be the best player on the floor, but she’s not going to single-handedly drag a struggling team to the playoffs as we saw in 2015, 2016 and 2020. That’s where I’d disagree with Albert on if he wants to go that far.

I think that makes her a fantastic fit in Chicago, however, with Candance Parker, Kahleah Copper, and (if she returns) Allie Quigley all being assertive players who can take over a game if necessary, and have the talent to do so.

Eric: There’s scoring efficiently and there’s scoring efficiently on high volume, and only a handful of players can do the latter. Again, Meesseman’s role on the 2019 Mystics was a big one, but part of her performance during that postseason run was due to the fact that opponents simply couldn’t defend that much shooting and that she was getting a lot of great looks as a result.

I think the limits of her game were seen in the following season when the Mystics entered the 2020 bubble with significantly less firepower than in 2019 and Meesseman was a bit overtaxed against defenses that could afford to load up against her.

Thanks again to Zack and Eric for joining in this roundtable. Check out Swish Appeal tomorrow for the second part of our roundtable!