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Does Emma Meesseman have what it takes to become one of the WNBA's elite?

Washington's Belgian basketball player in residence has emerged as the Mystics' top player over the last couple seasons. But can she be among the WNBA's elite?

Stewart W. Small

Over the past several seasons, the Mystics have developed their team around a group of young players who play well together. Though none of whom are Top-3 overall picks or surefire superstars, we have seen someone show the potential to be a franchise player over the last couple seasons. That player is fourth-year forward Emma Meesseman.

Let's first go through the reasons why she could develop into that player over the next several years.

Why Meesseman could develop into a superstar

1. She contributes in a WIDE variety of statistical categories

In the 2015 season, Meesseman was in the WNBA's Top-10 for many major statistical categories on both ends of the floor:

Stat Rank 2015 Leader
Field Goals 178 8 Tina Charles (243)
Field Goal Percentage 55.60% 2 Brittney Griner (56.5%)
2 Point Field Goals 172 7 Tina Charles (242)
2 Point Field Goal Attempts 307 10 Tina Charles (526)
2 Point Field Goal Percentage 56% 3 Alysha Clark (68.9%)
Total Rebounds 213 T-9 Courtney Paris (317)
Blocks 44 5 Brittney Griner (105)
Blocks Per Game 1.3 7 Brittney Griner (4.0)
Player Efficiency Rating 21.7 10 Elena Delle Donne (32.7)
True Shooting Percentage 58.60% 6 Alysha Clark (64.6%)
Effective Shooting Percentage 56.60% 2 Alysha Clark (62.0%)
Individual Offensive Rating 112.3 7 Elena Delle Donne (125.6)
Total Win Shares 4.7 4 Elena Delle Donne (8.7)
Offensive Win Shares 2.8 7 Elena Delle Donne (7.1)
Defensive Win Shares 1.9 6 Maya Moore (2.4)
Win Shares per 48 minutes 0.246 7 Elena Delle Donne (.406)

That is an impressive list, especially for someone who was just 22 years old in the 2015 season and entered the WNBA as the 19th overall pick in the 2013 Draft.

2. She shoots at or above league averages from nearly everywhere on the court

Take a look at Meesseman's 2015 shooting statistics vs. the WNBA as a whole. This is where she really stands out.

1-5 ft 6-10 ft 11-15 ft 16-21 ft 22-25 ft 26+ ft
Meesseman 76 111 68.47% 23 43 53.49% 23 45 51.11% 50 108 46.30% 6 12 50.00% 0 1 0.00% 178 320 55.63%
WNBA 5273 9551 55.21% 930 2639 35.24% 1012 2637 38.38% 2156 5817 37.06% 1742 5139 33.90% 223 907 24.59% 11336 26684 42.48%

Data from the Minnesota Lynx's advanced stats page.

With the exception of three point shots that are 26 or more feet away -- and she only attempted one such shot -- Meesseman shot well above the league average from practically everywhere on the court. The fact that she had the WNBA's second highest field goal percentage and attempted many shots from mid-range or further is nothing short of outstanding.

3. She provides positive contributions for the Mystics in a wide range of areas as a scorer, passer, and defender

In 2015, Meesseman led Washington in rebounds and steals, second in points and blocks. She was fifth in assists in 2015 but averaged 2.5 assists a game in the 2014 season before Natasha Cloud was drafted and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt became more involved as a playmaker when she became a regular starter.

Most starting post players will produce more as rebounders, shot blockers, and close range scorers due to the nature of their taller height and which parts of the basketball court they are more likely to play at. Meesseman provides an impact in those areas of course, but she is involved in the passing game and led the team in steals despite the fact that she's not a perimeter player.

4. She will be only 23 years old in 2016

Most American WNBA players enter the league four years after graduating high school. Most players would play their rookie year when they are about 22 years old. Meesseman never played NCAA basketball, so she was able to enter the league as a 20-year-old rookie in 2013.

Meesseman's 23rd birthday is on May 13, 2016, when she will be entering her fourth WNBA season. Most WNBA players her age are either rookies or sophomores, yet Meesseman has more professional playing experience and has earned an All-Star appearance under her belt despite being an unheralded draft pick.

Professional basketball players hit their prime in their late 20's. Meesseman may be entering her sophomore contract in 2017, yet she is younger than most players with her experience. By the time she hits her prime, there's good reason to believe that she'll be playing at a higher level than she already is today.

Why Meesseman may still not become a superstar

I don't doubt that Meesseman will continue to improve over the next several seasons. But I do have reservations on whether she can be an elite player for two main reasons.

1. She has a low usage rate, even compared with other Mystics starters

Meesseman's usage rate has remained below 20 percent in each of her three seasons in the league. In 2013, her rate was 16.9 percent, in 2014 it as 18.6 percent, and in 2015, it was 19.9 percent.

Considering that Meesseman is a very efficient shooter, I'm a bit surprised that she is not utilized more in the offense to score. Take a look at the usage ratings, scoring averages, field goal percentages, offensive, and defensive ratings for the five Washington players who started the most games together in 2015:

Ivory Latta 23.60% 13.4 40.60% 108 103
Stefanie Dolson 22.30% 10.6 49.50% 101 96
Emma Meesseman 19.90% 11.6 55.60% 112 95
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt 18.50% 7.4 37.10% 96 100
Natasha Cloud 14.50% 3.6 32.00% 88 97

Based on the chart, it's clear that both Ruffin-Pratt and Cloud aren't utilized much as starters. It's not just that their usage rates are lower than Meesseman's. Their individual field goal percentages are below 40 percent, which is below the league average.

Now that I got them out of the way, we see a paradox. Meesseman has shown that she leads the Mystics' in win shares, shooting percentage, individual ratings, and is among the WNBA's best players in a wide variety of statistics. But her usage rating is third among Mystics' starters.

I can understand why Latta's usage rating is higher than Meesseman's because she is a ball dominant guard, but the Mystics' offense isn't as efficient as it could be if Dolson is involved more in the offense than Meesseman is.

2. Does she have the mentality to be the Mystics' vocal AND on-the-court leader going forward?

With few exceptions -- like Becky Hammon -- nearly every WNBA superstar has been anointed as such before she was drafted. Most of the league's top stars like Maya Moore, Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins, Brittney Griner, and Diana Taurasi were labeled as such when they were in college.

This isn't something I can quantify, but it's a feel that I get from Meesseman on the court. She just doesn't want to be THE TRUE LEADER of the team.

Much of that may be because she is a 22-year-old player with some older veterans on the team like Latta or Kara Lawson. But fans' patience with her deferring mentality is wearing thin now, considering that players and coaches from around the league are considering her the best player on the team. And the data clearly indicates that.

To some extent, young players deferring to veterans because of vocal leadership is understandable. With the Wizards , John Wall did defer to veterans like Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, or Paul Pierce in past seasons when it came to vocal leadership. However, he still knew he was the best Wizards player on the court, and he played that way each and every night.

Meesseman certainly deferred to past and current Mystics veterans the past couple seasons for vocal leadership. But unlike Wall, Meesseman doesn't seem to take ownership of being the best player on her team.

Now that she is a seasoned veteran herself, Meesseman has to become a more aggressive on-the-court and vocal leader. It's not like Latta and Lawson will play in the WNBA forever, and the Mystics' rebuild around youth still depends on someone who stands out among the pack.

Final Takeaways

The Mystics didn't have the benefit of drafting a Top-3 pick in any of the last several seasons for their rebuild. However, Meesseman emerged as a foundational piece and is on the cusp of becoming a very special WNBA player.

There's no doubt that she is on track to be a very good WNBA player for years to come. But if Emma Meesseman wants to be truly great, it's time for her to fully embrace being the leader of the Washington Mystics.