It was reported on Wednesday that Washington Mystics PF/C Emma Meesseman's Russian league contract was bought out by UMMC Ekaterinburg.
UMMC is a women's basketball superpower in Russia, having won six of the last seven Russian Cups, and won a EuroLeague title as recently as 2013. They frequently sport starting lineups that would be competitive in the WNBA. This year's team includes former MVP Diana Taurasi and 2015 Defensive Player of the Year Brittney Griner. Past rosters have included multiple-time MVP Candace Parker and nine-time All-Star Sue Bird.
The fact that UMMC thought highly enough of Meesseman to buy out her contract speaks volumes to her skill as a player. It is widely believed that she was ultimately brought to the team to replace an injured Sandrine Gruda, and Meesseman will be a non-WNBA free agent at the end of the season.
Playing for UMMC will give her the opportunity to to show what she can do on Europe's biggest stage when they play against non-Russian teams. She deserves a big congratulations for being on this team. It feels good to see her succeed.
From our selfish perspective, however -- that is, the perspective of a Mystics fan -- it is concerning that Meesseman will be moving into a much smaller role than she occupied on her previous team, Sparta&k Vidnoje.
Meesseman is an extraordinarily talented player. She has a soft touch around the basket, excellent court vision, and has recently added a three-point shot to her game. She is either good or great in virtually every statistical category. At just 22 years old, the sky is the limit for her potential.
The biggest thing holding her back is arguably her mentality. Mystics Head Coach Mike Thibault said the following about her back in June:
"I don't think she still understands how good she is," Thibault said. "She's an All-Star player. I don't even think it's close, that she's one of the best power forwards in the league right now."
Meesseman's incredible efficiency comes with a fairly low usage rate. As Albert discussed in his analysis at the end of the year, it's not necessarily unusual or bad for young players to defer to veterans.
But while Meesseman had a clear path to being the top dog at Sparta&k (even if she wasn't quite there yet), in UMMC she will have to defer to WNBA MVP-caliber players like Taurasi and Griner. On top of that, she will probably not even be a starter on their team.
It's certainly probable that mentorship from the likes of Taurasi will end up being a net-positive for Meesseman. But it's also possible that taking on a smaller role will slow down her development in the one area that she absolutely needs to improve in. We need to know if Meesseman is able to make the leap to be the Mystics' franchise player sooner rather than later.