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How should Emma Meesseman be utilized with the Mystics next year?

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Meesseman has the talent of a WNBA superstar. But with Belgium’s rise in international basketball, she may not get that role in the WNBA.

Stewart W. Small

The Washington Mystics made the 2018 WNBA Finals with their franchise superstar Elena Delle Donne and All-Star point guard Kristi Toliver leading the way. The Mystics were swept in the Finals by the Seattle Storm who were completely healthy.

Okay, Sue Bird had a broken nose, but she’s had that multiple times in her career. In fact, this is Bird’s second championship (and third overall) with a broken ... beak. Washington on the other hand had some major handicaps. Delle Donne had a knee injury from the semifinals against the Atlanta Dream, and they were without Meesseman, their starting power forward from the 2017 season. If Meesseman was available all season and Delle Donne wasn’t injured, it isn’t unreasonable for Mystics fans to believe that they instead would win the WNBA championship.

Meesseman didn’t miss the 2018 season because she wanted to. She did so to rest and prepare for the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup where her native Belgium performed for the first time ever. They ultimately were fourth place in their debut and Meesseman had one of her best performances against the United States in the semifinals. Delle Donne had a strong first game, but wasn’t much of a factor for the rest of the tournament, mostly due to her injury.

If there’s anything to take away from Meesseman’s year off from the WNBA, it’s the following.

Meesseman is now a superstar talent

Remember, the WNBA isn’t the only top women’s basketball league around. She is the reigning EuroLeague Women MVP after UMMC Ekaterinburg won the continental championship last year.

When you win the EuroLeague Women MVP and see that at least the European fans are on your side, you’re a world basketball superstar. We’ve seen the signs over the last three years, but Meesseman has yet to do that in the WNBA, partly because of young age.

Meesseman could be better than Delle Donne is right now

This sounds like heresy, even to most Mystics fans. This is equally something our Dutch speaking readers will salivate over. But I’m saying this with a straight face. Meesseman is still a very efficient scorer and has stepped up for big games in both EuroLeague Women and the World Cup this past year. If she played in the WNBA last summer, she would have probably done the same.

Meesseman is also an ironwoman among ironwomen. In fact, Delle Donne has missed games in all of her WNBA seasons due to various injuries while Meesseman has never missed games for any reason except when Belgium had something on the docket.

But will we really get to see Meesseman in her prime?

Meesseman was drafted in 2013 and is compared to other players drafted in the same class, like Delle Donne among others. However, Meesseman never went to college in the USA and started her first season at the age of 20 while Delle Donne was 23 at the start of the 2013 season. So it’s like Meesseman has been compared to older players for her entire career.

Now, Meesseman is 25 and Delle Donne is now 29 (since her birthday was last September). Most American WNBA players Meesseman’s age are in the 2015 and 2016 Draft classes, so in some ways, it’s better to compare Meesseman’s trajectory to that of Storm forward Breanna Stewart, who is a year younger than her than Delle Donne, who is over three years older.

Ultimately, Meesseman’s prime is still several years away while Delle Donne is as good as she’ll ever be right now. Delle Donne had a great 2018 WNBA season, but Meesseman had a great year herself and looked a lot better than she did last year — when she was still really, really good. It’s not unreasonable to say that Meesseman in 2021-2024 will be better than Delle Donne is right now.

But with Belgium now relevant on the world stage, Meesseman is likely missing many games for EuroBasket Women and/or world tournaments. So ... will the Mystics actually get to see her play when she is at her peak?

If Meesseman remains in Washington long term, should she start or come off the bench?

From a talent perspective, Meesseman must be a starter. She’s an All-Star and would be the outright franchise player on at least some WNBA teams.

But we also have to take two things into account. First, Delle Donne, like Meesseman is best utilized at power forward, so the Mystics will have to create some unconventional lineups to make things work. And second, Meesseman is missing more games due to Belgium’s rise internationally. These things can be a disruption and there is a case to be made that she should come off the bench and be a “Super Sixth Woman” instead.

A roundup for tomorrow

Tomorrow, I’ll post our roundtable with L.W. and Diamond Holton which took place over several months. I wanted to post this originally in September because the Mystics were doing well win the playoffs without Meesseman and it didn’t look like she was needed in Washington to be quite honest. But then Delle Donne got injured in the semifinals against the Dream and Meesseman outplayed virtually every frontcourt player in the World Cup so I wanted to see if that swayed anyone’s opinion.

But for now, here’s your chance to put in your take. Should Meesseman remain as a starter, presumably as the team’s center? Or should Meesseman be Delle Donne’s back up where she would have no problem getting touches and get her opportunities to start as injuries happen? Let us know in the comments below.