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Roundtable: How should the Mystics utilize Emma Meesseman in 2019?

We ultimately stuck to our guns, but the Mystics’ situation during the playoffs certainly showed context as to why she remains a major piece for them going forward.

Emma Meesseman drives to the hoop against Sparks F Nneka Ogwumike. Stewart W. Small

This is our roundtable after our intro post that was earlier this week.

Back last August, the Mystics won eight of their nine final regular season games to tie a franchise best 22-12 regular season. The momentum continued into the postseason where they ultimately made the Finals. Before Elena Delle Donne’s knee injury in the semifinals against the Dream, she was firing on all cylinders. Delle Donne fit the Mystics’ needs at the power forward position like a glove.

And that made Emma Meesseman look replaceable. So, I just had to ask two questions back toward the end of the regular season:

Should the Mystics keep Meesseman in the 2019 season or look to trade her?

Albert Lee: From hindsight before the 2017 season, I think the Mystics should have traded Meesseman to the Sky for Delle Donne and let Stefanie Dolson grow in Washington, specifically because Belgium’s rise on the international stage was going to hurt her availability. But that’s in the past now.

Today, the Mystics can’t trade Meesseman away without getting much less in return. Meeseman’s trade value was at its peak in 2017, but it has diminished because of her passport, not her ability to play. That is very unfortunate and unfair to non-American WNBA players.

On the trade market, WNBA teams aren’t going to give up one of their All-Stars or a high draft pick for someone who’s going to miss games due to international commitments, even if that player is an All-Star whose prime is ahead of her. Second, Meesseman has one year left on her max deal and 2019 may be her last WNBA season altogether. Finally, the Mystics can always use additional frontcourt depth since Elena Delle Donne is injury prone.

L.W.: I disagree with you on this one, Albert. Meesseman is really good, and she’s a really good player who doesn’t need to eat up a lot of usage, which makes her a nice fit next to Delle Donne and Toliver. I definitely don’t think the Mystics should have moved her just for the sake of it. But even with her future being uncertain at that time, I think trading Dolson and the 2017 first round pick while keeping Meesseman was absolutely the right move.

I’ll take it a step further. I think Meesseman is an essential piece for the Mystics to the point where you sign her to a another deal after 2019, even if you know she’ll miss some time. Player movement, particularly for players currently as good as Meesseman, is so restricted in the WNBA that I just don’t see a viable path to replacing her with equal talent.

I don’t think that she’s untradeable, but even last year (when we didn’t know she was going to skip 2018) I think she would be the best player involved in almost any hypothetical trade Thibault could have made (outside of the Delle Donne trade in 2017).

Diamond Holton: The Mystics should keep Meesseman. They will need her into the rotation as much as possible and she will make an impact right away. That said, I am hesitant about exactly where you could put her on the team because the chemistry with the Mystics right now is very good.

Where do you play Meesseman?

A.L.: Meesseman is best used as the sixth woman. Positionally, she will be Delle Donne’s backup. Putting Meesseman in the starting lineup right away will disrupt chemistry if she’s only playing half the year in 2019 because of EuroBasket Women.

With Meesseman coming off the bench, she can maintain a high usage rate, score plenty of points, and play with the starters more often than not in crunch time. Finally, she is the best EDD insurance policy out there given Delle Donne’s proneness to injury. In 2017, they had to “take a claim” and make Meesseman their primary option late in the regular season. Without Meesseman in 2017, the Mystics would have probably missed the playoffs entirely.

L.W.: I don’t think using Meesseman as a sixth woman is a terrible idea if she’s coming in half way through the season. But I also don’t think we should assume the current starting unit’s great chemistry (and corresponding hot streak) will necessarily still be present next year. The team’s been on fire for the last quarter of the season, but WNBA history is littered with short hot streaks that didn’t span seasons.

If the mid-season 2019 Mystics are playing like the late-season 2018 Mystics, then Thibault should be careful with the team’s chemistry. But more likely than not, another post player will be injured, the team will be in a slump, or they’ll be good but not great. And a starting lineup shakeup will be a helpful jolt.

Regardless, I’m not worried about it - Thibault’s never been afraid to tinker with the lineup as necessary, and from everything we’ve heard from Meesseman, I doubt she’d mind coming off the bench.

Another way to look at all this: Tolliver and Sanders are over 30. Delle Donne is 28. The team with Meesseman will be stacked next season. Even if next season is Meesseman’s last season in the WNBA, Washington must go all in to win right now.

D.H.: I concur with Albert and Lyndie on this one. I definitely would bring her off the bench adding more in-depth scoring with Tianna Hawkins and Monique Currie, if Currie doesn’t retire.

In the beginning, playing Meesseman and EDD in starting roles may not work out very well. There are two reasons behind it. First, they’re both power forwards and neither is truly comfortable at center. And second, they didn’t play that well together in 2017.

Using Meesseman as part of the “Bench Mob” sounds even better because no team has a reserve player who is an All-Star player with her prime ahead of her. That would allow Meesseman to just dominate other bench units and maintain a higher usage rate. It’ll help keep the pace going when the starters begin to tire out.

Those were our responses back in late August, but things certainly changed when the playoffs began.

Elena Delle Donne hurt her knee in Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals, so did that change any minds?

In light of Elena Delle Donne’s injury, would this season have been better if Meesseman was able to play the whole year? And does it reaffirm Thibault’s decision to not trade Meesseman for Delle Donne back in 2017?

A.L.: If Meesseman played the entire year, she will be the primary option for the Mystics after Delle Donne’s injury. And keeping Meesseman, even if she’s not here this season, reaffirms Thibault’s commitment to her.

L.W.: I think that this reaffirms Meesseman’s importance, even if it’s just for a partial season and the playoffs. For all our previous discussion of of the team’s stellar chemistry, stockpiling talent is just more important because it’s what allows teams survive an injury to one of their best players.

D.H.: I thought the Mystics did very well without Meesseman. But I believe having her this season would’ve helped for an injured Delle Donne. The scare of not advancing to the semifinals and the Finals wouldn’t be in people’s minds currently. I think that the Mystics would’ve had a higher seed if Meesseman were in Washington and everyone were healthy.

Ultimately, the Mystics advanced to the Finals after Delle Donne missed just one game due to the knee injury. Her recovery was very quick and helped Washington make the Finals for the first time.

The Mystics made the WNBA Finals, but were ultimately swept by the Seattle Storm. Delle Donne didn’t have much time to fret, though. She represented the United States in the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup the next week. Meesseman on the other hand, represented Belgium where she was named to the World Cup’s All-Star team. Her performance, along with LaToya Sanders’ injury in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals forced me to revisit this again — in a good way of course:

Meesseman stepped up her game in the World Cup. In fact, it looks like she may be better than Elena Delle Donne right now individually. So should she be a starter and/or the focal point of the Mystics if and when she returns in 2019?

A.L.: I still think the best role for Meesseman on the Mystics is as a sixth woman and as “Elena Delle Donne’s insurance policy” when she gets injured or has a Lyme Disease flare up because of the international commitments, not her ability to play. I think we’re all in agreement that she’s one of the best players in the world, but her commitment to the WNBA is wavering due to Belgium’s rise internationally in the last two years.

I actually think Meesseman will be better than Delle Donne is right now when she is 28 to 32 years old. But if Meesseman isn’t going to play in Washington for significant periods of time, it’s hard to make the case that she should be the focal point for the Mystics unless Delle Donne is injured.

D.H.: I’m sticking with my answers though the Mystics’ situation seesawed over the past couple months. That’s because I liked how the Mystics made the Finals without Emma Meesseman. Adding her back, specifically to the reserve unit will make the Mystics’ “Bench Mob” among the best, if not the best in the WNBA.

Having Delle Donne and Meesseman as the focal points of the first and second units respectively, could be what Washington needs to bring home a title in the near future. And with LaToya Sanders’ health not being 100 percent, it’s not like Meesseman can’t start or play starting level minutes. She will find her time.

L.W.: I’m sticking with my previous answers too. Meesseman is really good. The Mystics are really good too now. They don’t need her to make the playoffs, but they do need her if they want to win it all. Unless Thibault can swing a trade for another superstar, you go all in for 2019 and hope Meesseman sticks around for another contract before the 2020 season begins.

Ultimately, we concurred that Meesseman is best utilized as a reserve player or it should be discussed at the very least. Even if her name isn’t called in the starting lineup, she is still getting her 25-30 minutes a game. The Mystics aren’t going to let a WNBA All-Star and a EuroLeague MVP sit on the bench very long because she rightfully earned her stripes in Washington.

Still, it is clear that Meesseman improved from the 2017 WNBA season and unlike Delle Donne, she still has more room to grow because she’s just 25 years old. Will the Mystics get to see Meesseman reach her full potential in Washington? Or will she always be “held back” from being a potential WNBA superstar because of continental and world tournaments?

Our hope is that Mystics fans get to see Meesseman play in Washington in her prime. That is because it would definitely be a treat to see now that they are in contention to win a championship in the very near future. And to be honest, a player like Meesseman should be a focal piece if the WNBA’s rules and scheduling around international tournaments were better coordinated.