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NBA FanPulse Week 7 results: Luka Doncic’s MVP candidacy shows where the WNBA falls short with European players like Emma Meesseman

Wizards fan confidence appears to have flatlined around the 70-75 percent mark which is good. But the national question around the Dallas Mavericks guard got me thinking about the Washington Mystics forward for a bit.

Washington Mystics v Dallas Wings
It’s unfortunate for Mystics fans that Emma Meesseman will have more hurdles to be a future MVP candidate due to barriers the NBA doesn’t have.
Photo by Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images

Good afternoon everyone! Week 7 of the NBA FanPulse results are in! I’ll get into the Washington Wizards’ results real quickly now that we’re seeing a general trend with them.

After that, I will elaborate more on the national poll result and how the perception of European NBA players contrasts a lot to the perception of European WNBA players. That’s very relevant to the Washington Mystics.

Wizards results: Fan confidence increases slightly, stabilizes to a solid majority

Washington Wizards fan confidence Week 7 SB Nation

The Washington Wizards were 7-14 before last Monday’s poll for Week 7’s results. Fan confidence increased slightly to around the 70 percent mark, which is good news.

I attribute that increase due to the Wizards’ impressive win against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 5. Also, Davis Bertans has been one of the steals of NBA free agency!

The trendline of fan confidence across the NBA season is showing that things have plateaued ... in a good way. I’m no scientist, but I think I can comfortably say that most Wizards fans are content with the team’s performance this season, all things considered. Barring drastic things like a long winning or losing streak, fan confidence is probably not moving up or down too much in any given week.

And by the way, if you haven’t signed up for FanPulse already, do so by clicking on the link below!

National results: Luka Doncic, a European NBA player, is a legitimate MVP candidate

Last Monday’s national poll focused on a simple question. Is Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic an NBA MVP candidate? The results were clear. Nearly 80 percent of voters said yes!

Luka Doncic nba mvp poll
Of course, Luka Doncic is a legitimate MVP candidate!
SB Nation

Why is Doncic an MVP candidate? Some of the many reasons include:

  • Doncic averages 30 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.2 assists per game, a near triple double per game. He is among the NBA leaders in scoring and player efficiency among other statistics and doing this in just 33.4 minutes per game.
  • He holds the NBA record of consecutive 20 point, 5 assist, 5 rebound games with 19. He surpassed Michael Jordan, the GOAT! He will go for his 20th consecutive game tonight against the Pistons!
  • There is no one else who produces numbers even close to what Doncic does in any other category besides rebounds. Doncic plays point guard and is averaging a near triple double. Kristaps Porzingis is averaging 16.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, but he’s a power forward. It’s generally easier for forwards to get more rebounds ... and they should.
  • The Mavericks have improved considerably from last season. They are currently 16-7, third place in the Western Conference. Last season, though they were 12-11 at the 23-game mark, they also finished the season with a 33-49 record.

The hype around Doncic isn’t just around this one poll by SB Nation. He was named Sports Illustrated’s Breakout Athlete of 2019, and deservedly so!

The NBA may be based here in the United States and most of the best players are Americans. But all three of the top reigning individual player award winners are Europeans.

Doncic, a Slovenian, is the 2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year. Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, a Greek, is the reigning NBA MVP. And Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, a Frenchman, is the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

At the end of the day, I’m not exactly sure why this poll was a question nationally. Doncic has been on fire all season. And the recently-retired Dirk Nowitzki also was the first NBA MVP in the 2006-07 season. That said, the national poll question had me thinking about Washington’s championship basketball team instead.

Unfortunately, the WNBA’s environment makes it difficult for European women’s players like Emma Meesseman to be considered a legitimate WNBA MVP candidate or a superstar.

Though European NBA players are getting more respect and love from Americans, the WNBA seems to be going in the opposite direction. There seems to be fewer non-American players than before, especially those who play star roles.

You know where I’m heading with this, right?

For the Washington Mystics, they are dependent on European talent, namely Emma Meesseman, to do the heavy lifting, like the Dallas Mavericks depend on Doncic to do big things for them. But unlike the Mavs, the Mystics (and Meesseman) are still held back from their full potential due to scheduling conflicts between the WNBA and FIBA Europe.

Last July, I wrote a column on Swish Appeal that the WNBA must improve its European footprint. If you haven’t read it before, please do because it explains the league’s need to cooperate more with Europe in order to grow worldwide in greater detail. One way the WNBA can cooperate with Europe is by pausing the season for summertime continental tournaments and training periods like Women’s EuroBasket.

Meesseman, like Doncic is European, though she’s from Belgium, not Slovenia. And like Doncic, she won a major individual award in the United States, though it was the WNBA Finals MVP award instead of a Rookie of the Year one. Finally, European basketball fans view Meesseman as one of the best players in the world (because she is!), like Doncic.

But here’s where the differences between Doncic and Meesseman come in.

Doncic is the Mavericks’ franchise player and his prime is well ahead of him since he’s just 20 years old. Barring injury, this guy could be Giannis squared in five years! Along with Porzingis, a Latvian national, the Mavericks could very well be many Europeans’ favorite NBA team. Long story short, he’s viewed as an NBA superstar.

Meesseman is just entering her prime at the age of 26, yet she was viewed as a complementary piece until their 2019 WNBA championship run. She was the Mystics’ starting power forward until she missed the 2018 season to focus on the Belgium women’s national team and the World Cup. And this year, she found herself being Elena Delle Donne’s backup for most of the season.

I certainly get why she was Delle Donne’s backup. And the Mystics were right to do so because of the situation they were in. Even Meesseman herself didn’t seem to mind that, but I think that’s more of a testament to her character and nature. Other European players may not want to find themselves in a similar situation because of their passports and the WNBA’s scheduling conflicts.

Being labeled as a reserve player in 2019 limited or even hurt Meesseman’s standing in the league to at least some fans.

Though most longtime readers of this site and Swish Appeal know that Meesseman is a key player for the Mystics, there are even more people who are just starting to become WNBA fans. They may not know right away that Meesseman was a budding star for years before Elena Delle Donne came to town. And when they see her on the bench to start a game, regardless of the nuances why, their expectations of her are labeled accordingly.

For example, the WNBA is part of the NBA2K20 video game. While Delle Donne rightfully received a rating of 95 and Kristi Toliver received an 87, Meesseman received a 79, tied with Tianna Hawkins. While I love Hawkins, I think we can also agree that she isn’t as good as Meesseman. I think 2K missed the mark with Meesseman’s rating, which seems to be influenced by her bench role.

Also, Meesseman’s role as a bench player in the 2019 season possibly negatively affected her NBA player comparisons. Bradley Beal wrote a column on The Players’ Tribune last October explaining why he is a Mystics fan. While I loved the column overall, I do take issue with this excerpt which I intentionally didn’t mention at the time:

You’ve got Emma Meesseman, who I like to compare to Kelly Olynyk — and I hope both of them take that as a compliment.

I love you Brad, but Olynyk? I think you meant to say ... Dirk Nowitzki instead?

To be fair to Beal, he may have intended to compare Meesseman’s playoff performances off the bench to Olynyk’s. Sort of like ... when he scored 14 points in the fourth quarter of a deciding game in the NBA Playoffs in 2017 perhaps.

Anyway, Beal went on and added this:

Emma is just impactful. She has the best fake dribble handoff in the league. She can shoot the three, and she’ll put them on you in bunches. To me, if I had to choose an X-factor on these Stics, I’d say it’s Emma. She’s the player who, when it’s going, takes this team’s ceiling from “great” to “all-time.” And she’s had it going lately, that’s for sure. Playoff Emma!!

Though Beal certainly thinks very high of Meesseman as a player, the fact still remains that he compared her to an NBA player who isn’t an All-Star. Just saying.

Didn’t Meesseman’s WNBA Finals MVP award improve or restore her perception though?

Meesseman’s WNBA Finals MVP award and big-time playoff performances certainly helped her get more name recognition among all basketball fans. She also is the first European WNBA Finals MVP award winner. But Meesseman did so in spite of the complicated situation the league has with international talent, not because of it.

If the WNBA had scheduled breaks for Women’s EuroBasket, Meesseman would have likely played every game this season. She would have had a more prominent role and get more honors like a potential second All-Star team appearance and a possible All-WNBA team mention.

If Meesseman can play for an entire regular season or two, can she win the WNBA Most Valuable Player Award?

After her playoff performances against the Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun, I certainly think Meesseman can be the WNBA MVP outright. Elena Delle Donne has a worrisome injury history while Meesseman has never missed a regular season game due to one.

And if you think I’m just writing this simply to be a “Meesse-MANIAC,” our founder and SB Nation NBA Editor Mike Prada wrote in detail why she was their most important weapon to victory last season.

When I saw the poll on Doncic being a legitimate NBA MVP candidate, it struck a nerve with me. Why can European NBA players be considered among the best in the world, but why are European WNBA and other women’s professional basketball players rarely considered?

The answer is quite simple. The WNBA’s and Europe’s scheduling conflicts make things difficult for players like Meesseman to showcase their potential.

There should be little doubt among Wizards and Mystics fans alike that Meesseman is a true world-class talent. She should be mentioned in the same breath as Delle Donne and other top WNBA frontcourt players. Even Head Coach Mike Thibault is quick to say that she is one of the best players in the world.

However, if Meesseman, an unrestricted free agent, is ever going to be a serious WNBA MVP candidate, the next Collective Bargaining Agreement has to change, where negotiations are ongoing. I get that the new CBA needs to include things like higher player pay and travel accommodations, things I certainly want to see.

But if the WNBA wants to grow beyond America’s borders like the NBA has, the new agreement must also take international players’ pain points and tendencies into account. Doing so will increase international talent leaguewide.

We won’t just have an opportunity to see Meesseman hit her full potential as a professional player with the Mystics, assuming she returns to Washington. Perhaps the Mystics could even be “Europe’s WNBA team,” not unlike how the Mavs have aimed to do just that for the NBA.