Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman are two of the best forwards in the WNBA today because of their ability to thrive in the era of positionless basketball.
Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman are two of the best forwards in the league today, playing at a top-notch level in only their third seasons in the league.
Delle Donne, one of the front-runners for season Most Valuable Player award, is racking up numbers which the basketball world haven’t seen in a long while. The Chicago Sky forward is averaging 24.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game in the first half of the 2015 season, and is shooting 95.7 percent from the foul line.
In addition, Delle Donne has a league-best player efficiency rating (PER) of 35.9, league-best 5.1 win shares, and a .452 win shares per 48.
Meesseman meanwhile continues to reach All-WNBA levels, and was recently named as an East All-Star reserve for the 2015 WNBA All-Star Game. The native of Belgium leads the Washington Mystics in win shares (2.4) and win shares per 48 (.258) while averaging 13.2 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per match. She is also no. 2 overall in field goal percentage (54.1 percent) and no. 4 in PER with 22.2.
The reason for their surge as the best frontcourt players in the WNBA isn’t rocket science; they are simply multi-dimensional athletes who thrive in the era of positionless basketball.
Names like Lauren Jackson and Candace Parker in the past few years have been so dominant because of their ability to defy the prototypical roles supposedly “assigned” to a big/power forward.
Parker is already a two-time MVP and the only player to win Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in a season. Jackson is part of the WNBA’s list of Top 15 players all-time.
Instead of only staying exclusively inside or posting up to generate baskets, these players developed other skills like shooting and extending their range all the way to the three-point arc; they have also learned how to put the ball down and drive, face up, post up, and more to become complete packages.
We are already in an era where there aren’t just five basketball positions. Every great basketball player is their own position, and both Delle Donne and Meesseman have broken the mold. They are the future.
Unless opposing teams adjust to how they play or have the athletes capable stopping players possessing their style of play/skill sets, they are hard to stop on most nights.
Meeseman, according to head coach Mike Thibault, has improved on many aspects of the game and is constantly adding something new every year.
Here are some of those.
With a penchant for draining mid-range jumpers off catch and shoot plays, Meesseman is a solid threat from the perimeter even without the ball. And that is where she is excellent at. Here, a penetration leads to the Los Angeles Sparks’ defense collapsing, with a simple kick out hitting Meesseman leading to a jumper.
The Mystics have learned how to use this strength, using Meesseman to set screens and then from there creating baskets off pick and pop/catch and shoot plays.
Below, Kara Lawson uses the back screen before receiving the leather. The defense collapses, and she hits Meesseman for another uncontested jumper.
And Meesseman is not only a catch-and-shoot option; give her the basketball and she can create her own shot from a face-up position, like here where she receives it about 15 feet away from the basket. She dribbles to her left and fades away for two.
Delle Donne, as we all know, can hit from anywhere on the court. When she has the ball, she can take it strong to the hoop. It takes her only a few strides and at 6-foot-5, her shots are hard to contest.
The Sky runs plays where she usually receives the ball at either side of the elbow where she starts to operate. Her favorite move is the dribble pull-up which is difficult to stop because of her length and size. Against teams without athletic frontcourt players, Delle Donne can just easily expose this weakness with her versatility on offense.
Here is one example against the Tulsa Shock, where Delle Donne drives after a hard close-out. The recovery is late, and Delle Donne hoists an easy jumper from the elbow.
And this isn’t the only thing Delle Donne can do; when inside against bigger players, she makes use of her pristine shooting touch to get baskets. Like in this play where she is back to the basket initially, before facing up and quickly making an attempt.
Delle Donne is on pace for a historic season, and is poised to be one of the all-time greats in the league. Meesseman is only 22 years old, and remains to have terrific upside.
Both are using their abilities and plethora of skills to thrive in the new age of basketball to be relevant. That’s what sets them apart from the league’s other frontcourt players.
Breanna Stewart, we are waiting for you.