Is it too early to begin considering the Sky’s Emma Meesseman for Defensive Player of the Year?
Her contributions on the defensive end don’t always show up on the stat sheet, although she’s third in the league in steals per game (2.1).
It’s not hard to notice Sky forward Emma Meesseman on offense.
The way she moves the ball, creates space, sets screens and slips to open spots in the lane is captivating. She moves like water, fluidly shifting around defenders and causing them to adjust. And when they can’t, she makes them pay.
On Friday, in a rematch of the WNBA semifinals last season, Meesseman scored 13 points in the first quarter and finished with a season-high 26 to go with five rebounds, four assists and two steals in the Sky’s 83-79 victory against the Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Meesseman’s impact defensively is just as significant but more subtle. Her contributions on that end don’t always show up on the stat sheet, although she’s third in the league in steals per game (2.1).
‘‘A lot of it is going to be a reflection of how we play as a team,’’ Sky general manager/coach James Wade said. ‘‘If we continue to do the defensive things we’ve done, she’ll be a good example of someone who is a front-runner [for Defensive Player of the Year].’’
Other players in the early conversations include Aces forward A’ja Wilson, who leads the league in defensive rebounds and blocks, Sun forward Alyssa Thomas, Storm center Ezi Magbegor and Sparks guard Brittany Sykes.
In Wade’s first season with the Sky, his team was ninth in the league in defensive rating. That rating has improved every year since.
Through 12 games, the Sky (8-4) are fourth in defensive rating and are holding opponents to 77 points. The Dream, Storm and Sun are the three teams with a better defensive rating.
But what really has Meesseman in consideration early are her intangibles. Her instincts, ability to read opponents’ offenses and active hands have allowed her to get into passing lanes and create deflections, leading to better offensive production. Deflections aren’t an official statistic, but Meesseman would be among the WNBA leaders if they were.
The length of the Sky’s frontcourt has given Meesseman the confidence to go after steals and defend aggressively because she knows her teammates will help cover for her.
Another stat that doesn’t adequately reflect Meesseman’s ability on defense is her 4.2 defensive rebounds per game. She shares the court with 2020 Defensive Player of the Year Candace Parker, who is averaging 7.5 defensive rebounds and ranks sixth on the WNBA’s all-time rebounding list with 3,191.
‘‘[Meesseman] does a lot for us that’s not going to be seen in the stat sheet,’’ Wade said. ‘‘It’ll be seen in the ways we make teams uncomfortable.’’
On Friday against the Sun, the Sky gave up 15 points off turnovers. There were 15 lead changes, but it came down to the fourth quarter. The Sky are second in the league in fourth-quarter points to the Sun but outscored them 24-17.
Parker had 19 points, five assists and three rebounds, and Rebekah Gardner added 14 points, five rebounds and three steals.
With the Sky clinging to a one-point lead with less than 30 seconds left, Meesseman came up with the most crucial defensive rebound of the night. Parker made it a two-possession game after sinking two free throws, and the Sky earned the victory.