If you were to play the hypothetical “as player X goes, so goes her team” game, you’d probably come up with the starting power forwards for each of this season’s Finals participants.
Elena Delle Donne
Delle Donne, certainly, is the Mystics’ focal point. While Washington’s scoring depth and unselfishness with the basketball are both huge reasons the team has made it this far, it’s hard to imagine the Mystics playing such outstanding basketball without the league MVP. Delle Donne became the first WNBA player to record the heralded 50/40/90 season (that is, 50 percent shooting from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line).
But we’ve known for a long time that she is a scoring threat from virtually anywhere on the floor because of her ability to:
- put the ball on the floor
- shoot it from distance
- use an endless array of low-post moves
Opposing Delle Donne will be Alyssa Thomas.
The player affectionately dubbed “The Engine” by Connecticut faithful embodies what has made the Sun such a force: fast, strong and extremely difficult cover in transition. When Thomas grabs a defensive rebound, it’s full steam ahead. She is adept at finding teammates in transition and draws fouls like nobody’s business. Among players with at least 30 transition possessions, Thomas ranks fourth in the WNBA in percentage of shooting fouls drawn.
It will be key, then, for Delle Donne and the Mystics to keep Thomas off the boards and away from transition opportunities. As dangerous as Thomas is on the break, she’s not a threat from outside the paint, attempting just five shots 15 or more feet from the basket this entire season.
While Thomas’ physicality versus Delle Donne’s finesse is reason enough to watch the power forward matchup, it’s not just those players you’ll need to keep an eye on.
Emma Meesseman had a breakout semifinals series against the Las Vegas Aces, torching her opponents time and time again with slick outside shooting — making the Mystics nearly unguardable with both she and Delle Donne on the floor. For all the hubbub surrounding Delle Donne’s 50/40/90 season, Meesseman actually accomplished the feat as well, falling short of the recognition only because she didn’t meet the minimum threshold for three-pointers and free throws made.
The Mystics have started Meesseman alongside Delle Donne and also brought her off the bench. The Sun don’t have such a luxury. Expect Thomas to play heavy minutes in this series — a full 40 is not out of the question, as Curt Miller has played her the entire game previously in this postseason.
Whether Mike Thibault does the same with Delle Donne remains to be seen. But all the cards are on the table now, and each coach will be fighting for every inch he can get. For both Miller and Thibault, that starts at power forward.
All statistics in this piece courtesy of Synergy Sports and WNBA.com