How Emma Meesseman Got Her New Three-Point Shot

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It may have come as a shock to those watching. On September 3, against the Los Angeles Mystics, talented center Emma Meesseman, with one career made three-pointer in her WNBA career, stepped back behind the three point arc and drained a long jumper.

This was no fluke. Meesseman followed it up with a 5-for-7 run from deep over the final five games of the season.

For Meesseman, the new dimension represents a significant leap she wasn’t sure she’d ever make. For her coach, Mike Thibault, it brought to fruition a multi-year effort he’d made to convince Meesseman to add the long shot to her game, something he saw as an easy upgrade for a pure shooter accostomed to burying long twos already.

For the rest of the league, which already had enough trouble stopping Meesseman? Let’s just call it a harbinger of doom.

“The increase came because Emma was willing to do it,” Thibault said prior to Friday night’s playoff opener against the Liberty at Madison Square Garden. “Stef [Dolson] was always willing to do it. When they went to Europe to play together last winter in Russia, I sat down with both of them in their exit interviews and I told them, ‘Competitively shoot threes with each other every day, and get better.’ Stef said ‘Yeah!’, Emma kind of rolled her eyes. But they did it.”

Meesseman’s eyes lit up at the memory of hitting that three-pointer in Los Angeles, officially the second of her career, but the moment she and Thibault point to for Meesseman to finally step over that line. As Meesseman points out, there’s more to it psychologically than physically.

“I don’t know,” she recalled Friday night prior to the game, when asked what allowed her to embrace the deep shot in that moment. “I knew I could do it. I’ve practiced it all year. But it never carried over to my game. So I just did it, and it went in, and that really helped my confidence. The mental part is having the reflex to step behind the three-point line instead of stepping in.”

Dolson found the range a bit earlier this season, and finished 10-for-21 from three, a 47.6 percent success rate that’s comparable to Meesseman’s 46.2 percent this year. It’s a remarkable new dimension to both of their games. But in Meesseman’s case, Thibault needed to take a two-pronged approach to making it happen: intellectual and emotional.

“Part of it was explaining to her the adjusted field goal percentage part of it, and part of it was just conning her into doing it,” Thibault said. “And we conned her into it two ways. One was doing shooting drills every day where threes were a part of it. And all the bigs doing it. And she started to see that she was making a lot of them. And we’d have a shooting contest after practice, guards and bigs can be in it, and it can be a three-point shooting contest. So we told her she had to do it. And all of a sudden she started winning every one. So she saw that she could do this. So about three weeks ago, I saw her look down and take a step back before she caught it. And I though all right, we’ve made progress. And that’s been the turning point for her.”

What it means for both Meesseman and the Mystics as a whole cannot be fully measured yet, but it is remarkable to consider. With only a sprinkling of threes, Meesseman still finished her third season in the league, at just 22 years old, with a 21.9 Player Efficiency Rating, tenth in the WNBA. Her effective field goal percentage was already 56.6 percent, second only to Alysha Clark of Seattle, who didn’t shoot nearly as often.

And what it means for the Mystics is a dramatic leap forward toward what Thibault envisions as a positionless team with enough length to create defensive havoc on the other end of the floor at all times.

“The sooner the better,” Thibault said of this evolution. “We have a perimeter and a post, and we don’t differentiate, 2, 3 or 1. We don’t differentiate 4 or 5. We’re working toward not differentiating between 4 and 3… We’ve always wanted to have one post inside and one post facing up at all times. So now we’re at the point it doesn’t matter who it is. Before it had to be Emma inside because she wasn’t comfortable outside—she’d shoot the foul line jumper—but now they’re both comfortable playing off each other.”

In the meantime, Meesseman says she’s now all-in on the long-range shooting.

“We just knew here, it had to happen,” Meesseman said. “The moment had come where we were getting those open shots. If she doesn’t take one, I’ll say, ‘You were open, Stef, you had to shoot that.’ And she’ll do the same for me.”

As for how the league can deal with these Mystics? They’re already a playoff team, just beat the Liberty on their home floor, and feature seven players under the age of 25. Thibault sees them as about a year ahead of schedule. And Meesseman, despite her youth, sounded like she has the confidence to embrace the role as Washington’s signature star, thanks in part to her new, efficient shot.

“I just take it as it come—but at my age, 22? It’s my third year already,” Meesseman said. “I have the experience already. So I try to be better every year. And the fourth year, I’m looking to add. Shooting more threes, being more physical. Right now, though, I’m thinking about a playoff game.”