From June 27 to July 7, twelve WNBA players from eight teams are competing in FIBA’s EuroBasket tournament, which is one of the first steps for European countries to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. Ten of the 16 EuroBasket teams feature at least one current WNBA player on their rosters; Belgium and France have two apiece.
Before EuroBasket play began, I published the following list of WNBA players pulling double duty this summer, as determined through conversations with WNBA coaches and team representatives:
At High Post Hoops, I shared thoughts from some of the players competing in EuroBasket about how they will handle changing teams mid-season and from their WNBA teammates and coaches about the effects of losing players partway through the season. In this article, I estimate the minutes and production that each WNBA team will lose due to EuroBasket.
Until the EuroBasket champion is crowned, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when each player will return to WNBA action. In this article, I assume that each player’s first game back is her team’s first game after July 7, the date of the EuroBasket championship game. (The exception is Alex Bentley, as the Atlanta Dream recently announced that she will return to the team on July 1.) I also assume that each player will play her usual minutes right away rather than being eased back in or taking a few games off to rest.
For players who played in at least three WNBA games in 2019 before heading overseas, I based my estimates on their 2019 WNBA statistics to date. For players who have not appeared in a WNBA game yet this season, I used their 2018 statistics. And for players who played in only one or two WNBA games before EuroBasket, I averaged their 2018 and 2019 statistics so that my estimates were informed by a larger number of games.
How long will players be gone?
The length of time that players will be away from their WNBA teams varies greatly league-wide. Phoenix’s Yvonne Turner is estimated to miss the fewest games (five), while New York’s Kiah Stokes and Marine Johannes are each expected to miss a league-high 15 games. Five players are expected to miss over one-third of the 34-game regular season.
The table below shows how many games each player is expected to miss as well as how many minutes she will likely miss, based on how much playing time she typically receives. The percentage of minutes missed is calculated by dividing her minutes missed by 1360, which is the maximum number of minutes a single player can theoretically play in the regular season (40 minutes per game * 34 games).
Washington’s Emma Meesseman is expected to miss the most minutes; she has averaged 23 minutes per game so far this season and will likely miss 11 games. This may be an underestimate because Meesseman came off the bench before heading to EuroBasket but will be a starter once she returns. On the other hand, Meesseman will play a big role for Belgium in EuroBasket and the Mystics have enviable depth at forward, so head coach Mike Thibault might keep her minutes steady to avoid her wearing down later in the season.
New York’s Bria Hartley and Kiah Stokes are the only other WNBA players who are projected to miss at least 15% of their possible minutes. Their returns will be crucial for a New York Liberty team that currently sits in ninth place, one spot out of the playoffs.
Which WNBA team is most affected by EuroBasket?
New York loses the most players to EuroBasket (four) of any team in the league. It is therefore unsurprising that the Liberty is projected to lose the highest percentage of the 6,800 minutes that each team will collectively play in the regular season (5 players * 40 minutes * 34 games). If there is a silver lining for Liberty fans, it is that Amanda Zahui B — arguably the best of New York’s players headed to EuroBasket — is expected to miss the fewest games.
Washington loses the second-highest percentage of minutes, which makes sense because the Mystics are the only other team with multiple EuroBasket players. Of the teams with just one EuroBasket player, Los Angeles and Dallas lose the most minutes. Los Angeles’ Maria Vadeeva left for EuroBasket after the Sparks’ season opener and is expected to miss 12 WNBA games, while Dallas’ Glory Johnson will likely miss only seven games but has averaged 24.5 minutes this season, the second-highest of any departing player behind Zahui B.
Which WNBA teams are losing star players?
Looking at the number of minutes that WNBA teams will have to replace is far from the only way to assess players’ impact. Here are some of the 2019 WNBA statistics for each EuroBasket player who has played in at least one WNBA game this season:
Looking at the traditional statistics of points, rebounds, and assists, Vadeeva, Meesseman, and Zahui B stand out. They are the only three double-figure scorers and three of the top four rebounders in the group. But these statistics aren’t always perfect indicators of what a player contributes to her team. Another way to assess players’ impact is through win shares, which calculates the number of wins that an individual creates for her team through all of her contributions on both ends of the court.
Meesseman leads this group of players in win shares per game (0.19) and estimated win shares lost (2.06) by a mile. Vadeeva and Zahui B are the only players besides Meesseman whose absences are expected to cost their teams at least 0.5 wins. Based largely on Meesseman’s absence, the Mystics are estimated to lose the most win shares of any team (2.08).
The EuroBasket tournament provides an interesting wrinkle to the 2019 WNBA season as teams are forced to adapt. Four teams in the league do not have any players competing in EuroBasket, but even those teams have to adapt to changes in their opponents’ playing styles and game plans based on which players are available. Once EuroBasket concludes and the players return to the WNBA, every team will have to adjust again. Which player’s return will give her team a boost midway through the WNBA season? Will any player win a EuroBasket championship — and maybe push her WNBA team to the same heights? These and many other questions will be fascinating storylines to watch throughout the 2019 WNBA season.