The Phoenix Mercury have relied on Diana Taurasi in the past decade, but will now begin on a journey minus the main star. How far will the team go in an attempt to defend the WNBA title?
2014 record: 29-5, WNBA record in 34-game era. Swept the Los Angeles Sparks in the first round, 2-0. Defeated the Minnesota Lynx, 2-1 in the Western Conference Finals. Swept the Chicago Sky, 3-0 in the WNBA Finals.
Additions: Cayla Francis, Leilani Mitchell, Alex Harden, Monique Currie, Shameka Christon, Tess Magden, Noelle Quinn, Rebecca Tobin, Marta Xargay Casademont
Losses: Penny Taylor, Shay Murphy, Anete Jekabsone-Zogota, Erin Phillips, Ewelina Kobryn (Diana Taurasi sitting out)
The Phoenix Mercury went on a historic run in the 2014 season which included setting individual player and team records before capturing a third franchise championship which put the franchise alongside elite company.
The defending league champions once again embark on a journey with a quest to retain the crown, but this time they will have to do it the difficult way with obstacles trying to block its run.
Diana Taurasi’s absence hurts
Earlier this year, I wrote about how the absence of Diana Taurasi, one of the world’s best players and the reigning Finals Most Valuable Player, affects the Mercury’s campaign this year.
Taurasi is skipping the entire WNBA season after being paid by her Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg to sit out and focus on her duty with the club.
As one of the best creators in the league and an offensive threat who can immediately hoist a shot whether it’s coming off screens or a pull-up and attack the rim relentlessly, (not having) Taurasi affects the scape of Phoenix’s offense, which was no. 1 last year, in large part.
In the 2014 season, Taurasi led Phoenix in scoring and usage rate. She was no. 8 in the league in points per game while also being no. 1 in assists and no. 3 in win shares. With such greatness, she changes the way opposing teams react on defense. Take her away and the mindset also changes defensively.
With Penny Taylor also not part of roster, the Mercury should find reliable backcourt options (which is why they signed plenty of guards during the offseason) to solve the woes. Taurasi’s value as a leader and a difference-maker will never be matched, which makes people think if there will be some tinkering when it comes to coach Sandy Brondello’s system.
Veteran core should take over
It would be inappropriate to say, however, that the Mercury is out of it. Yes, the Western Conference playoffs race is open, but the champs are definitely in the conversation.
Brittney Griner will serve a seven-game suspension to open the season but her return will be vital as the Mercury look for another go-to player.
Aside from being an elite rim protector last year (she set the record for most blocks in a game with 11 and a regular season with 129), Griner’s post game has improved compared to her rookie season and with her size, there are not many players who can match up with her one-on-one. Expect her to given more touches inside and when the defense collapses, this is where the Mercury can create opportunities by moving the ball well and surrounding her with floor-spacers who can nail the three.
Then there’s DeWanna Bonner and Candice Dupree who both finished in double-digits in scoring last season. Dupree and Bonner have both showed the ability to take over offensively, averaging 15.7 PPG and 10.8 PPG respectively during the Mercury’s 16-game winning streak. Dupree later on set a finals record by making 10 consecutive shots in Game 1.
It will be an even more daunting task compared to last season, but carrying along their experience from last year, these veterans are poised to take the wheel for the Mercury in an attempt to defend its glory.