Mercury solidifying themselves as title contenders
By Pat Ralph
After starting the season 2-3, the Mercury have now won 9 of 11 games to improve to 11-5. If not for the strong starts of the Sparks and Storm, the Mercury could very well have the best record in the WNBA.
Coming into the season, many expected Phoenix to contend for both a top-four seed and home-court advantage in the playoffs. That would be determined by their health during the season, their defense and the contributions from their supporting cast. Instead, the Mercury find themselves as legitimate title contenders this season.
Phoenix’s strong start this year can first be pointed to the play of its All-Star duet, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi. Through the first six weeks of the season, it is hard to find a better duet in the league. Both players rank in the top 10 in the league in points per game, field-goal percentage, true-shooting percentage, effective field-goal percentage, two-point field-goal percentage, player efficiency rating, and offensive rating. Furthermore, both are in the top five in the WNBA in field goals made, offensive win shares and overall win shares.
Averaging 19.6 points per game this season, Griner leads the league in two-point field goals made. She also ranks in the top five in rebounds (7.9 rebounds per game). Griner has made her impact on the defensive end as well, leading the league in blocked shots with over three per game and currently holds a top-10 defensive rating in the WNBA.
Leading the team in scoring with 20.6 points per game, Taurasi is first in the league in three-point field goals made and ranks in the top 10 in three-point percentage this year. She is also playing unselfishly and getting her teammates involved by averaging five assists per game, which puts her in the top five in the league. As Griner and Taurasi go, so do the Mercury. However, they are not the only ones playing well this season for Phoenix.
The return of DeWanna Bonner to Phoenix has bolstered the Mercury on both ends of the floor this year. Her ability to do a little bit of everything has had an immediate impact on this team. Bonner is third on the team in scoring (15.1 points per game) behind Taurasi and Griner, second in rebounding (5.8 rebounds per game) behind Griner, third in assists (3.1 assists per game) behind Taurasi and Briann January, and first in steals (1.4 steals per game) on the team and third in the league. Along with Griner, Bonner has a top-10 defensive rating, too.
The Mercury are 11-1 this season when the trio of Griner, Taurasi, and Bonner each scores 12 or more points in a game. Coming into the season, Phoenix needed a dependable and consistent third go-to scorer alongside Taurasi and Griner. They have that in Bonner. Not to mention, her versatility, length, and athleticism has made Phoenix a better defensive team too.
The aforementioned January, who the Mercury acquired from the Fever during the offseason to upgrade the point guard position, has been effective on both ends of the floor as well. January has helped improve Phoenix’s defense and has been one of the best three- point shooters in the league this year by leading the WNBA in three-point percentage. January also ranks in the top 10 in the league in assists this year, just behind her Taurasi.
Sancho Lyttle, who joined Phoenix this past offseason in free agency from the Dream, has made her presence felt on both ends of the floor, too. Along with Griner, Lyttle ranks in the top 10 in the league in field-goal percentage and has helped bolster the Mercury’s defense down low.
Offensively, the Mercury are scoring more points per game and at a more efficient rate this season compared to last. Phoenix has also cut down on the turnovers and improved its ball movement, too. Not to mention, the Mercury have a higher offensive rating and overall net rating this year.
Defensively, the Mercury are averaging more steals and blocks per game this season. In addition, Phoenix is holding opposing teams to a lower field-goal percentage and points per game average this year, thus resulting in a lower defensive rating. Based on the statistics, it would not be stretch to include Phoenix as one of the best offensive and defensive teams in the WNBA. Finally, it appears to be that the Mercury have become a more balanced and consistent team on both ends of the floor.
With health on their side, a revamped supporting cast contributing to the cause, and an improved defense, the Mercury are a force to be reckoned with in the WNBA this year.