2016 WNBA Team Previews: Phoenix Mercury

 

PG: Diana Taurasi/Nirra Fields

SG: DeWanna Bonner/Courtney Williams/Noelle Quinn

SF: Penny Taylor/Sonja Petrovic/Alex Harden

PF: Candice Dupree/Mistie Bass

C: Brittney Griner/Isabelle Harrison

Trading away Monique Currie virtually finished the job for them, creating the cap space to keep 12 players while simultaneously making the final cuts fairly easy.


Significant additions
: Taurasi, obviously, is the big story after taking a year off from the WNBA. But Taylor’s back as well and has always been a huge part of any Mercury successes in the past decade. Harrison and Petrovic deepen the options in the frontcourt, while rookie guard Williams could be a nice injection of energy on the perimeter.

Significant losses: Not a huge amount. The Currie trade was a surprise, and they might miss her a little if injuries strike. Marta Xargay is still in Spain, and won’t be seen until after the Olympics, if at all. Leilani Mitchell is gone, but given Taurasi’s return to run the team, that’s not a big deal.


Overview

Optimism is high in Phoenix, now that all the key pieces are back from the 2014 team that went 29-5 and only lost one playoff game in their march to a title. Diana Taurasi turns 34 next month, but she’s looked just as good as ever while playing overseas, and with Griner, Taylor, Bonner and Dupree alongside her this team should be scary once again. They were pretty damn good last year when Taurasi and Taylor didn’t bother to show up.

As with the Lynx vets, people have started to wonder how many years we have left with stars like Taurasi and Taylor. But for now we can just enjoy it while it lasts, and the Mercury fans certainly will. Taurasi is a gifted creator with the ball in her hands on top of her natural scoring ability, and this time around they’re not even pretending to put a point guard alongside her to run the offense. She’s be running the team, with Bonner and Taylor helping out and young guards like Williams and Fields as options off the bench. It should be the usual superior level of entertainment.

And while Taurasi leads the offense, the dominance of Griner in the paint provides the single-greatest impact of any player in the game on the defensive end. She had her personal issues last year, and didn’t take quite the step forward in Taurasi’s absence that some people were hoping for, but she’s still an absolute force. She’s also been playing with Taurasi overseas in Russia, so their connection should be even smoother. She has a nice touch on the offensive end when her team uses her, and few teams have anyone who can contend with her one-on-one. Candice Dupree’s mid-range game and smooth finishing are a nice complement offensively, and Bonner’s individual defense on whoever the primary perimeter threat is has improved exponentially. Unlike their championship teams under Paul Westhead and Corey Gaines, this squad can do serious damage at both ends of the floor.


Best Case Scenario

Essentially a repeat of 2014, when even the Lynx struggled to come close to them. Development from Griner on the offensive end, and signs from youngsters like Williams and Harrison that they can be a big part of the future would be nice to see as well. Taurasi can’t go on forever.


Worst Case Scenario

As with everyone else, injuries to key players could derail the season (although they proved last year that they could be pretty good even without a couple of important parts). Beyond that, maybe Taurasi does start to show signs of losing half a step, maybe Taylor’s lost another one, and maybe they take a little while to mesh back together. But if they’re reasonably healthy, it’s hard to see a scenario where this team is anything other than very, very good. Or better.


Summary

It’s going to be fun to see the Mercury with the band back together. The last few years, Phoenix and Minnesota never seem to have been at absolute full-speed at the same time. If we could actually see that this year, maybe even in the WNBA Finals thanks to the rejigged playoff system, it could be a joy to watch.

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