A year removed from a trip to the WNBA Finals, the Phoenix Mercury are currently on the outside of the playoff picture with two games left in the season.
It has been a tumultuous season in Phoenix, starting with the obvious difficulty of playing without their star center, Brittney Griner, as she has been detained in Russia since prior to the season and was sentenced to nine years in prison earlier this month — with the hope that she can eventually be brought home in a prisoner transfer. On top of all that, the team is under a new head coach, Vanessa Nygaard, after longtime coach Sandy Brondello parted ways with the team in the offseason, ultimately ending up in New York.
Trying to navigate this season has been difficult, with the bizarre Tina Charles situation that saw her reach a contract divorce with the team and then join the Seattle Storm, and some apparent internal turmoil in the locker room. Recently, the team announced that Diana Taurasi would miss the remainder of the season with a quad strain, and now their best player on the season, Skylar Diggins-Smith, will also not return for the rest of the year, as she sits out due to personal reasons.
The Phoenix Mercury have announced that guard Skylar Diggins-Smith will miss the team’s final two regular season games due to personal reasons. The team intends to sign a replacement player tomorrow and that player will be available to play in Friday’s game.
— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) August 11, 2022
Hopefully all is well with Diggins-Smith and anything she’s dealing with off the court, and one would think from a basketball perspective her departure would effectively end the Mercury’s playoff hopes. A loss to the Lynx dropped them into a tie with the Liberty and Dream at 14-20, with New York holding the tiebreaker, meaning the final two games against the Wings (currently 6th in the league standings) and the Sky (who hold the best record in the WNBA) will determine whether they can sneak into the postseason.
Doing so without their two top scorers and top facilitators would be nothing short of miraculous given the competition they’ll face, as Diggins-Smith led the team with 19.7 points and 5.5 assists per game this season (with Taurasi at 16.7 points and 3.8 assists per game, second in both categories). Sophie Cunningham and Diamond DeShields will now become the offensive focal points, but the personnel losses for the Mercury this season may prove to be too much to handle and they’ll very likely have to regroup and try to come up with a new plan in the offseason.