In a historically frenzied offseason for the WNBA, the Phoenix Mercury were determined not to be left out of the action. The team signed star guard Skylar Diggins-Smith from the Dallas Wings in a blockbuster move, slotting her in alongside Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner to establish a new “Big Three” in the league. Last season, Phoenix advanced to the playoffs for the third consecutive season, but fell short in first round. Taurasi struggled to make it onto the floor after undergoing back surgery for a disc protrusion in April and then suffering a hamstring injury, and only made six appearances for the Mercury in 2019.
The team couldn’t adequately make up for the loss of their point guard and other injuries whittled the active roster down, but there were some bright spots in Phoenix. Griner continued to put up strong numbers, Leilani Mitchell stepped up in Taurasi’s absence to win Most Improved Player for the second time in her career, and DeWanna Bonner was a reliable force for the Mercury. The latter two are no longer with the Mercury, however, as Mitchell was picked up by the Mystics in February and Bonner has since departed to Connecticut.
Heading into the 2020 WNBA season, the Mercury have freshened their roster added Bria Hartley and Shatori Kimbrough-Walker, two experienced guards who can create scoring opportunities. Forward Jessica Breland was deemed medically exempt and will not play this year, so the team brought in center Kia Vaughn to help shore things up in the frontcourt with Griner. With the possibility that this could be 38-year-old Taurasi’s final year in the league, the Mercury will be pushing hard for a chance at the championship in Florida.
The Mercury look like one of the most formidable teams in the league with a deep and experienced roster, and are early favorites for a title run.
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH
Brittney Griner: One of the few consistent performers for the injury-riddled Mercury last season, Griner averaged a league-leading 20.7 points and two blocks as well as 7.2 rebounds per game while having the highest usage rate. In her seventh year in the league, the 6’9 center was named a WNBA All-Star for the sixth time in her career and received a spot on the All-WNBA first team for the second time. She has continued to improve year-over-year, and last season, Griner became one of the most dominant post players in the league, averaging a league-best 14.1 points in the paint. The biggest of the big three, Griner is set to have a big year and will be expected to once again be in the MVP conversation.
Skylar Diggins-Smith: Diggins-Smith missed the 2019 season after giving birth to her son in April. But in 2018, she did it all for Dallas, averaging 17.9 points, 6.2 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per contest. She also suited up for Team USA during its college tour in the fall. The star guard is a very energetic player, and is excellent at running the point while also being a nuisance on defense. At 29 years old, she will definitely upgrade this Mercury team, both as a leader and as someone who can give Taurasi chances to rest.
Injuries, suspensions, and and overall lack of consistency made it hard for the Mercury to build chemistry and succeed last season. Losing Bonner and Mitchell, who really helped carry the team into the playoffs last year, will hurt, but with a healthy Taurasi and the addition of Diggins-Smith, Phoenix can compete for the title. With those two on-the-ball guards, Phoenix will have to work hard to make sure both players get their touches and run plays that ensure the two can perform at their best levels for the team.
The Mercury will also need Alanna Smith, Brianna Turner, and Sophie Cunningham to grow into more reliable players so that the scoring workload does not fall solely onto the big three. Talented as Taurasi, Griner, and Diggins-Smith are, they cannot expect to contend without a full team effort from the players around them.
Bria Hartley: The former New York Liberty guard describes herself as “the perfect combo guard,” someone who can hold the rock and run the offense but also knows when to use her speed to get out and up the floor. She is a solid shooter, averaging 9.8 points on 38 percent shooting and with a 33 percent clip from beyond the arc. Her addition to the fold should certainly help the team spread the floor and she can help get others looks as well; last season, she averaged 3.2 assists per game.
BIGGEST ON-COURT QUESTION
How strong is the Mercury’s depth and chemistry? Last season saw the Mercury’s roster tested to the limits as players fell left and right with injuries. Taurasi’s injury was the biggest one of all, and the team certainly needs her to be back at full strength if they have any real hope of winning their fourth championship. The addition of Diggins-Smith will certainly help take the load off the Mercury legend, but Phoenix needs to ensure that when the pair are on the floor together they get enough touches and have enough space.