Phoenix Mercury 2010 Season Preview
More chips, more salsa?
We continue previewing the 2010 WNBA Season with the Phoenix Mercury. You can read past previews here.
By Ben York/@bjyork
Could the Phoenix Mercury actually be better than they were in 2009? Not only is it a fair question, it’s highly probable and terrifying for the rest of the WNBA.
How could a team who has won two championships in three years actually become more competitive? How can a franchise, which prides itself on their unrivaled up-tempo style of offense, become a more lethal scoring threat? How does a team, who had an offensive rating of almost 110, improve on that unbelievable accomplishment?
It’s certainly rare, but the Phoenix Mercury has managed to do it.
Take a look at their roster – Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor, Candice Dupree, Tangela Smith, DeWanna Bonner, Ketia Swanier, Temeka Johnson, Sequoia Holmes, Taylor Lilley, Nicole Ohlde, and Brooke Smith – the Mercury has 7-8 legitimate players who can put up 20+ points on any given night.
If you look at what the Mercury’s perceived weaknesses were in 2009, rebounding and defense are probably two of the areas they needed to address. Though, you might as well cross those off the list because rebounding won’t be an issue with Candice Dupree, the league’s 3rd leading rebounder, and a healthy Nicole Ohlde (who I believe will have her best season in the WNBA yet). Along with rebounding, their defense has drastically improved with an increased focus on protecting the paint.
Since I’m based in Phoenix, I’ve been fortunate enough to see quite a few Mercury practices over the past few weeks and can assure you that they will be much better defensively. Coach Corey Gaines main focus is on forcing the opposition into a bad shot along the perimeter. Why? More missed shots mean more rebounds, more rebounds mean more fast breaks, and more fast breaks mean more points.
Obviously, the loss of Cappie Pondexter and Le’coe Willingham immediately impacted the team. But, acquiring Candice Dupree to play alongside Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor could, in fact, lead to a more potent offense and sophisticated defense. Dupree comes to Phoenix eager to play with the Mercury’s talent; in fact, she was the first to arrive for training camp almost a month ago. Dupree brings a tough, gritty, yet smooth presence to Phoenix that will fit in well with Gaines’ offense and solidify their defense. Defenses will have a tough time figuring out what they want to try and contain – do they double Dupree and leave a player open on the perimeter? Or, do they let Dupree, who is one of the most skilled post players in the game, go 1 on 1 in the paint? Gaines has repeatedly told me that his offense is actually built for a scoring player in the 4 spot, and Candice Dupree is as good as it gets.
The Mercury will also benefit from the core of their team having a year under their belts playing with each other. Perhaps the two players that this will be most advantageous for are Temeka Johnson and Ketia Swanier – the floor generals. Even in training camp, they are more confident, less tentative, and have shown signs of brilliance while facilitating the offense. There’s no longer a lengthy learning curve and that will be invaluable towards the Mercury getting off to a fast start. Having Penny Taylor around at the beginning of the season is also a huge asset to the Mercury. They sorely missed her in 2008 after their championship run the year prior, and her mere presence on the court makes everyone around her better.
Although the Mercury enjoys playing small-ball, they could easily put a lineup on the court that rivals one of the biggest in the league. By putting Tangela Smith or Nicole Ohlde at the 5, Candice Dupree at the 4, DeWanna Bonner at the 3, Penny Taylor at the 2, and maybe even Taurasi as a pseudo point guard would lead to immense match-up problems for their opposition. This is unique because the Mercury have shown to be vulnerable in the paint over the past two years and this increase in size will allow for more ways to score and better ways to defend.
Don’t forget about DeWanna Bonner and Tangela Smith; their return to Phoenix brings an enhanced focus on team chemistry and selflessness. Bonner has already shown signs of an improved outside shot and a more aggressive attitude. With more minutes this year, Bonner could very well be 2nd on the team in scoring. Tangela Smith, the consummate professional, will do whatever is asked of her on a nightly basis. An interesting note – if she plays 30 games this year she becomes the WNBA’s all-time leader in games played.
All this and I’ve barely touched on Diana Taurasi. Is there any doubt she is the best women’s basketball player on the planet? Listen to the streak she’s on: 2009 EuroLeague Player of the Year, 2009 EuroLeague Guard of the Year, 2009 EuroLeague Champions, 2009 WNBA scoring leader, 2009 WNBA All-Star, 2009 WNBA MVP, 2009 WNBA Champion, 2009 WNBA Finals MVP, 2010 EuroLeague Player of the Year, and 2010 EuroLeague Guard of the Year. Are you kidding me?! Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if, statistically, 2010 was her best year yet. Mark her down for the WNBA scoring title now.
Maybe what makes the Mercury such a threat is that they are easily the team with the least amount of question marks in the Western Conference. Even though the Lynx have retooled their already talented roster, the Sparks are poised for another playoff birth thanks to Candace Parker, and the Storm have two of the best players in the world in Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, the Mercury have kept their core in tact while also bolstering their bench and overall team weaknesses. The West will still be competitive, but the Mercury match-up extremely well with each team. More importantly, the bond between the players is like nothing I’ve ever seen. They believe in each other, hang out off the court, and genuinely love being around one another.
In short, the 2009 WNBA Champion returns with an even better team. You can bet against the Mercury, but it wouldn’t be wise.