DeWanna Bonner: MVP?

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com

Posted: September 4, 2012

Consider this: DeWanna Bonner currently ranks in the top 10 in the WNBA in scoring (20.2 ppg – 3rd), free-throws made (5.8 FTM – 2nd), free-throws attempted (7.0 FTA – 2nd), rebounding (7.4 rpg – 9th), blocks (1.0 bpg – tied 7th), and steals (1.8 spg – 7th).

No other player in the WNBA can make that claim.

Admittedly, with a 6-19 record, the odds are against DeWanna Bonner winning the 2012 WNBA MVP Award; that honor usually goes to a player on a team with a few more W’s in the win column.

However, there’s no doubt in this writer’s mind that Bonner should at least be on the short list of contenders.

* * *

“It’s my fault she isn’t an All-Star,” Head Coach Corey Gaines has stated on multiple occasions in years past.

Of course, he was referring to the team needing Bonner to come off the bench and not being able to give her more playing time with the plethora of talent they’ve had (she still won the Sixth Woman of the Year Award each of the past three seasons).

This year, however, is a different story.

Bonner’s dominance in 2012 actually started back in training camp over five months ago. She knew her role on the Mercury would dramatically change once the news surfaced about Penny Taylor missing the entire year due to injury (not to mention the other numerous injuries that would follow).

It was a challenge she was ready to face head on.

From the start of camp, Bonner was noticeably more vocal and leadership-driven. Having all the poise and determination of a superstar, the team had higher expectations of Bonner but the way at which she has surpassed them all is even more remarkable.

It’s easy for players to “say” they are going to step up in the face of adversity, but to actually do it requires unshakeable confidence and resilience. After the Mercury’s starting five became decimated with injuries this year, Bonner has not only been the most consistent force on Phoenix but, perhaps, throughout the entire WNBA as a whole.

Similarly, statistical increases don’t automatically happen when a player gets more minutes; they have to be willing to put in the extra work (both mentally and physically) to make it happen.

In Bonner’s case, it’s unbelievable what she has accomplished already this season when the Mercury has relied on her to do so much. Incredibly, she has doubled her statistical output from a year ago in four categories – scoring (10.7 to 20.2 ppg), assists (0.8 to 2.0 apg), free-throws made (2.6 to 5.8 FTM), and free-throws attempted (2.9 to 7.0 FTA).

As stated above, not only is she the lone WNBA player featured in the top 10 in six statistical categories, she also is the only player in the WNBA who can say they’ve doubled their averages in four separate statistical categories from the year prior.

Amazing.

Still, perhaps Bonner’s most noteworthy contribution to the Mercury this year has been her increased leadership, both verbally and by example. She has stepped out of her proverbial shell, began to routinely direct the Mercury’s offense, and has been the go-to player when the team needs a big shot. Even more astounding, she has literally played all five positions on the court at some point this season (sometimes in the same game) and been more than successful at doing so.

How one responds to adversity says a lot about a person (and player); and the 2012 Mercury certainly has had its share of misfortune. Not once has Bonner shifted from her team-first mentality and mindset.

In fact, I’ve talked to her after games when the Mercury lost by 20 as well as huge victories like last week’s game against the Silver Stars, and her mantra always remains the same.

“I just want to be aggressive and help the team win,” Bonner said after both games, even though the outcomes were vastly different.

Clearly, individual accolades mean nothing to her; she’ll do whatever she can to help the team get better.

This is a perfect illustration of the calming presence that Bonner has given the Mercury during the most difficult times. She obviously loves to play the game of basketball; her upbeat attitude is infectious and it’s impossible to be around her and not smile. And in the midst of a trying season, keeping the mood light in the locker room goes a long way toward building successful team chemistry.

It’s one of the main reasons why even though the season hasn’t gone the Mercury’s way, they’ve bonded together the same way a championship team typically does.

She may not win the MVP this year, but that’s okay.

DeWanna Bonner has solidified herself as one of the preeminent stars in the WNBA for years to come.