Injuries, Losses Haven't Affected Mercury's Spirit

By Ben York,
Posted: July 1, 2010

A 5-10 start isn’t exactly what anyone expected through the first 15 games of the 2010 WNBA season. Even so, the Mercury continues to remain optimistic – and for good reason.

Yes, they’ve lost 5 games in a row. Yes, there have been injuries. And yes, they obviously would love to be in the position they were in last year through 15 games (11-4). Still, it’s much too early to panic.

Statistically speaking, Phoenix isn’t that far off last year’s pace and is actually ahead in some categories. Last year, Phoenix averaged 92.8 ppg, grabbed 35.0 rebounds per night, shot 46% FG’s, averaged 7.6 made 3-pt FG’s, and dished out 18.4 assists each game. So far, in 2010, the Mercury average 91.5 ppg, 36.9 rpg, 44.7% FG’s, 8.4 3-pt FG’s, and 19.5 apg – very similar to the potent championship offense in 2009.

Their last 5 losses have only been by a combined 24 points (3 by a combined 8 points) which averages out to about 4.8 points each night. In 2 of those losses, Diana Taurasi either didn’t play or played less than 22 minutes total. In fact, Mercury fans might be surprised to know that 7 of their 10 losses overall have come by 6 points or less. Yet, the Mercury still manage to lead the league in scoring, 3-pt FG’s made, 2nd in rebounds, 2nd in assists, and have 5 players averaging over 10 points a game.

Defensively, it’s a similar story. In 2009, the Mercury allowed 89.2 ppg, forced 12.7 turnovers, gave up 37.8 rpg, allowed 42.4% FG’s, and 25 FT’s each night. In 2010, Phoenix currently allows 92.1 ppg, forces 12.3 turnovers, gives up 39.6 rpg, allows 44.4% FG’s, and 22.5 FT’s. As you can see, there isn’t necessarily a number or statistic that is blatantly different than last year’s championship team.

Thus, the problem (for lack of a better term) isn’t so much with one specific area as it is with putting together a complete game from start to finish. We’ve seen the Mercury play brilliantly for 1-2 quarters but due to injuries and fatigue it has been difficult to sustain that pace for the full 40 minutes. It’s no secret the majority of players in the Mercury’s rotation continually compete for league championships overseas and recovering from those grueling seasons in Europe (both mentally and physically) doesn’t happen over night.

Last year, we saw how resilient the Mercury were both in the clutch and when their backs were against the wall. This indelible spirit is still alive in 2010 as evidenced by furious efforts to come back from double-digits in several games only to lose heartbreakingly in the last few seconds. For the players, and the coaches, the team’s ability to unite around each other in the midst of turmoil is undoubtedly a good sign.

“It would be a bigger setback if we were down by 20 and we gave up,” Corey Gaines said after the Mercury’s loss at home against the Sun on June 20th. “That would be something that tells you you’re in trouble, but they didn’t do that.”

In spite of the difficulties, the Mercury’s collective attitude remains positive.

“We have no other choice,” Temeka Johnson said. “We are playing hard and fighting. We believe in each other 100% and we stand behind the saying that things will get better.”

Staying healthy has been another issue. Multiple players have gone through nagging injuries that affect their fluidity and consistency on the court. Perhaps what is most encouraging is that Phoenix hasn’t looked as lethal or smooth offensively as we’re accustomed to and they still lead the lead in the majority of offensive categories. Admittedly, it’s probably not very reassuring but the Mercury could easily be 10-5 at this point rather than 5-10.

The issue then becomes maintaining that level of play from the start of the first quarter throughout the entire game. Make no mistake about it, the Mercury are extremely close to that point. Phoenix is still learning to play together and, at times, can be almost too unselfish as they look to get each player an opportunity to score. In fact, Phoenix averages just over 70 shot attempts per game with 6 players taking over 8 shots each night. For comparisons sake, the Atlanta Dream averages about 71 shot attempts per night and has only 4 players averaging over 6 attempts each game.

But that’s what makes the Mercury so fun to watch; it’s their unselfish nature and ability to have any player on the floor put up double-digits in points. It’s what got them two championships in three years and what they pride themselves on. It’s only a matter of time before the offense truly starts to click and we see what Phoenix is capable of.

And it’s coming sooner than later…