Mercury: Looking Forward, Reflecting Back

By Ben York,

With a 7-27 final record, it would be easy to forget (or, overlook) the 2012 Phoenix Mercury season.

But Iíd encourage you not to do that for a couple of reasons.

To start, itís a disservice to the players who have worked extremely hard the entire year. From the veterans who kept the team motivated to the multiple 10-day contract players, each member of the team has selflessly given their all.

That, alone, is worthy of immense respect.

Iím always a glass-half-full kind of guy. Thatís why Iíve chosen throughout the season to look at the adversity the team has faced as an opportunity rather than fall victim to pessimism. But itís one thing to have an opportunity presented to you and another thing to take advantage of those opportunities.

DeWanna Bonner is the quintessential example of that.

Concluding the best season of her four-year career, Bonner has emerged from perennial Sixth Woman of the Year to a bona-fide MVP candidate. DeWanna Bonner scored 13 points tonight, bringing her final 2012 season average to a career-high 20.6 points per game, up 9.9 points per game from last season, the fourth-largest increase in WNBA history.

Thrust into the regular starting rotation, the three-time Sixth Woman of the Year this season recorded career highs in points, rebounds (7.2), assists (2.2), steals (1.7) and minutes (35.2), staring all 32 games she played. Her 35.2 minutes per game this season were the second most in a single-season in franchise history (35.8, Michelle Timms, 1997, 27 games).

Thatís something that should not be overlooked, no matter what the teamís record is.

Another example is Krystal Thomas, who has flourished as a starter this season. After being cut on the final day of training camp, Thomas was signed again just five days into the regular season but played just 44 minutes in her first six games back with the team including two games with a ďDNP Ė Coachís Decision.Ē

Yet, with injuries to half of the Mercuryís frontline (Candice Dupree and Nakia Sanford), it gave Thomas another opportunity to shine.

And she took full advantage of it.

She entered the starting lineup on June 20 and has not left it. In her first game as a starter, Thomas recorded 15 points and six rebounds, compared to a total of 21 points and eight rebounds in all of 2011 with the Mercury. Most recently, Thomas is averaging 9.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in her last four games.

In todayís game against the Storm, Thomas set a franchise record with her fifth consecutive game of 10 or more rebounds (she was just one rebound shy of the franchise record of 19). Comparatively, the entire Seattle Storm starting frontline combined for just 16 rebounds. For Thomas, it was her tenth game of ten or more rebounds this season. Only Candice Dupree has tallied more in a single season in franchise history (11).

Keep in mind, Thomasí ten this season have come in a span of 23 games. Certainly, this is a monumental improvement from being the last pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft and cut by two different teams, including Seattle.

Without the injuries, would this have happened? Maybe. Maybe not. Through hard work and perseverance by Thomas, coupled with the right opportunity, it allowed her to flourish. Again, losing record or not, this accomplishment should not be forgotten.

In terms of looking to the future, itís hard not to be excited about the direction the franchise is heading in. Admittedly, itís strange that the team will be missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and just the second time in the last six years, but itís even more bizarre considering theyíve advanced to the Western Conference Finals four of the past five seasons, including two championships (2007, 2009).

Even so, September 26 could be another turning point in franchise history.

Head Coach and General Manager Corey Gaines will represent the Mercury at the 2013 WNBA Draft Lottery in Bristol, Conn. The Mercury has a 27.6 percent chance of landing the top pick in the Draft which is shaping up to be one of (if not the) most anticipated Drafts in league history.

Even without a top three pick, one has to believe an entirely healthy Mercury team in 2013 will put them back in title contention.

Fans donít need to look that far back to see the impact of the Draft Lottery. In 2009, the Mercury selected a young player out of Auburn named DeWanna Bonner and went on to win the WNBA title that season. Bonner subsequently was named WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year in three consecutive seasons, and this season is an MVP candidate as the leagueís second-leading scorer.

Prior to Bonner, Phoenix has twice owned the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft. In 2004 the club selected Diana Taurasi with top pick and in 2007 the Mercury traded the first pick (Lindsey Harding) to Minnesota in exchange for stretch-center Tangela Smith. The 6-3 veteran helped the Mercury to two WNBA championships, proving to be a missing piece in Paul Westheadís up-tempo offensive system.

So, yes, the future looks bright. But letís not forget about the heart and integrity that the players displayed in 2012.

As the saying goes: ďThe night is darkest before the dawn.Ē

And for the Phoenix Mercury, it seems as if dawn is coming.