Nobody would be surprised if the hypercharged Phoenix Mercury led the league in scoring again this year. The system, as always, is in place, but this year they may also be tops in the league in what No. 6 overall pick Samantha Prahalis calls her "swag."
After trading point guard Temeka Johnson to Tulsa for Andrea Riley, the Mercury drafted Prahalis, an in-your-face point guard, to run the patented, up-tempo system in Phoenix. At first glance, it seems like a perfect fit as Prahalis and Diana Taurasi, emotional in her own right, can feed off each other and become a dynamic backcourt tandem for years to come.
"I see how fierce she is on the court and how much she wants to win," Prahalis said of Taurasi. "I have those similarities. I hate losing and I’m emotional on the court, I get fiery on the court."
Taurasi, who averaged a team-leading 21.6 points per game last year, and Prahalis, who averaged just under 20 points herself as well as more than six assists per game at Ohio State last season, will have to be explosive because the Mercury suffered a huge loss when veteran forward Penny Taylor was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Taylor averaged 16.7 points and nearly five rebounds and five assists per night.
"It’s devastating for us because she is one of the top players in the world," Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said. "She hits big shots for us. She’s tough. Her and Diana complement each other so well, because Diana maybe seems more like the skilled person, but Penny does all the dirty, hard stuff around the basket. She can play the four or the three, she can rebound. She’s one of those types of players that once you watch her play you can’t not like her."
One thing is for sure, even without Taylor and Johnson, the Mercury will be a team that will try to do three things: score, score and score.
"You have to score to win," Gaines observed. "I think still the object of the game is to score more points than the other team, so you gotta score."
Phoenix scored over 100 points in five games (all of them wins) last season, so the team is still clearly talented even without two of its starters from last year. The system that Gaines has in place is something that he firmly believes in, and he still has plenty of weapons like forwards Candice Dupree (14.6 ppg) and DeWanna Bonner (10.7 ppg) to light up scoreboards.
Defensively, however, the team leaves something to be desired, giving up a league-worst 85.9 points per game last year. And, while much of that can be attributed to the extra possessions generated by the team's frantic pace, Phoenix must be able to come up with important defensive stops when needed if it's going to compete with the West's elite. Gaines pointed to the addition of Alexis Hornbuckle from Minnesota as someone who could help boost their perimeter defense .
But, when it comes to Phoenix, it's always about offense, and that's not going to change in 2012.
Not every point guard can succeed in Gaines' system, but Prahalis certainly has the requisite flash to be successful. It will not be easy to replace Temeka Johnson's production as a rookie, but the fate of the Mercury will ride on how quickly Prahalis can adjust to the pro game and to this high-octane system.
“I like to play up tempo," Prahalis said. "I like to push it. Their game, my game, we fit each other really well.”
Win or lose, it's going to be entertaining.
– Anthony Oliva, WNBA.com