2016 Record: 16-18
Key Offseason Moves:
Acquired Danielle Robinson from San Antonio for Isabelle Harrison & No. 5 pick in 2017 draft
Acquired Camille Little and Jillian Alleyne in a three-team trade with Connecticut and Indiana (Phoenix sent Candice Dupree and the 17th pick in the 2017 draft to Indiana)
Re-signed Brittney Griner to multi-year contract
Signed Leilani Mitchell
History In The Making
Diana Taurasi is already regarded as one of the best – if not the best – to ever play in the WNBA. This season, barring an injury, the Mercury star will officially jump to the top of the all-time leaderboard in two statistical categories. Taurasi is just 178 points from passing Tina Thompson (7,488) as the league’s all-time leading scorer. Currently ranked third behind Thompson and Tamika Catchings, Taurasi is likely to reach the historical milestone within the first 10 or 15 games of the season.
The other milestone is career three-pointers made, which Taurasi will surpass even quicker. The 12-year vet is just six treys behind Katie Smith (906) for No. 1 all time. Taurasi has been one of the league’s best bucket-getters since she came out of UConn in 2004, and it’s only fitting she will be alone at the top whenever she decides to call it a career.
The Dynamic Duo
Many of the Mercury’s familiar faces won’t be around in 2017, including a trio that helped Phoenix win the 2014 title. Candice Dupree (trade), DeWanna Bonner (pregnancy) and Penny Taylor (retirement) will be hard to replace on a team that always has championship aspirations.
But with Taurasi and Brittney Griner, Phoenix still boasts one of the most dominant one-two punches in the game. Griner, a three-time All-Star, signed a new contract in the offseason that assured she’ll be in Phoenix for the long haul. She and Taurasi have also played on the same team in Russia for years, and they’ll be coming off yet another successful season there. Heading into their fourth WNBA campaign together, the chemistry between Griner and Taurasi should be at an all-time high.
Welcome To Phoenix
While the Mercury did lose some key pieces in the offseason, they also upgraded their backcourt by bringing in three-time All-Star Danielle Robinson via a trade with San Antonio. Robinson missed the entire 2016 season due to injury, but before the setback, she proved to be one of the WNBA’s top floor generals. She dished out a league-high 6.7 assists per game in 2013 and ranked in the top four during each of her All-Star seasons (2013-15).
Still very much in her prime, the 27-year-old should provide a huge lift on both ends of the court. At the offensive end, Robinson’s presence will allow Taurasi to play off the ball after she spent significant time running the point in recent years. Taurasi thrived in that role at the Olympics last summer, shooting 57 percent from downtown as Sue Bird handled the point-guard duties.
The Mercury struggled a bit at the defensive end last year, ranking ninth in points allowed per possession. That should change now that they have Robinson, a two-time All-Defensive Team selection.
In addition to Taurasi and Griner – who helped the USA capture gold – Phoenix now has a trio of players that represented Australia in the 2016 Olympics. The club signed veteran guard Leilani Mitchell in free agency, a move that will provide much-needed depth in the backcourt along with Robinson. Fellow Australian Cayla George returns to Phoenix after one year away from the team. Plus, 22-year-old Stephanie Talbot will make her WNBA debut after being drafted by the Mercury three years ago.
Head coach Sandy Brondello was recently named coach of the Australian National Team, and she seems to be recruiting as many of those players to Phoenix as she can. So, despite losing Taylor, the Mercury still possess some of the best international talent in the WNBA.
Although they ended up sneaking into the playoffs and reaching the Semifinals last year, the Mercury finished with a losing record (16-18) for the first time since 2012. Recent history favors Phoenix to turn it around after the down season.
Each of the three other times they finished below .500 in the last decade, the Mercury bounced back with a winning record the next season and made it to the Semifinals, at least. Phoenix also went 16-18 in 2008, and the following year Taurasi led her team to a WNBA Finals victory over Indiana. Thus, the Mercury are a good bet to match their postseason run from a year ago and maybe even get back to the Finals.