The Olympic break couldn’t have come at a better time for the Phoenix Mercury. The squad was 2-4 in their last six games, and one of the most talented rosters in the WNBA was in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
While the team was struggling to meet lofty expectations, the team’s centerpiece in the post, Brittney Griner, was as well. The 25-year-old had only scored 20+ points four times in her first 24 games. She entered her introductory Olympic experience riding a four-point scoring output in a loss to the Sky that was the embodiment of the first half of her fourth WNBA season.
Then, Griner donned the red, white, and blue of the United States and the proverbial switch flipped within her game. She averaged the third most points on the team (9.8) while also shooting the second highest field-goal percentage from the floor (69%).
Since the Olympics, Griner is averaging 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds to go along with 3.8 blocks per game. She has been up to her usual stifling defensive antics and has already tied her mark of four 20+ point games that she set in the 24 games leading up to the Olympic break in the seven since.
Griner’s been able to assert her dominance on the offensive side of the ball through a bevy of wildly athletic moves in and around the paint.
First, she’s shown the willingness to run the floor. At 6’8″ Griner is a load anywhere around the rim, but with a full-head of steam she’s virtually unstoppable.
Next, she’s been willing to put in the necessary work to establish quality position within 10 feet of the basket, allowing herself makeable jump shots to enhance her 53.8% shooting from the field.
Also, Griner’s court vision is much improved since her time spent in Rio where unselfishness was a mantra preached by head coach Geno Auriemma. It seems to have stuck with Griner long after. Double teams will come her way because of her size, her ability to find the open player when the double comes makes the Mercury’s offense that much more potent.
Finally, she still holds a trump card in her offensive repertoire: the dunk. Griner’s tallied a league-record eight dunks in her career. While it may only count as two points on the score sheet it does much more for total team morale while at the same time deflating an opponent.
Overall, the Mercury are one win away from earning a postseason berth and entering the unknown that is the one-game playoff system installed at the start of 2016 season. From a talent perspective the Mercury matchup with any team in the WNBA from top to bottom.
But, with Brittney Griner imposing her will like she has been, Phoenix could be a not-so unknown sleeper poised to make a deep run come October.