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2020 WNBA Team Preview: Phoenix Mercury

The 2020 WNBA season is set to be the most unique in the league’s 24-year history. Teams have arrived at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL to begin training camp for a 22-game season with all games played at a single site without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic. The bubble is set and the season is set to tip-off on July 25. In the lead up to the season, will break down each team in the league, continuing with the Phoenix Mercury.

2019 Season Recap

  • 15-19, 5th in West, 8th in League
  • Eliminated in playoff first round by Chicago

Off-Season Moves

  • Draft: No. 18 Te’a Cooper; No. 29 Stella Johnson; both players have been waived
  • Trades: Acquired Skylar Diggins-Smith from Dallas in exchange for three first round draft picks (2020, 2021); Acquired Jessica Breland and Nia Coffey from Atlanta as part of a three-team trade with Connecticut – the Mercury sent a 2020 2nd round pick to Atlanta and sent Briann January and a 2021 second round pick to Connecticut; Acquired Shatori Walker-Kimbrough from New York in exchange for the draft rights to No. 10 pick Jocelyn Willoughby; Acquired three first round draft picks (2020, 2021) from Connecticut in a sign-and-trade deal for DeWanna Bonner
  • Players Added: Skylar Diggins-Smith, Jessica Breland, Nia Coffey and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough via trades; signed Kia Vaughn and Bria Hartley as free agents
  • Players Lost: DeWanna Bonner and Briann January traded to Connecticut; Leilani Mitchell and Essence Carson signed with Washington as free agents; Camille Little and Sancho Lyttle retired; Jessica Breland to miss the 2020 season with medical exemption
  • Returning Players: Re-signed Brittney Griner; Diana Taurasi, Sophie Cunningham, Brianna Turner and Alanna Smith still under contract

Who’s at IMG Academy

Between free agency, trades, the draft and players choosing not to participate in the season due to health concerns, the teams that take the court in 2020 may look a lot different than they did in 2019. Here’s a look at some of the key players that will represent the Mercury in 2020.

Diana Taurasi

  • 2019 Stats: 6 GP, 21.5 MPG, 4.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 5.3 APG, 10.3 FG% (4-39), 4.2 3P% (1-24)
  • Taurasi was limited to six games in 2019 as back and hamstring injuries kept her out for most of the season. When she was on the court, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer was far from her normal self, as she struggled with her shot and instead focused on plays for teammates. However, when healthy in 2018, Taurasi averaged 20.7 points per game – her highest average since 2011.

Brittney Griner

  • 2019 Stats: 31 GP, 32.8 MPG, 20.7 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 2.4 APG, 0.7 SPG, 2.0 BPG. 56.4 FG%, 33.3 3P%
  • Griner finished as the runner-up for Most Valuable Player after winning her second scoring title and tying for the league lead in blocks; Griner has won or tied for the lead in blocks in all seven seasons of her WNBA career. She has finished in the top six in MVP voting four times, is 2020 the year she breaks through?

Skylar Diggins-Smith

  • 2018 Stats (Dallas, DNP 2019: maternity leave): 34 GP, 32.6 MPG, 14.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 41.6 FG%, 38.20 3P%
  • The Mercury gave up three first-round draft picks in order to acquire Diggins-Smith from Dallas. A three-time All-WNBA selection, Diggins-Smith is a versatile playmaker that has ranked in the top 10 in scoring, assists and total steals three times in her six-season WNBA career. She missed all of 2019 on maternity leave, but showed little rust when she suited up for USA Basketball prior to the pandemic.

Bria Hartley

  • 2019 Stats (Liberty): 24 GP, 22.7 MPG, 9.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.2APG, 0.8 SPG, 37.6 FG%, 32.9 3P%
  • Hartley joins the Mercury after spending the past three seasons with the New York Liberty. She is coming off a 2019 season that saw her post career highs in points and rebounds while posting the second-best assist average of her six-year career.

Brianna Turner

  • 2019 Stats: 29 GP, 15.9 MPG, 4.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.7 BPG, 53.8 FG%
  • Turner is one of three returning sophomores for the Mercury, along with Sophie Cunningham and Alanna Smith, that will look to make a leap in year two after showing promise in their rookie campaigns. After the All-Star break, Turner averaged 25.6 minutes and produced 6.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game as a strong complement to Griner on the frontline.

Three Questions

1. How quickly can the Mercury big three gel?

Griner and Diggins-Smith entered the league together back in 2013 as two parts of the “Three to See” along with two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne. Diggins-Smith has experience playing alongside a dominant big as she did in 2018 with Liz Cambage in Dallas; Diggins-Smith made the All-WNBA Second Team (while Cambage made First Team) and set a new career-best with 6.2 assists per game, which ranked third in the WNBA.

Right behind Diggins-Smith in assists back in 2018 was Taurasi, who finished fourth with 5.3 per game. Both players have been the primary playmakers on their teams for years but sharing that duty should allow the Mercury to be even more dangerous. Both Taurasi and Diggins-Smith can put the ball in the basket and set up their teammates – and know how to find the right balance between the two. It should be fascinating to see how these two dynamic players complement one another this season.

2. Can the Mercury get a full season of healthy Diana Taurasi?

Taurasi was limited to just six games in 2019 due to back and hamstring injuries, and at age 38, she knows the clock on her WNBA career is ticking. As she enters her 16th season and in search of her fourth (and the franchise’s fourth) WNBA title, staying healthy during the 22-game season will be paramount as any missed games are amplified during the condensed season.

The jumper still looks as good as ever.

3. How much will they miss DeWanna Bonner’s versatility and production?

While the Mercury added an All-WNBA talent in Skylar Diggins-Smith this offseason, they lost one as well as DeWanna Bonner is now a member of the Connecticut Sun after spending the first 10 years of her career with Phoenix, and was an integral member of the Mercury’s last two championships. The 6-4 versatile wing stuffs the stat sheets – she averaged 17.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.5 3-pointers per game in 2019.

While Diggins-Smith should pick up most of the slack when it comes to the scoring and playmaking, the Mercury will need to fill the void on the boards, especially with Jessica Breland not playing this season. Phoenix ranked last in rebound rate a season ago (46.9%).

Bonner is one of three starters from 2019 that the Mercury lost this offseason along with Briann January and Leilani Mitchell. Those three players were Phoenix’s second, third and fourth-leading scorers from last season.