In her tenth WNBA season, DeWanna Bonner has taken her game to new heights, doing all she can to keep the Phoenix Mercury afloat during the absence of Diana Taurasi. The 31-year-old currently leads the league in points per game (23.8) and free throw percentage (97.2%), while ranking fifth in rebounds per game (8.5) and tenth in assists per game (3.8). Each of these numbers are career highs. And so Bonner, long one of the league’s most dependable secondary options on offense, has thrived as a primary threat.
“I’m just trying to be aggressive,” said Bonner. “Shots are falling right now.”
Bonner loves to get out and run on fast breaks, routinely hustling to finish in transition with long and agile movements. She is dangerous too when driving to the rim; the 6-foot-4 forward uses her arms to twist and shift around defenders, releasing the ball from a variety of angles up against the glass. Her outside shooting (often from well behind the three-point line) cannot be ignored for a single play; once Bonner starts making jump shots, she puts up points in bunches.
“I worked on my pull-up game, mid-range game. So that was something I focused on and I feel like it’s a little bit better this year than it has been in past years,” Bonner said. “I just did a lot of offseason work and so far it’s paying off.”
So, how did Bonner get here? And how did her game evolve into where it is today?
Bonner was selected fifth overall by Phoenix in the 2009 WNBA Draft. The Mercury, coming off a disappointing season, desperately needed to improve their bench, and Bonner soon proved well-suited for the task. In her rookie year, she averaged 11.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, marks that ranked third and first on the team, respectively. Bonner provided necessary support for Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, helping the Mercury rebound impressively to a 23-11 record—first place in the Western Conference. She won Sixth Woman of the Year for her efforts.
The rookie chipped in throughout the ensuing playoff run and Phoenix defeated the Indiana Fever in the WNBA Finals. Alas, Bonner had a championship in her first season.
The following two years saw Bonner establish herself as the premier bench threat in the entire league. She was named Sixth Woman of the Year again in 2010 and 2011, winning the award in three consecutive seasons. Bonner scored 12.0 points per game in her second year and averaged 7.0 rebounds in her third, gradually improving upon her already impressive bench numbers.
Bonner would not be eligible for a fourth consecutive Sixth Woman of the Year award, though, because Phoenix moved her into the starting lineup for the 2012 season. Many of her statistics improved thanks to more minutes and opportunities: she averaged 20.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 2.2 assists per game. But Bonner’s efficiency dropped way down as she adjusted to a heavier scoring load, shooting just 36.4% overall. The Mercury, meanwhile, suffered through a season ruined by injuries to Taurasi and Candice Dupree, finishing with a 7-27 record.
Help, however, was on the way. Phoenix won the Draft Lottery and selected Brittney Griner with the first pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, and the team quickly returned to the playoffs. Bonner improved her efficiency as a starter, not having to force as many shots with everyone back healthy. The Mercury had a core that would last them well into the future.
It all came together in 2014. Five players, including Bonner, averaged double-digits in points. Bonner started every game for a team with incredible all-around talent, coasting to a 29-5 regular season record and another WNBA Finals victory. The Mercury only lost one game in the postseason run. Bonner again did her part on the way to a second ring, averaging 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in the playoffs.
— WNBA (@WNBA) September 13, 2014
In 2015, the team without Taurasi, Bonner again picked up more of the scoring burden, averaging 15.8 points per game. But similarly, to 2012, she saw her field goal percentage dip to 37.8 percent. Still, she was named an All-Star for the first time in her career in recognition of her well-rounded season (Bonner also averaged 5.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game).
Bonner started to display signs of a further breakout the next season. She scored 14.5 points per game, but her field goal percentage jumped all the way to 42.4%. Fans would have to wait to see if that breakout season occurred, though, as Bonner missed 2017 while pregnant, giving birth to twins mid-season.
After a year away from the WNBA, Bonner returned hungry to re-establish her place in the league, and accordingly, 2018 saw her reach new heights. She averaged 17.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game, while shooting 45.2% from the court. Bonner was named an All-Star for the second time and received the Comeback Player of the Year award. Additionally, she dominated in the Playoffs, leading the team in scoring (24.0 PPG) and rebounding (11.1 PPG). The Mercury lost in the Semifinals, but Bonner had shown that she could be a franchise star.
DeWanna Bonner goes OFF for 27 PTS with 11 REB to guide @PhoenixMercury to Game 3 win!
— WNBA (@WNBA) September 1, 2018
In 2019, Bonner has solidified her starring role, dominating week after week. While her league-leading 23.8 points per game are eye-catching, Bonner is also shooting 46.6%, a mark that shows just how much she has improved. She can now truly carry a team.
“We’ve grown a lot. We’re missing our leader,” said Bonner of Taurasi. “We’re just staying the course right now. We’re just sticking with it and trying to get better every day.”
Once Taurasi comes back, Phoenix, thanks in large part to Bonner, will be a major threat in the Western Conference.