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Inside the W: Skylar Diggins-Smith Settles In To New Role With The Mercury

Skylar Diggins-Smith came into the bubble feeling “conflicted”, she acknowledged.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, WNBA players have made difficult decisions about the 2020 season – whether it is to move into the bubble in Florida and play or instead opting not to take part in what is destined to be the most distinctive season in league history. Between the global pandemic and clarion calls for work around social justice, there is plenty of “conflicted” to go around.

But make no mistake, there is no conflict in Diggins-Smith’s heart and mind about her new team – the Phoenix Mercury – or her role in working to help the Mercury earn a fourth WNBA Championship.

 

Diggins Smith hasn’t played in the WNBA since 2018, missing 2019 following her pregnancy and the birth of her son. And she hasn’t played for a new team since she entered the league in 2013 when she was drafted by the Tulsa Shock and then moved to Dallas with the Wings.

“It’s basketball,” Diggins-Smith said. “The ball is still round. It’s still played the same way. I’m just happy to be here.”

The four-time All-Star is settling to a Mercury team that is an interesting mix of old and new at this point. This is a team that is still built around Diana Taurasi, the league’s all-time leading scorer, and Brittney Griner, one of the world’s elite post players.

Diggins-Smith will play a starring role in a backcourt that will include Taurasi – who missed all but six games herself last season thanks to back and hamstring injuries – and another new addition in guard Bria Hartley, who arrives after a six-year stint in the Northeast, splitting her time between Washington and New York.

What the Mercury suddenly have is an abundance of playmakers who can create, distribute and get the ball inside to Griner so she can do her work.

Now the job is to build chemistry.

“It’s been pretty easy so far,” said Mercury coach Sandy Brondello. “They want to win. They don’t care who is scoring and they are developing that chemistry on the court now. It’s great to see. We are going to need to play selfless basketball. They will all get their fair share. It’s all about winning.”

Diggins-Smith feels good about these early days with her new team.

“We have a great group, we have great personalities, everybody is very unselfish,” Diggins-Smith said. “We’re just like everyone else trying to get it together on the floor. That just comes with time.”

Griner said she can already see the benefits for the Mercury.

“Sky is the best, she came right in, she was ready to learn, ready to go,” Griner said. “Before we even were here, she was on the court with D, meeting with Sandy, she was ready to hit the ground and go. She is already helping us tremendously, her split-decision making, finding the open person, attacking and hitting her shots, her taking control. She is really going to open things up for me.”

The Mercury know what they are getting in the 29-year old, six-year veteran, who has averaged 15.9 points a game in her career, including four seasons in which she has averaged at least 17.8 points a game. In 2018 in Dallas, she averaged 17.9 points and 6.2 assists per game.

“We are going to be harder to guard,” Brondello said. “She is going to give us a lot, defensively too. I want her to be one of the stoppers. She is ready and eager and she is going to be a great person to coach.”

Taurasi, who played alongside Diggins-Smith in the fall with USA Basketball and worked out with her in the offseason, said she has always admired Diggins-Smith’s fight and energy, high praise from a player who has been the epitome of both throughout her legendary career.

“I told her from Day 1 that she is a first team All-WNBA player and she should be that again,” Taurasi said. “Nothing changes that with me on the court or BG (Griner) on the court. We need Skylar to be one of the best players on the floor. Nothing changes.”

“It’s a luxury for us to have three point guards. For me, we are all going to play the 1 and we are all going to play the 2. I just keep saying to Skylar and Bria, ‘Play to your strengths, that’s why you are here’.”

Brondello said Diggins-Smith is “back doing everything as well as I’ve seen her.”

To say this is a “comeback” for Diggins isn’t exactly accurate. Diggins-Smith was back on the court last fall playing for USA Basketball. She has been back in action for nearly nine months now. Her body and her game are ready. Now it’s about building connections, Diggins-Smith said.

“I’m playing with the best players in the league,” Diggins-Smith said. “They just told me to be myself. I don’t see myself playing any different.”


Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.