Former Connecticut Huskies headed to Phoenix from New York in exchange for draft assets
PHOENIX – The three-time WNBA Champion Phoenix Mercury today acquired 24-year-old All-Star wing Kia Nurse and wing Megan Walker from the New York Liberty, the team announced today. In exchange, Phoenix has sent its 2021 first-round pick (sixth overall) and 2022 first-round pick to the Liberty.
“With a hard salary cap and great parity in our league, you rarely get the opportunity to add a 24-year-old All-Star, much less a player whose skill set and temperament fits seamlessly with our roster,” said Mercury General Manager Jim Pitman. “Kia Nurse was our top acquisition target this offseason because of her outside shooting, aggressiveness off the dribble, size and versatility on defense, and competitiveness. We welcome her to the Mercury family.”
“If Megan Walker had stayed for her senior season at UConn, we believe that she would have been considered among the top prospects of the 2021 draft class. She shot over 45 percent from three-point range her last year in college, is shooting better than 40% from three in Europe this offseason, and has the potential to be an important part of our roster in 2021. We are excited to welcome her to Phoenix.”
A three-year WNBA performer following a decorated career at UConn, Nurse has averaged 11.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists while playing 89 of a possible 90 career games. Selected 10th overall in the 2018 WNBA Draft, her career scoring average is fourth in her class behind only the top three picks, All-Star and WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Mitchell and All-Star Diamond DeShields. Nurse, named a 2019 All-Star starter, is one of only three players from her draft class to make an All-Star appearance already in her young career (Wilson, DeShields). Nurse earned that berth thanks to a phenomenal sophomore season in which she averaged a career-high 13.7 points and made a career-best 65 three-pointers (6th-WNBA) on a career-best 35.3 percent shooting from long range.
One of the league’s best shooters from any distance, the 6-foot Nurse is one of only eight WNBA players who has made 30 or more threes in each of the last three seasons (Quigley, Vandersloot, Stricklen, Loyd, R. Williams, Atkins, K. Mitchell). And Nurse joined WNBA legend Cynthia Cooper as the only players in the history of the league to make at least 30 threes in each of her first three seasons while shooting 85 percent or better from the three-throw line. Not only is Nurse a prolific free-throw maker (86.9 percent for her career, 12th in league history), she gets to the line at an outstanding rate, fifth among WNBA guards a season ago (Diana Taurasi led all guards).
The Mercury adds Nurse’s outside shooting to a team that finished second in the WNBA in total threes made a season ago (185), surrounding Brittney Griner who led the league in points in the paint (11.7). Nurse will play on the wing alongside Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith, who were the only set of teammates to both rank in the top five in three-point makes last year. The trio of Taurasi (61), Diggins-Smith (46) and Bria Hartley (25) by themselves combined for more total three-pointers than three entire WNBA teams (Atlanta, Connecticut, Las Vegas).
While she has been a part of a rebuilding New York franchise while a professional, Nurse has enjoyed tremendous success at both the collegiate and international levels, winning two NCAA Championships (2015, 2016) at UConn and two WNBL Championships (2019, 2020) with the UC Capitals in Australia during her WNBA offseasons. The sharpshooter was named the 2020 WNBL MVP after leading the league in scoring (20.9), finishing just ahead of new Mercury teammate Brianna Turner, and becoming the WNBL’s first import player to win the award. A member of the Canadian National Team, Nurse also helped guide the Canadians to an Olympic berth during FIBA Olympic qualifiers in Belgium last year.
One of three draft eligible juniors a season ago, the 22-year-old Walker was selected by New York with the ninth overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft after three strong seasons at UConn. While there, she tallied 1,251 career points and 141 three-pointers, and led the team in scoring (19.7) during her junior season. A 6-1 forward, Walker ranked eighth in the country in three-point percentage (45.1), knocking down 78 of her 173 attempts. In addition to being named the 2020 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year in her final season, the Virginia native was honored as a 2020 AP and USBWA First Team All-American.
Walker appeared in 18 games with the Liberty a season ago, averaging 3.3 points and 1.5 rebounds in 11.4 minutes per game. She notched a season-high eight points twice (August 5 vs. Minnesota and September 8 vs. Los Angeles) and grabbed a season-best five rebounds on September 5 against Phoenix.