Midseason Checkup: Phoenix Mercury

A discussion of the Phoenix Mercury's progress at the midseason mark of the 2018 season.

Here we are, approximately halfway through the 2018 WNBA season and a month away from the 2018 All-Star game in Minneapolis, MN. The Phoenix Mercury have really ramped up their quest for a fourth championship this season and currently sit at 11-5. But what does this actually mean? Let’s discuss.

Ready to Rumble

Losing to the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2017 WNBA Semifinals left a bad taste in the Mercury’s mouth. They decided to be more aggressive in the offseason and loaded up on a few more All-Stars: they acquired Briann January from the Indiana Fever in a trade and signed free agent Sancho Lyttle from the Atlanta Dream. Phoenix also saw the return of All-Star DeWanna Bonner, who sat out the 2017 season due to pregnancy (she gave birth to twins in July 2017 with All-Star wife Candice Dupree, formerly of the Mercury and now with the Fever). The Mercury added through the 2018 WNBA draft with first-round pick Marie Gülich of Oregon State.

The Mercury got off to a quick start this season, winning the first two games of the regular season before losing the next three. Phoenix then went on an eight-game winning streak before falling to the defending national champion Minnesota Lynx, and then the Chicago Sky.

They got back on track with a win over the New York Liberty.

The Past As Prologue

Most of these wins were a group effort, with Lyttle and Bonner helping a lot on defense while January provided more perimeter shooting. Both Bonner and January are also hot from the 3-point line. But for certain close games -- including one against the fledgling Las Vegas Aces -- Phoenix relied on its usual one-two punch of Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner to pull out the win.

While this is understandable, this is what Phoenix has done ever since Griner was drafted no. 1 overall in 2013. The onus has fallen even more on Griner this season, as she hopes to win her first ever league MVP award (she was second in voting last season, losing to Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx).

I get it; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But to use another adage: if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.

The Mercury need to rely less on Taurasi and Griner, and lead more on the other players they hustled to add to the team in the offseason.

Let’s Chill

To add to the previous sentiment, the Mercury sometimes seem to rest on their considerable laurels. When you’ve been so good for so long (and with three national championships to boot), it can be difficult to put forth more than the minimal effort. When you’re led by a player as accomplished and hands-on as Taurasi, the urge to chill is even more pronounced. As referenced above, there have been more than a few games this season where the Mercury has coasted a bit until the fourth quarter, when they've gotten into a bit of trouble and then turn on the jets to get the win. Unfortunately (depending on your point of view), this method has worked so far (see: 11-5 record and third-best team in the league ranking). However, the Mercury can’t continue to pin their hopes on this method; not if they plan to hoist the championship trophy in September.

You’re The Real MVP

Taurasi is the undisputed leader, the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time) of the Mercury, and one of the G.O.A.T.s of the entire league. But ever since last season, it seems as if Griner is finally coming into her own. This season, her teammates should be laying palms at her size-17 feet every game night because it has been her hustle play (not Taurasi’s) that has mostly cleaned up the Mercury’s messes when they are in danger of losing a game. Combined with her historical milestones this season (see below), Griner is on the fast track for league MVP.

Historical Facts

2018 has been a rather historic season for the Mercury. Taurasi not only earned her 8,000th career point

but also made her 1,000th career three-pointer in fewer games than any player (400 games or less): joining the likes of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Griner made her 500th career block in the June 1 game against the Lynx;

she ties NBA Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning with achieving the goal in 153 games, the fourth-fastest in either league’s history.

Lyttle moved to 14th on the WNBA’s all-time rebounds list.

The Phoenix Mercury...continuing to make HER-story!

The Chase -- 2018 edition

The Mercury are in a good position to make a solid run in this year’s playoffs, but there is still room for improvement if they hope to make it to the Finals for the first time since 2015. To wit, they have to go through the rejuvenated Minnesota Lynx, who have regained their groove, and the Los Angeles Sparks, who are currently the top-ranked team in the league.

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