Phoenix Mercury plans some new strategies after getting rid of a seven-match losing streak.
Only one loss can separate the Mercury from a playoff spot as they currently sit in 10th place in the league rankings. What has changed in the past three games to make Phoenix more likely to win moving forward?
The Mercury’s offense has been a rough league average over the course of the first 11 games. But what was their defense? Prior to reducing roughly 10 points off its defensive rating in the final three games, Phoenix had the WNBA’s worst defense through the first eight games.
The fact that Diana Taurasi and Tina Charles, two of the Mercury’s defenders, were absent for almost all of this span is not surprising. Phoenix has enough defensively talented players surrounding the former Huskies to make up for one weak defender. To make up for their lack of size, the Mercury mixed in some zone defense and put players in the paint whenever the Jones frontcourt received a touch.
Phoenix once again adopts the 2020 bubble formula
This team has recently had to play without Griner, for better or worse, as the center-left the WNBA bubble in Bradenton. On this year’s roster, five rotation players remained a part of such a group. They have adopted the approach that was successful in the final weeks of the 2020 campaign. Kia Vaughn is replaced by Megan Gustafson, and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough by Diamond DeShields. With Turner diving to the basket off tough hedges to release pressure, that results in four out and one in. Although she still isn’t a threat to score, her deft passing allows the defense to rotate and gives 3-point shooters decent looks.
Despite an early-season attempt to give DeShields more playmaking opportunities, the Mercury are also keeping the ball in the hands of their guards. Diggins-Smith and Taurasi have been resilient with true shooting averages of 56.6 and 55.6, respectively, and usage rates of at least 25%.
Mercury looking to attack with some aggressive players
Mercury won in 2022 only when Taurasi performs well and she has finally put together a run of consecutive strong games. Phoenix doesn’t want her to roam around much because she is effectively playing the 4 on defense, but the club does need her to be aggressive.
The Mercury have yet to show that they can fully integrate Charles or DeShields. DeShields’ performance will be extremely critical without Cunningham. One victory in seven days does not make up for a seven-game winless skid.
While the newbies find their spot, they at least have a foundation that can maintain them in games. Compared to Phoenix’s team from the beginning of the season, this one is harder.