Comments? Write firstname.lastname@example.org
After a WNBA Finals appearance in 2021, the Phoenix Mercury had high hopes for the 2022 season, but then tragedy struck. Their star center Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained in Russia and her absence hung over the league, especially her own team, like a heavy dark cloud. No team could have planned for this, but it was not the only thing that derailed the Mercury’s season. The year was outright messy. Tina Charles asked for a buyout mid-season, internal struggles arose, including clashes between Skylar Diggins-Smith and coach Vanessa Nygaard, and the team was sold to a new owner.
Now, the Mercury are aiming to start over – not in the form of a rebuild, but simply by putting all the drama behind them and getting back into contending form. In one way, this season is already a success. Brittney Griner is back, safe, healthy, and ready to play, which will create a completely different energy than what the team showed last season. Not only is she an important locker room presence, but her return will also act as an encouragement, a motivation that they can have a successful season once again. Last season, the Mercury made the playoffs, but yearningly missed Griner’s interior game on both ends of the floor. Her return to the lineup will certainly make the team better, but it is important to not put too much pressure on Griner physically and mentally alike. We should not expect her to play at an MVP level so soon after what she went through.
Other than what shape Griner will be in to begin the season, there are plenty of other questions concerning the Mercury’s roster. The most pressing one is when Diggins-Smith will be back from her maternity leave and how much we will see her on the court this season. She was the team’s leading scorer last season with 19.7 points per game and their best passer with an average of 5.5 assists per contest. The Mercury brought in Moriah Jefferson, who averaged 10.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.2 steals for the Minnesota Lynx last season, but this is a big hole to fill in the lineup. Someone else will have to step up to make up for the scoring the team will be missing in Diggins-Smith’s absence. Of course, Griner will probably average somewhere around 20 points but if the Mercury really want to be a contending team, they need more. Diana Taurasi put together a nice season last year, but she is aging out of her prime. So, hopefully, Sophie Cunningham can continue on the same trajectory that she found last season as one of the most improved players in the league or Michaela Onyenwere and Brianna Turner can rise to the challenge.
The next question is when Shey Peddy will return. She had a promising season, almost doubling her scoring compared to the 2021 season, before going down with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Peddy has already started working out and having her back as soon as possible would be big but how well will she be able to perform right away and how much can she play without running the risk of reinjuring herself?
Last but not least, the biggest question is who will even make the roster. The Mercury only have room for 11 players which means that some deserving players will probably be left out. While Diggins-Smith is out, the starting lineup will most likely be Diana Taurasi, Moriah Jefferson, Sophie Cunningham, Brianna Turner, and Brittney Griner. That already leaves the Mercury with only a rough handful of roster spots to fill. Michaela Onyenwere, and Shey Peddy should be locks on the bench.
After that, the Mercury have some tough decisions to make. Other than some teams, they do not have a lot of players who are 100 percent sure to make the team, but they also do not have a lot of hopeless cases. Destiny Harden, who was the 27th pick in this year’s draft, for example, is an interesting prospect and looks pretty much pro ready. Now, the question is just if there is a spot for her on the roster and if the Mercury can spare the minutes to develop her. The same goes for Kadi Sissoko, who went 29th in the draft and has been competing hard in training camp so far.
Considering the Mercury’s core and the talent between and around Taurasi, Griner, and Diggins-Smith, Phoenix should be one of the better playoff teams. Actually, there is a certain pressure on them to have a successful season and be in the mix with the top teams. They made it to the finals before, after all, and Taurasi, along with the other main pieces, is only getting older. It seems that now is the time for the Mercury to give it their all and aim for nothing short of a deep playoff run before their window closes. They are competing with two super teams in the New York Liberty and the Las Vegas Aces, however, so the road to success will not be easy. If they run into the Aces in the first round again, a repeat of last season – meaning a first-round playoff exit – is not impossible. There is no shame in losing to a championship level team featuring some of the biggest names in the league but exiting the playoffs that early would be a great disappointment for the Mercury.
One thing is for sure, though, no matter how the season goes, it will be amazing for fans, teammates, and opponents alike to see Britney Griner back on the court and competing in the WNBA.