It was an incredible season for the Phoenix Mercury. In the absence of traditional leadership the team was able to watch a reserve emerge into an All-Star after years of being known as the best reserve while developing a rookie point guard into a future star herself. In a lot of ways this was a great year.
By no means does this mean it was a successful season. There is a difference between seeing the positives in a season and having a successful season.
This season was by in large the worst in franchise history. The team finished with a franchise low in wins (7) as well as the lowest winning percentage (20.6) in team history. That was due to being the fourth lowest scoring team (74.5) in the league and the worst defensive team (86.7) in the WNBA partially because they had the second worse turnover differential (-3.4) per game.
On their way to that 7-27 record the team fought night-in-and-night-out giving the fans a team worth being proud of. They never quit in a game no matter the outcome, no matter the appeal to quit. Even in a 42 point route verse San Antonio or a 31 point roughing against Chicago, the team showed up.
Those intangibles were not seen by the masses, but by the commited fans and those who showed up two hours before tip-off (like myself) and got to see the team interacting. They were as positive as a team you will ever see and to the untrained eye as outsider would have never known they were the second worst team in the league.
A lot of that had to do with injuries. It wasn't the underlying issue, it was the only issue.
Penny Taylor (34), Diana Taurasi (26), Candice Dupree (21), Charde Houston (7), Samantha Prahalis (6), and Nakia Sanford (4) missed a combined (98) games this season. Let that soak in for a minute.
For basically the entire season the team was without not only the leadership of two All-Star veterans in Taylor and Taurasi, but the combined 38.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 8.3 assists per game they brought to the table nightly.
Without the normal leadership on the court, DeWanna Bonner stepped up to be that leader in a variety of ways.
Bonner finished with an increase of 10.2 points per game to finish second in the WNBA in scoring. Quite a leap for a three-time Sixth Woman of the Year, which going forward, is not what Bonner is as she has emerged as a bonafide All-Star herself.
That was a nice surprise for the Mercury, but equally as surprising was the play of Krystal Thomas as she was an absolute beast on the glass. After being cut in training camp Thomas came back to the team early in the season at Atlanta. Thomas finished the year averaging 8 rebounds per game including 10 games with 10+ boards finishing fifth in the league.
Only Tina Charles (19), Candace Parker (19), Sylvia Fowles (16), and Rebekkah Brunson (11) had more double-digit rebound games than Thomas. Let that soak in.
The good moments in a season like this are few and far between, but the double-overtime come from behind thriller against Atlanta was as memorable as they come. Down five inside a minute it took an offensive rebound for a put back, a steal by Prahalis, and a deep Bonner three to send this game into extra minutes. In the end the Mercury fell short, but battled a Championship caliber team to the wire.
Then, fourteen days after an embarrassing 42 point loss to the Silver Stars at home the Mercury returned the favor in the same building playing on another level to get redemption with an upset win at home. It was all balance as Bonner netted 22 points playing second fiddle to Taurasi as she had her best showing of the season with 25 points.
This season is now over and the next one begins a mere 72 hours later as the draft lottery commences. It looks like the team has some major decisions to make with the roster to get down to a concise ten player rotation. The good thing is the team had informal -- live action -- workouts as half their roster at one point was on a 7-day contract.
- DeWanna Bonner - Easily the team MVP and one of the candidates for the WNBA MVP when all is said and done. Bonner shouldered the load after all the stars went down, but by herself, she was not enough to win more than seven games.
- Candice Dupree - The best forward in franchise history re-signed towards the end of the year securing the core for years to come. She opens up the floor for the dynamic scorers to do what they do best.
- Samantha Prahalis - No question she was the most dynamic rookie, not the best rookie, but a pleasant surprise that came on strong in her first year. Prahalis has a long way to go, but without her the Mercury were a speedboat without a motor.
- Alexis Hornbuckle - Rugged defense is not what this team is usually known for, but Hornbuckle became a perimeter enforcer a la Ron... Metta World Peace. Of everyone on the roster she came along the most improving her offense, handle, and running the team when Prahalis and Bonner were out.
- Krystal Thomas - As Ann Meyers-Drysdale told me during the final game of the season, "Do you remember the starting center during our two Championships? No, exactly." Well, with Thomas you may have to remember her going forward with the way she owns the glass.
- Charde Houston - The prototype Sixth Woman in the way she scores and comes in knowing her role. She was on a role before she was injured and when she came back Houston appeared to regain that momentum.
- Lynetta Kizer - She brought a different dynamic to the forward/center spot as more of a scorer and shooter. Kizer fit in to the line-up no matter who was on the court and could be the teams 10th Woman next year.
- Nakia Sanford - The veteran was key to the locker-room staying positive and her three-point attempts always got the crowd off of their feet.
- Dymond Simon - As a local product she had the fan support, but it wasn't until a late season game against Tulsa that Simon gained the support of her peers as she went for a career high in points, rebounds, and assists.
- Diana Taurasi - No question the biggest cheerleader, fan, and unofficial coach of the team was face of the franchise Taurasi. All season she was at games, practices, and jumped off the court at every break in the action to encourage her teammates during games. Consummate professional and teammate.
- Penny Taylor - Despite not being able to play Taylor made the trip from Australia to Phoenix to root on her teammates. That is dedication and support.
- Briana Gilbreath - It was a short run of 11 games, but Gilbreath showed she is the definition of a team player. She filled right into her role as a defender and spot-up shooter. No question Gilbreath was one of the best Mercury players down the stretch and will be on a roster next year.
- Avery Warley - It was a bit of a shock that Warley was cut, but she became expendable with the emergence of Thomas and the need for perimeter players. Her brash style going after every rebound made her a coaches favorite.
- Alexis Gray-Lawson - She was always a fan and media favorite, but after a disappointing start and an injury to boot Gray-Lawson was cut to make room for the likes of Kizer, Simon, and Gilbreath.