If you're like me and questioned the Mercury's giving up a first round pick for Kara Braxton, tonight's game should go a long way towards making you a believer.
It wasn't so much the 20 points she scored in just over 18 minutes (9-for-13 shooting) as much as how quickly and seamlessly she fit into the team's already potent attack.
One would reasonably expect some time to draw up new plays and learn how and where to get her the ball but in just her third game she was already moving to her spot on the low block in the secondary break. She's able to use her body to seal the defender and catch a pass on the baseline and then quickly attack the rim with great effect.
One several occasions, the Mercury wings would get her the ball in a the mid-post area and then players like Dupree and Bonner would cut down the lane for an easy pass.
It's a very different look for the Mercury who were already rounding into form with the transition attack and pick and roll offense that creates match-up nightmares for opposing teams. Adding this kind of low-post power game to the mix almost seems unfair.
Asked if she's fitting in to the Mercury quicker than she thought, Braxton said, "Yeah. A lot quicker."
She credits the "advanced players" on the team adding, "I'm ecstatic, happy that they're seeing me and they're getting me the looks that I am and they have the confidence to actual give it to me. You know, coming on a new team more than half-way through the season, it's hard to just get in and mix with the team. I'm just happy with the performance tonight."
Diana Taurasi, after joking about Braxton saying, "She sucks, she still has to get in shape" said this, "I've known Kara for a long time. We've known each other since we were little playing against each other in AAU and I alway thought she was one of the best centers and when she's determined on the court - you saw what she did today. Definitely something we haven't had ever since I've been in Phoenix."
Of course, Taurasi is only half-joking about Braxton getting into shape.
"I'm trying to get her little-by-little into game shape. Don't let me get her in game shape. Don't let that happen because that's, you know..," Gaines said as kind of a ominous warning to the rest of the league.
Braxton's impact on the court certainly helped the Mercury score 78 of their 110 points in the paint and lead to wide open three's that according to Gaines were so open the team wasn't able to knock them down. The 2-for-15 long range shooting certainly supports the the not knocking them down part.
If those go in at anywhere close to a normal rate, the Mercury would easily have set another WBNA scoring record which would have been their third this month.
The ball movement was incredible as well. Players are finding each other all over the floor both on the break and in sets. The team had 30 assists on its 47 field goals with Taylor and Taurasi each with seven and Temeka Johnson with 8. Dupree and Braxton each had three assists as well from the post. The number of ball handlers and passers is really the foundation of this team's explosive scoring potential.
Even before Braxton arrived, the Mercury were using Taurasi more as a facilitator in the half-court and had figured out how to use Candice Dupree's talents.
"She has the best hands I think I've ever seen on a post player. I mean, the ability to run full-speed, catch and score. It's really an ability a lot of people don't have and she's really good at it. She's so smooth and I think everyone knew that coming in. She's so fluid in everything she does," Taurasi said about Candice Dupree who finished the month of July with a career month in which she averaged 22.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, and shot 69.7% from the field.
The Mercury improves to 6-3 in the month of July making it the most successful month of the season. In the two championship seasons (2007, 2009), the club posted its best record of the year in July following the worst month, June. Including back-to-back WNBA record nights, the team has averaged 105.3 points per game this month.
You would be hard pressed to convince me that this Mercury team isn't much better than last season's. Unfortunately, the Seattle Storm are exponentially better as well.