The Phoenix Mercury is 2-7, we really shouldn’t be surprised

Chicago – Phoenix MercuryLosing 73-70 on Tuesday against Chicago Sky The same team that beat them in the WNBA Finals last season was by all accounts a step in the right direction for a team desperate to win. Diana Taurasi He was fired late in the second quarter, but short-handed Mercury still managed to overcome a double-digit deficit to advance by eight for fourth, putting himself close to hand for the win. That was more than Phoenix could say in many other games this season.

But moral victories mean little amid a six-game losing streak and a 2-7 start to the season, even when considering off-season staff changes and a first-year head coach. Vanessa Nygaarddoes not reflect the level of talent on the Phoenix roster.

How did a Mercury team that entered the 2022 season with championship expectations or collapse get here during the first quarter of the season, and most importantly, how is Phoenix changing things up?

With Mercury out of his first WNBA Finals appearance since 2014, some predicted that even after the sudden decision to replace coach Sandy Brundillo, the team would be as dangerous as ever after signing a former best player. Tina Charles and gained Diamond DeShields Via Triple Band Trading. With four Olympic gold medals and a young DeShields star, the thinking was that Mercury could be a super team that would rule the summer.

Phoenix had to deal with both emotional and basketball Britney GreinerDetained in Russia since mid-February. But even taking her absence into account, the team’s record doesn’t tell the full story of its woes. Mercury’s net rating – 9.3 is the second worst in the league (10th in both offensive and defensive rankings), and the last with a rebound rate (47.3%). While attack has struggled at times, defense – with Phoenix allowing 106.8 points per 100 possessions – has always been the concern.

Remove Griner and Kia nursewho is still recovering from an ACL rupture in October 2021, from a unit that finished seventh in the defensive rankings last season without adding any off-season defensive additions and it wasn’t shocking, it’s over here.

While Charles was the acquisition of a prized free agency for Phoenix, how she and Greiner were expected to share the floor is a bit murky, with Charles thriving primarily working indoors even as she expands her game. Even with Griner out of the equation, Charles struggled to get off the ground in Nygaard’s system. According to the basketball reference data, Charles’ field goal percentage has a special effect Dropped within 3 to 10 feet from the edge From last year to 2022 (51.9% to 34.2%). Defensively, it was unable to provide the strong inner presence that Mercury desperately needed due to shortcomings elsewhere.

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Britney Greiner’s teammates talk about her absence after 100 days of being unjustly detained in Russia.

Torassi, who struggled with injuries most of last season, was a far cry from her second-team performance for 2020. According to basketball reference research, her net/minus per 100 ownership sits at -20.2, which is a pretty low team — and while her offense used to On making up for her defensive weaknesses, that has not been the case this season. Her reimbursement would be 30.3% of the 3 lowest career level (not counting the 2019 campaign, when it was only suitable for 6 matches).

DeShields fit and use alongside the likes of Taurasi, Skylar Diggins Smith, Charles and – was she here – Greiner was also a baffling concept this season. DeShields ranks seventh in the league in usage rate (29.0%) despite only firing 40.8% from the field, including 25% of 3.

Phoenix’s regular season struggles aren’t necessarily new. Since 2019 – when the list as it now appears first began to take shape with the choice of draft selection Sophie Cunningham and trade for Brianna Turner Mercury has never finished better than fifth in the WNBA standings, and his net worth has never been better than fifth. That translated into post-season as well, including after bringing in Diggins-Smith in 2020: After failing to advance after the singles elimination rounds in 2019 and 2020, Mercury sat in a 9-10 entry in the 2021 All-Star Break, and after earning the seed No. 5 in the playoffs, tied 12-20 New York Liberty The team won the first round by one point. Then Phoenix defeated Seattle Storm The team that was missing Briana Stewart In extra time to advance to the semi-finals.

clutch performances from role players such as Cunningham, something in my hand Turner helped Mercury extend their post-season run, a reminder that even the most talented of the Big Threes can’t be counted on to do everything for their teams to win. But last season’s Finals appearance was largely driven by MVP-level play on both ends of Griner throughout the second half of the regular season and playoffs. Although her contributions to basketball are far from the preoccupation of her loved ones, her absence reveals just how important she has been and will be to Mercury’s success.

Phoenix has the time and talent to turn things around. Mercury has a more favorable schedule going forward after several matches against top-tier teams loaded in the first three weeks of the season. But they can’t skate on talent alone.

They need to find something like a defensive heartbeat, which they’ve shown at times against a Chicago team with an attack capable of being the best in the league. Nygaard and the players emphasized that the connections, covering each other, and tying back-to-back stops together were points of focus. The nurse’s return at the end should help, too.

“Attack isn’t really our problem,” said Deshilds. “We know we’re a team that can score.” “The most important thing for us was our defense. We are proud of our efforts [Tuesday]The way we communicated.”

Last season, Mercury showed that offensive firepower can mask defensive problems. Can they find their rhythm on this ending now? Nygaard was impressed by her team’s ball movement on Tuesday, a move that allowed the players to hit Charles in their positions for a slew of middle jumpers, flourishing in the second half. But who will be the focal point moving forward? DeShields may lead the team in field shooters per game, but Nygaard said that if Charles could score 25 points per game, it would definitely help us. Can Taurasi and Diggins-Smith make the transition out of the arc, and who else can climb up as must-have supplemental options for all the good teams?

Nygaard described Tuesday’s game as “emotional,” a word that aptly applies to Mercury’s season so far. Between the on-court adjustments that have to be made and the undoubtedly stressful off-court turmoil, Phoenix’s trajectory will be impressive as the franchise strives to maintain its nine-year elimination match streak.

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0:20

Jonquil Jones gets up for a hefty third-quarter block for the sun.

Are we beginning to see the separation of levels?

With every WNBA team playing between eight and 12 games and all but a handful of players expected to acclimatize this summer to their teams, it looks like we’re getting a clearer picture with June’s arrival at the teams that make up the top category of title contenders, which It’s still playoff caliber teams that seem destined to miss a postseason chance and end up in the lottery draft.

The Las Vegas Aces The team to be defeated in a league of its own remains as the only team with fewer than three losses, buoyed by big victories over the sky and Connecticut Sun last week. A Connecticut rematch, this time with Sun coaches Curt Miller and Brandi Poole once again on the sidelines upon returning from COVID-19 protocols, awaits Thursday.

The Sophia WashingtonAnd Sun, Storm (who we haven’t seen in full force often) and Sky – none of whom have had more than three losses – have separated themselves as other contenders in the tournament along with Vegas. while the Atlanta Dream (6-3) They exceeded early expectations, and are still striving for a real win on their resume, having beaten any team in the top half of the standings. Their next chance to prove themselves comes on Friday against Chicago and on Tuesday in Seattle.

If the season ends today, then Dallas Suites And the Los Angeles Sparks You will earn the last two break points, while Indiana feverMercury, Liberty and Minnesota Linux Postseason will be missed.

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0:22

Kelsey Plum drains a triple pointer backwards

A win over the Sun on Friday at home would show that Mercury is working to get back on the right track. The fever is promising but it is still small. Lynx and Liberty face an uphill battle as they deal with major injury issues, with Moriah Jefferson And the Natalie Ashunwa indefinitely and Petnia Lani Now marginalized after knee surgery. In Minnesota, it is also unclear when Damiris Dantas Can make her debut in the season and whether Nafisa Collier Will absolutely be back after giving birth last week.

There’s a lot of basketball to be played, but as the season approaches, it’s very likely that both Minnesota and New York will be watching the post-season from their couches on the bingo cards.

fantasy choices

Who starts: Katie Lou Samuelson She’s been stellar since she was made into the Sparks’ base five line-up, making 67% of her 3s in that period. the wings’ Sato Sabali She finds her groove after arriving in Dallas late outside, averaging 15 points in her last two games. Indiana Victoria Viviens She plays her best basketball to start her fourth season in the league.

Priya Hartley (hamstrings) Made her first WNBA season Wednesday. The Next’s Em Adler reported it Stephanie TalbotAnd the So Bird And the Azi Magbegor Everyone should be back from COVID-19 protocols by Storm’s Friday.

Who sits: Lani has been out of New York for at least eight weeks after knee surgery. Minnesota’s Jefferson (quad) and Ochunwa (hamstring) are out indefinitely.

Atlanta Tiffany Hayes (Knee) does not have a schedule for her debut in the 2022 WNBA season.

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