Mercury vs Fever. August 10, 2009. Photo by Max Simbron
The Phoenix Mercury were back in the gym today after two full days off. They went hard for almost two hours working on defensive schemes, fast break drills and the like. The mood was a bit lighter than practice last week but hard work was the name of the day.
Corey Gaines is a hands on type of coach who at times will get into the play and demonstrate the rotation or reaction he's looking for. He comes to practice dressed to play and clearly is still in good shape and has some game left in him. Having seen some of the other coaches around the league I can't imagine this is the norm.
Gaines style tends to be instructive without being overly critical which seems to be a nice balance for a team filled with veterans. On the flip side he doesn't appear to enjoy talking to us very much and unlike the other Phoenix head coach (Alvin Gentry) limits his answers to the bare minimum.
It really is a treat to watch pro's practice. Beyond just the effort which one would except, you get a strong sense of how well they understand the game by seeing how fast even the younger players react to the coaches instructions. At this level the game is a series of split second reactions and small adjustments.
All of this discussion of practice comes from an article written by retired Portland Trailblazer beat writer Dwight Jaynes who reminisced recently about the days when NBA teams held open practices. Having experienced both the closed doors of Suns practices and the openness of the Mercury there's little doubt which promotes better understanding and coverage of the team. NBA fans lost something when those practice doors were shut.
Interview with Temeka Johnson
Since coming to Phoenix in a trade with the LA Sparks this off season, point guard Temeka Johnson has experienced a resurgence in her game. Averaging 10 more minutes per game than last season you would expect to see the increase in scoring but more impressive has been the dramatic improvement in her shooting percentages. Meek went from 34% last season and 0% from three (she was 0-10 behind the line) to 45% from the field and 40% from down town on a career shattering 57 attempts. In fact the 57 three's she's shot this season (so far) account for 41% of her career total attempts. In a detailed analysis of WNBA point guards, Johnson was ranked second in the league based on a combination of facilitation, scoring and overall game impact.
When Johnson first came to Phoenix many fans were concerned how she would be able to replace Kelly Miller but as Meek said before the season started, "...once they get a feel for and see how we'll play it, they'll get over it kind of fast...I'm happy to be here and I hope they'll have the same feeling about me once they see me play."
Johnson understandably is still thrilled to be in Phoenix, "I'm still enjoying it. I'm still happy to be here. This couldn't be a better fit for me and my teammates have been nothing but the best since I first stepped in the door."
In the past few weeks Temeka has seen her minutes decline. She averaged 24 mpg over the past 10 games compared to 30 mpg in the first 13 of the season. The decline in floor time comes as her understudy, 2nd year point guard Ketia Swanier continues to show improvement.
Swanier has seen her minutes jump from 9 per game to start the season to 14.4 over the past 10 games. Her speed which Meek readily admits is the faster of the two, along with energy, defense, improved ball handling and decision-making have made it difficult for Coach Gaines to keep Swanier on the bench.
Temeka relishes her role as mentor despite only being four years removed from her own Rookie of the Year season in 2005. Johnson is what my grandmother would call an "old soul" who despite only being 27 years old commands far more presence than you might expect from someone who stands only 5'3".
Temeka said this about her work with Swanier, "She goes hard. She works hard. She listens. She just wants to do what's best for the team. Any time you have anybody like that you're always willing to give them that extra advise or help them with anything they need help on."
Listening to Temeka talk about helping other players and seeing her leadership in action I was moved to ask her if she had any thoughts of coaching, "Maybe but that's kind of hard to say right now." That's a fair answer given how many more productive years Johnson has ahead of her on the court.
Click here to listen to the full audio of the interview. We talked about a few other things like how it is to play with so many other ball handlers who can also create on offense, the resurgence of the LA Sparks and the Mercury team chemistry.
- Nicole Ohlde practiced at full speed today and looked good. She's still officially listed as day to day but once again, I am putting my money on her playing in the next game. When she does play she should be far less "rusty" than her first come back after the foot injury. She going to be needed to match up with Ann Wauters on Thursday
- Cappie talked about her couple of days off in Chicago hanging out at her new place. She ended up being dragged to the gym by Chicago Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas despite her desire to spend a couple of days away from the game. She seemed much more relaxed and back to her happy self
- Cappie did let us know that she's got big plans for her hair come play off time. "It's probably going to be crazy when the playoff's come. I've got a cool little idea. Trendy. Stay tuned."
- Coach Gaines didn't have much else to say about Saturday's loss to the Indiana Fever other than, "they shot the hell out of the ball." The Fever hit 36% from the field and 42% from three
- When asked about Cappie's post game comments that she wasn't active enough going after rebounds, Gaines took the blame saying. "I didn't get them in the spots to get better shots." I honestly have no idea what he was talking about
- Murriel Page continues to rehab and watch practice from the stands
- The Mercury (16-7) next face the San Antonio Silver Stars (10-11). The teams split their season series so far 1-1 but the Stars now have their big center Ann Wauters back with the team
- Look for the Mercury to bring help in the post from a variety of places as they also seek to contain Becky Hammon who is playing fantastic ball right now and Sofia Young who is a deadly shooter
- Like any good team, the Mercury feel they can't be beat if they play their game and Cappie Pondexter once again promised we would see the return of Mercury basketball on Thursday
- If you are considering jumping on the bandwagon, you better jump quick. There's only five home games left before the playoffs start around September 15th
[Note by Phoenix Stan, 08/12/09 9:42 AM MST ]
It is with great regret and tremendous embarrassment that I report spelling "Temeka's" name incorrectly in the original publish of this article. My sincerest apologies to Temeka!