The Phoenix Mercury have lead the WNBA in offensive production for the past several years and the numbers aren't even close this season as this break down shows. This summer's squad is the best ever, scoring four more points per game then the 2007 championship team.
When asked to comment on the Phoenix Mercury who average more points per minute than the NBA's best offensive team last season, Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said this, "They're a better team. I think it's the personnel they have and how they try and play."
The Phoenix Suns last season averaged 89.2 points per 40 minutes while the Mercury are leading the WNBA at 93.3 in the same time frame. This is a remarkable statistic when you consider the Suns have the benefit of easy dunks and tip ins. So while the Suns shot 50.4% from the field and the Mercury are shooting 46.6% the gap is closed at the free throw line where the Mercury benefit from not having a Shaq in their rotation. The women out-shoot the men by a 85% to 74% advantage from the charity stripe. Fundamentals come through again.
Gentry went on to call Cappie Pondexter and Diana Taurasi the best back court in the league and described Penny Taylor as the most fundamentally sound player in the WNBA.
Having been an assistant under Mike D'Antoni for four years before getting his chance to run the team in the final two months of the season, Gentry knows a thing or two about up-tempo basketball. He see's a lot of similarities between the Suns and Mercury, "I don't know that there's a lot of difference between what we do. We try to attack. So does the Mercury. They try to attack on every possession. I think as we try and do with the Suns, Corey [Head Coach Corey Gaines] tries to install a lot of confidence in them in that if you have an open shot you need to take it. And I think that right there is the thing that helps players most. I don't think players feel any pressure to have an open shot and not take that shot."
Like the Suns, the Mercury also give up a lot of points to their opponents. They are last in the league in points allowed. What's different about the Mercury however, is that while they give up a lot of points they also are tied with the league's best defensive team (Indiana) in the critical points differential statistic. As of today, the Mercury hold a slight edge over the Fever with a +3.75 gap between points scored and points allowed.
The mindset of both teams is that they will trade points and limit fouls in order to bait teams into playing their style and wear down opponents that are not used to the pace. Opponents are shooting 41.7% against the Mercury in the second half of games compared to 43% in the first 20 minutes. The Mercury on the other hand take advantage of tired teams as evidenced by an increase from 45.1% to 47.6% shooting between the two halves.
It has long been said that defense wins championships. The 2007 Mercury proved that wrong by defeating a physical, defensive oriented Detroit team in the finals. They look to repeat the same feat again this season by winning with an offense-first mentality.
Suns fans that enjoy high paced basketball might want to pay attention to how a team that is last in rebounding can defeat bigger and stronger opponents.
- The Mercury practiced today for the first time since defeating Atlanta on Saturday night. Team trainer Tamara Poole felt the two days off were important for resting game weary bodies and said they used similar tactics during the 2007 playoff run. Players are tired now but with a little extra rest and the intensity of the playoffs they will be ready to go
- The Mercury, like most teams at this point in the season are banged up with your standard assortment of strains and bruises but at this point no one is injured enough to miss any games
- Diana Taurasi had her left left index finger taped after suffering a strain in the last game and her left calf was sporting that fancy new pink tape that athletes are wearing these days
- Neither issue prevented her from practicing today and in fact she was the last Mercury player to leave the court which is almost always the case
- I asked Diana how she was feeling after practice, "You know it feels good. We got two days off which is nice but you got to get the little rustiness off after two days so today Corey came at us pretty hard."
- Penny Taylor tweaked her surgically repaired ankle at the end of the recent game in Indiana but the incident was minor with no swelling. She was the second to last player to leave the court as she worked on her corner three's long after most of her mates had gone to the locker room
- Coach Gaines is thinking about locking up the best record overall and securing home court through the finals regardless of the opponent. The Fever and the Mercury are both sitting at 22 - 10 with two games left on the schedule
- Gaines isn't sure about the tie break situation but I've been told that the Mercury hold the tie break given that the head to head record is even (1-1) and the Mercury have the better record against the opposing conference
- Regardless, it doesn't sound as is Corey is planning on resting anyone, "Right now we're just going to play our game. We've got to stay in shape. We've got to stay focused and play."
- Asked about the MVP race which seems to be between Diana Taurasi and the Fever's Katie Douglas, Gaines made the case for his player, "I'm going to be bias but it's Dee for me. Defensive wise. Rebounding wise. Scoring wise. The whole year, consistent. I mean I don't what more you need to add on that. She guards the other team's best player most of the time. She plays in a zone and when she doubles she goes and rebounds out of that."
- Taurasi didn't want any part of it, "You know I really don't care. I really haven't concentrated on it the whole year. I've pretty much put my whole focus and energy into the people in our locker room. It happens it happens, it doesn't [insert pause and chuckle] you live to play another season."
- Diana hadn't spoken with her friend Lauren Jackson about the stress fracture in LJ's back but Diana did say she had a similar injury in college and it was very painful
- Taurasi isn't worried about getting up for the game in Seattle on Thursday, "I think the minute you get to Seattle and they're going to have a strong crowd there and they're still going to want to play for their home court so it's going to be a tough game. And we're not going in there with any intentions but playing hard and trying to win the game."
- In the game against Atlanta with the match up of the potential Rookies of the Year, some noticed that DeWanna Bonner seemed to getting a lot of looks perhaps in attempt to inflate her stats in the crucial battle. Gaines denied this saying that she was playing well and had been saying all week that she was ready to go. He said he didn't coach the game any differently
- He did talk about what I think is DeWanna's strongest case for ROY which is her ability to score outside the offense, "You can call it garbage points but those garbage points are the biggest points in the game. Those are points that are like X factors outside your offense. She gets a lot of those all the time. Offensive rebounds. Steals. Hustle points. She runs down and rebounds all the time and when she gets her chance you know, she gets her shots."
- Cappie Pondexter wasn't with the team. She is back in her home town of Chicago at the request of the city's Olympic bid committee to help with some function related to to bringing the summer games to the Windy City. Cappie will re-join the team in Seattle having missed two practices
- In the hair report, back up point guard Ketia Swanier is sporting a new braided look
- The Mercury play in Seattle on Thursday and then the final game of regular season at home Sunday against the LA Sparks. It's a noon game so a good one to bring the kids to. That's my plan
- The Mercury will start the playoffs on the road on either the 16th or 17th and then play the last two games of the three game series at home on either 18th or 19th and the 20th or 21st (if needed). Things are still up in the air but right now it looks like San Antonio will be the 1st round opponent. If the Suns can't beat the Spurs in the post season lets hope the Mercury can take care of business
- It's playoff time, baby! I can't wait