2017 WNBA preview: Extreme Makeover, Phoenix edition

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 7: Alexis Prince
PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 7: Alexis Prince /
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Most speculators aren’t sure what to make of Phoenix and all of their new pieces, but there is a tinge of continuity as the 2017 season approaches. Last year, Phoenix hovered in the middle of the pack in multiple stat lines. So far, the Associated Press preseason poll and ESPNW power rankings have the Mercury ranked sixth.

Rankings aren’t a concern as the players continue their practice sessions. Discovering an identity could require a few games, but Robinson is pleased with the team’s progress.

“I don’t think it’s going to be hard because our basketball IQ is so high and we have so many vets that have been in the league. We all know what types of players we have and what we can do,” she said.

PHOENIX, AZ – OCTOBER 2: Brittney Griner
PHOENIX, AZ – OCTOBER 2: Brittney Griner /

To borrow a term used to describe the Phoenix fan base, the “X-factor” who could sway the Mercury’s viability is Griner. The 6’8″ center remains the undisputed queen of blocks, but her 2016 campaign was not her best outing. Her defensive rating went above the 100 mark for the first time in her career, and she saw reductions in rebounds, blocks and efficiency rating. On several occasions, Griner was outworked on the boards by her smaller opponents. Without her usual support options, Griner may need to step up her intensity. Her blocking ability has stymied many opponents since she arrived in 2013. Imagine how ferocious she could be if she followed suit on the boards and her short-range game.

No one would dispute Taurasi’s level of ferociousness, but increasing productivity is an imperative for the seven-time All-Star. Last year, she posted career lows in field goal percentage (.396) and efficiency rating (18.3). However, Taurasi can still shift seamlessly between the one and two positions, and having Robinson as a floor general should bolster Taurasi’s offensive output.

Phoenix has enough returning talent to reach the playoffs again. Los Angeles and Minnesota are the barometers for this team’s potential, and should Phoenix perform well against them, they could be a sleeper team in the quest for a championship. Over the years, fans know not to underestimate any team with Taurasi on it, and this year is no different.