Mo Currie can be the difference for the Phoenix Mercury this year

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JULY 7: Monique Currie
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JULY 7: Monique Currie /

The Phoenix Mercury overhauled its entire roster going into the 2017 WNBA season, expecting fresh talent and exciting chemistry to forge a new era of Mercury basketball. Remarkably, it was instead a familiar face who came to rejuvenate this Mercury season. Mo Currie, acquired on June 28 for Shay Murphy and a third-round pick, represents Phoenix’s best hope to round out the roster now and for the rest of the year.

Speaking with The Summitt before Wednesday’s home tilt against the Indiana Fever, Currie described her comfort in Phoenix: “She (Coach Sandy Brondello) is talking to me all the time about being aggressive, taking shots, just playing my game. I’m comfortable with that, and I’m comfortable with Sandy because I’ve played with her before.”

If all went well, the thinking went, the relationship would be mutually beneficial. Coach Sandy Brondello cited the need to match Minnesota’s one-through-five scoring punch as a primary reason for the move, believing that Currie could join the team’s stars to make it harder for opposing defenses to take a break. The 12th-year wing told the Arizona Republic after the trade that she expected to “take a lot of pressure off both (Brittney) Griner and (Diana) Taurasi”.

On Wednesday afternoon in a loss to the Fever, that potential was on full display, even without Griner. Taurasi went off for 34 points on 20 shots, pulling up without abandon and shredding Indiana’s defense.

But behind the scenes of the Taurasi Show, Currie was playing her best game in a Mercury uniform. She finished both halves with the starters, signaling further trust from Brondello as she finally gets re-acclimated in Phoenix. Most importantly, Currie was the Mercury’s second-leading scorer, with 15 points of her own on an efficient 5-10 from the field.

PHOENIX, AZ – JULY 19: Monique Currie
PHOENIX, AZ – JULY 19: Monique Currie /

Since the trade, true to her word, Currie has been one of the best off-ball scorers in the league. According to Synergy Sports data, she ranks in the 99th percentile as a spot-up shooter in eight games with the Mercury, shooting 57 percent on those looks. Currie has scored 1.14 points per possession in catch-and-shoot situations, and is already excelling from 3-point range beyond what she did in San Antonio earlier in the year.

Open shots are coming, and Currie is the beneficiary. She told The Summitt that Brondello has given her “the green light” on offense, making her comfortable serving her role on a more competitive Phoenix team. “I don’t feel like I have any limitations to what I can do,” Currie said of her new opportunity.

Unfortunately, a new challenge has presented itself already for Phoenix in Currie’s short time with the team. Last Sunday, Griner left a game in Minnesota and was diagnosed with injuries to both legs that will keep her out a month. Phoenix padded a lead for themselves in the standings just before her injury, and they still sit fifth in the WNBA standings despite Wednesday’s loss to the Fever. But from now until Griner returns, the pressure is on the rest of the rotation to overcome the 22 points they will be missing each night.

After Wednesday’s game, Currie shouldered that scoring burden despite playing the best she has since arriving in Phoenix. Speaking to gathered media, Currie said “I need to be more aggressive offensively, looking for my shot.” As the two-time member of the Mercury finds her legs after the break, expect that to happen. Few in the WNBA are as aggressive and productive scoring the ball as Mo Currie.

From the June 28 trade for Currie through Griner’s injury on Sunday, the Mercury went 4-2 with wins over Washington and New York. Their only losses in the seven games leading up to Wednesday’s game were at the hands of the Lynx, by far the best team in the league this year. With that difficult portion of their schedule in the rearview mirror, Phoenix will look now toward Griner’s return and the playoffs not long after.

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“It’s a big opportunity for some of our players who didn’t play as much because of Brittney to really show what they’ve been working on and what they can do,” Currie told The Summitt before Wednesday’s game. She can count herself among that group. If Currie can meet her own expectations and fulfill the hopes of this Mercury team, it will be because of the work she put in to be exactly the scorer and team player Phoenix needed.