The rich got richer as Phoenix added four via draft and trade
It’s almost unfair. They were one of the last four standing last season, bowing out to the eventual WNBA Champion Seattle Storm in the semifinals. They’re a team with a Big Three that include Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and DeWannna Bonner. And, still, the Phoenix Mercury ended up with three of the top 13 players taken in Wednesday evening’s draft.
“We have pieces for our future to go with our core veterans who were four minutes away from being WNBA Champions last year, in our minds,” Mercury GM Jim Pitman said.
The Mercury drafted Stanford star Alanna Smith with the eighth pick, traded center Marie Gülich to Atlanta for No. 11 pick Brianna Turner of Notre Dame, and used a pick acquired from Las Vegas to take Missouri’s Sophie Cunningham thirteenth. They also nabbed Louisville’s Arica Carter with their third-round pick at No. 32.
Smith is a versatile forward who can rebound, block shots and shoot from outside. She led a team that won the Pac-12 Tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight with 19.4 points per game. Her points came on a 51.5 percent shooting percentage, including 39.7 from outside. She added 8.6 rebounds and 2 blocks per game to that stat line. She also has experience playing for the Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello with the Australian national team.
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“I’m just so happy to be a part of this draft class,” Smith said. “I think it’s really strong. Again, happy to go anywhere, and I’m so happy to get to play under Sandy, too.”
With the skill sets of the front court players already on the roster and her fellow draftees, Smith will probably play the stretch four. She’s not wedded to the idea, though.
“I think that my ability to play multiple positions will help me,” she said. “If they need to be at the five, I’ll pay the five. If they need me as a stretch four, I’ll play a stretch four.”
Turner has the numbers of a more traditional five. She averaged 14.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for the ACC Champions and national runners-up. She had an offensive rebound rate of 11 percent this season, placing her in the top 10 percent of Division I. She also ranked No. 51 in blocks, sending back 2.8 shots per game.
“The trade for Turner came before the pick for Sophie,” Pitman said. “We wanted to get younger, more athletic, a better rebounding team. The opportunity to add Brianna Turner when we did just presented itself. It was a piece that we felt was really complementary to what else we were drafting. We think that Turner and Smith can play well together as we move forward, and Sophie is a three. We think we’ve improved our depth, and have a chance now to really compete for a title.”
As for Cunningham, she brings the kind of tough guard play that Taurasi is known for. Her 17.8 points per game led the Missouri Tigers this season. She shot just over 48 percent from the floor, and was good for 40 percent from the 3-point line.
“By all accounts, she’s got a lot of skill,” Pitman said. “Like Sandy said, can shoot the three well and spread the floor for us. She checks off a lot of boxes.”
She also has a bit of a reputation. Cunningham fouled out of eight games during Missouri’s 35-game season and racked up four fouls in seven more.
“It’s a tough league,” Brondello said, adding that, “Sophie’s seen that. People say she’s dirty. I don’t think she’s dirty, she just plays the game hard. She’s got that will to win, a bit like Diana Taurasi. We like those kinds of players here.”
While “dirty” might not be accurate, Cunningham strongly agreed that she and Taurasi might make up the “best trash-talking duo in the league,” as one reporter phrased it.
Carter rounded out the night for the Mercury. On a roster that will consist of seven guards, six forwards and one center vying for 12 spots, it might be difficult for her to find a place. It’s the double-edged sword of getting her name called on draft night by a team that is stacked and ended up with two first-rounders and the top second-rounder. If she does, it will likely be on the back of a 2.13 assist-to-turnover ratio that ranked in the top 2 percent of Division I.
With the night over, the Mercury looked like one of the clear winners on draft night. Not only did the three-time champs get players who can help them now, but they got players who can carry them into the future as their roster continues to age. It was definitely a case of the rich continuing to prosper.
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