A quick thought exercise regarding the makeup of the Mercury rotation when Diana Taurasi returns from back surgery.
The Mercury season will change the day Diana Taurasi returns to the lineup, but it’s still unclear when that will be.
Taurasi was listed as questionable early last week in the lead-up to Phoenix’s matchup Sunday night against the Sparks, but did not play. She will be a game-day decision again Friday when the Mercury host the Fever. Should her body eventually respond well to full basketball activity, we can expect Taurasi will return soon.
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With Yvonne Turner overseas for the Eurobasket competition and the Mercury rookies underperforming relative to expectation, the rotation is no sure thing like Phoenix may have expected when they penciled in this stretch of games for Taurasi’s rotation. They need her more badly than they could have predicted.
Below is a rough sketch of what Phoenix’s rotation might look like with Taurasi in the fold (starters are italicized):
G – Briann January, Diana Taurasi, Leilani Mitchell, Sophie Cunningham
F- Essence Carson, DeWanna Bonner, Sancho Lyttle, Camille Little, Alanna Smith
C – Brittney Griner, Sancho Lyttle, Brianna Turner
January is off to an incredibly hot start from deep this season, shooting 48 percent from behind the line on 21 attempts this season. She has been intermittently aggressive, but her real value comes as a spot-up shooter and secondary attacker, a role she will be able to fall into comfortably with Taurasi in the mix. Taurasi will be Phoenix’s primary offensive initiator when she arrives.
The Mercury need it. They have been in the bottom half of the league in offensive efficiency through eight games. Griner has struggled to maintain her usual level of impact on the block and the ball is not moving like coach Sandy Brondello demands.
Bonner has done all she can as a scorer and playmaker, but she is better suited in a secondary role as a finisher rather than initiator. Carson, on the other hand, will stay put as a floor-spacer and find herself with more open threes.
Most importantly, the bench will recover. Several early season games saw Brondello forced to play all five starters nearly 40 minutes apiece with Lyttle the only trustworthy reserve, even as the veteran big worked her way back from an ACL tear. With Taurasi back, Mitchell becomes the first player off the bench, and just in time. Her pick-and-roll scoring helped Phoenix to a much-needed victory over Los Angeles on Sunday.
Alongside Mitchell will be Lyttle and Cunningham, the only two other bench players Brondello has trusted this year. Against the Sparks, nether Turner or Smith played. Perhaps that changes as they are insulated by Mitchell’s ability to run the offense in the second unit, but the Mercury don’t have many options. Mitchell will be relied upon heavily.
Later in the year, Yvonne Turner will rejoin the roster as well, at which point ideally the rookies will be making a more consistent impact. The end of the WNBA season requires coaches to shorten their benches, and that trimming happens even more aggressively in the postseason. It’s not a requirement to have outstanding depth.
But Phoenix will feel much better about their ability to hold leads and give their veterans rest once Taurasi is back.
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