Mercury start season with strong defense, poor rebounding
PHOENIX — The start of the 2017 WNBA season for the Phoenix Mercury? Night and day.
The Mercury were outrebounded by 24 in the season-opening loss to the Dallas Wings. Three nights later, they dominated the Indiana Fever 85-62.
Their last game was the best of both worlds. The Mercury jumped out to a 12-point first quarter lead against the San Antonio Stars. Phoenix led by 10 at the half, but the Stars raced back. The Mercury won 78-72, but were outrebounded for the second time.
Simply, their defense is solid, their rebounding a work in progress.
Coach Sandy Brondello isn’t panicking.
“There’s always gonna be ebbs and flows in a game, so it’s more about us staying the course and making sure those ebbs are very short lived,” Brondello said.
The Mercury rebounded poorly in their first outing, but improved from the performance.
The improvement came down to better focus.
“It was kind of embarrassing to get outrebounded that way against Dallas,” forward Camille Little said. “So we just put a bigger focus on it and we’ve really been trying to make sure that it didn’t happen again.”
Rebounding hasn’t been the only shortcoming. Brittney Griner is second in the WNBA in scoring, averaging 23.3 points. Outside of the center, the Mercury have had difficulty finding scoring support. Griner is the only player to score 20 or more points in a game.
The Mercury brought in 10 new players for the 2017 season, and the offense could pick up once the team begins to play in sync.
“I’m happy at the moment where we’re at because I know we’re going to get better,” Brondello said.
The secondary scoring will not get any easier as the Mercury enter Tuesday’s game against the New York Liberty without guard Diana Taurasi, who is serving a suspension. The rest of the new roster will have to pitch in for the loss of Taurasi’s production.
“It’s just going to take a little bit more from everyone,” guard Leilani Mitchell said. “I think if everyone gives us two, three, four more points, then we’ll be all right.”
It has not been a bad start to the season despite some weaknesses. The Mercury are the league’s best defensive team, holding opponents to 67.3 points per game and 37.7 shooting.
Brondello has liked the defensive success because it is improved from last season. The new roster has been a large factor in the improvement.
“We brought in players that really complement the system,” Brondello said. “We’re way more athletic, speedier. We just have better players in certain positions that really their main focus is defense.”
As the season continues, the Mercury will look to keep up their defensive success, as well as become a better rebounding team. If they can fix their problems on the glass, they will be a challenge for opposing offenses.
“Imagine what we could do if we got better in that phase and not give them second-chance points,” Brondello said.