Phoenix Mercury: Bigger, Stronger, Tougher

Phoenix Mercury players pose for photographs at media day. Temeka Johnson (left), Kara Braxton (center left), Marie Ferdinand-Harris (center right), Olavinka Sanni (right). (Photo by Ryan Malone, SB Nation Arizona)

The Phoenix Mercury continue to evolve from the fast-paced, outside shooting team to a more balanced club that will look to score more in the post, be less reliant on the pick and roll, rebound, and (gasp) play better defense.

Here's some notes from media day with players talking about the changes.

Less pick and roll and more post play

The pick and roll will still be a staple of the offense but unlike years past, it won't be the only way for the team to score in the half court.

"I don't know that we've run anything from last year yet. Post player does touch the ball a lot more. Still doing screen and roll. Guards get a lot more shots coming off of curls, down screens, stuff like that. So it is a little bit different," forward Candice Dupree explained.

Dupree started last season in about a ten-game funk as she adjusted to her new team and the team recognized her ability to catch and finish on the move. After going to her in too many post isolation situations, they learned how to find her diving to the rim. Dupree finished the season with a league-leading .664 shooting percentage. The player second on that list shot 58.9 percent.

"Here they give me the ball whenever they see me posting up, so I can't complain," Kara Braxton explained.

"Usually, they (the Mercury) were a running, not-stopping team but now they actually have players to post up on the inside and get the ball and really bang in there so it's going to be a whole new dimension to our team and I'm really excited to see what we can do with it this year."

A more mobile Braxton

A new wrinkle to the pick and roll game will be Braxton herself. She obviously can set some of the best screens in the league but so far in camp has been working on rolling off those picks and finishing. It was a part of her game we didn't see last season.

"They got me in a lot more (pick and rolls) this year. Should be cool," Braxton said.

"I can actually (finish on the move). That's a phase of my game that they're bringing out of me and helping me out a lot because usually I'm down low on the basket but now I'm getting the ball a little bit more, doing a little bit (on the move) and stuff like that. It's a good look."

It's a good look unless you have to defend the 6-6 center who's mobility has improved after an offseason of playing in China.

"It looks good, just stay out of her way," Dupree said about Braxton's pick and roll.

"I don't want to be the one to guard her. That's usually a debate in practice everyday -- who's going to have to guard Kara. We have to switch, and rotate, and take beatings every now and then. She's looking really good. She's finishing well at the basket."

Defense? Rebounding?

We heard last year that the Mercury were going to be a better defensive and rebounding team and it didn't exactly pan out. The 2010 Mercury did make improvements but they were still 9th in the league in rebounding differential and 10th in opponent field goal percentage allowed.

Given the history of this team, it's going to take more than talk to convince people they can be at least above average in those areas. If they can, this team will be scary good. They think they can do it.

"Phoenix is probably not known for their defense because we run a lot but this year I think we're going to surprise some people," DeWanna Bonner said.

"We haven't even done Rover (zone). Our man-to-man has been great. Probably don't even need the Rover, but we'll see."

No Rover Zone defense? So far, it's not shown up in practice at all...but defense has.

"I've actually been surprised at the amount of defensive stuff we've done in practice. Working on a lot of help side stuff, how to guard pick and rolls. Our defense is actually looking really good. Getting a lot of help from our bigs. We're just being really aggressive," Dupree added.

As for the rebounding, size matters as Candice explained.

"The way practices have gone we fight each other for rebounds so hopefully, in the games with Kara (Braxton) and Kia (Nakia Sanford) and now DB (DeWanna Bonner) will be down in the block a little bit more, I think we should have a height advantage over some of these other teams so rebounding should be to our benefit this year."

Rebound and run. It's worked ever since the game was played with a peach basket on a pole.

Physical play

"I think the power and force of our bigs (will surprise people). We've got good size, they're still fast, they're very aggressive, they attack the rim, they set hard picks and hard screens and they dive hard to the basket. (People) are really going to be shocked how fast they do those things," Coach Gaines said.

"We've got five great sized bigs and all five of them can play. DB (DeWanna Bonner) is the smallest one but she's long. They all can attack the basket. I think they're going to be more physical. They're going to be scrapers down low. They're going to attack the basket. They're going to box out hard. I think we're going to rebound well and when we rebound well, we run well."

Bonner in the post, Dupree taking threes

DeWanna Bonner had a good season in Spain where she mostly played power forward but of course also played some guard, some small forward and some center. Whether it's off the bench again or if she's in the starting lineup, Bonner will continue to give the Mercury a bit of everything. 

"She played really well overseas this year," Dupree said about Bonner. "I know Corey (Gaines) has changed her role a little bit. As far as practice has gone, she's been playing on the block a little bit more."

"I think it's great she can play on the outside and inside...She can play at the three, if you need her at the four or the five she can do that too. The fact that she can shoot the three ball or go down there and make post moves is great for us."

Dupree said her role will change as well. When she's on the floor with Bonner she'll take the dominate post position but when playing with Braxton will go back to playing like she did in Chicago.

"I talked to Corey (Gaines) prior to camp starting and he said I'll be doing some of the same stuff I was doing my last couple of years in Chicago when I played with Sylvia (Fowles). I got to shoot from the outside a bit more. I took like 50 or so threes my last year in Chicago. You'll probably see me shoot the three a little bit."

Dupree took just one three-point shot last season with the Mercury but the year prior with Chicago she went 24-62 which is an impressive 38.7 percent from long range on 1.8 attempts per game.

Taurasi and Taylor

The Mercury still have the best wing tandem in the game with Penny Taylor and Diana Taurasi. Taylor led the Mercury in assists last season and shot a career-high 44.2 percent from three and used her extra time off to work on her mid-range game. If she can shoot off curls and pull up off the dribble she will only be that much better.

Taurasi is Taurasi and she's rested and ready to go. 

You know what these two stars will bring and since they are both as healthy and rested as they've ever been entering a WNBA season, it will be the same and more. 

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