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How Far Can The Phoenix Mercury Go Without Penny Taylor?

It's hard to ever count out a team with Diana Taurasi on it, but do the Phoenix Mercury have enough to make another playoff run without Penny Taylor? (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
It's hard to ever count out a team with Diana Taurasi on it, but do the Phoenix Mercury have enough to make another playoff run without Penny Taylor? (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Getty Images

We know that the Phoenix Mercury will be better than they were on Sunday in their 105-83 loss to the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday.

2011 WNBA scoring leader Diana Taurasi was out with a hip flexor and with both Temeka Johnson and Ketia Swanier having departed this offseason, they were starting rookie Samantha Prahalis at point guard. With Taurasi expected to be back as soon as tonight for the Mercury's game against the Tulsa Shock and the expectation that Prahalis will become more comfortable with the WNBA game come playoff time, it's likely this team will look much stronger by playoff time.

Nevertheless, the big question for the Mercury this season is how far can they go without injured forward Penny Taylor?

2011 Season Review

Click here for an explanation of this framework and here for our statistics glossary.















Weighted Differentials










2011 Phoenix Mercury Four Factors statistics & differentials

News of Taylor's injury was not only a loss to the Mercury and their fans, but really to anyone who just loves good basketball.

Perhaps you're already aware that I'm in awe of Penny Taylor's basketball ability. There are very few basketball players with her combination of fluidity, skill, tenacity, and versatility. And that's what what made her the Mercury's statistical MVP last season, even some Taurasi fans might consider that blasphemous.

But to be specific, the most significant blow to the Mercury with Taylor out for the season this year will be her ability as a distributor - Taylor was not only the most efficient distributor at her position or on the wing last year, but the fifth highest pure point rating in the league (2.89) ahead of many point guards. Given the way that the Mercury like to play - pushing the ball up court and making plays early - having a player like Taylor who can help make the quick decisions need to facilitate scoring opportunities is a huge asset.

Losing Taylor potentially compounds the Mercury's most significant problem from last season: turnover rate. It's actually not uncommon for the Mercury to have a higher turnover rate than their opponents - it's a byproduct of how they play and they score so efficiently that they're able to overcome it. The main difference between last year and previous years is that the Mercury had slightly more turnovers per game (15.24) than league average in 2011 (15.14) whereas they've been below league average in every year since former coach Paul Westhead left after the 2007 season. All of that puts the team's biggest loss in context.

Key personnel loss


Click the image to see the enlarged version.

Although the Mercury are returning three of their top four players even with Taylor out, the loss of Temeka Johnson magnifies Taylor's absence.

Johnson wasn't outstanding in Phoenix last season, but she was still the third-most efficient point guard in the league (4.32 pure point rating) behind Ticha Penicheiro and Lindsay Whalen (league-high 6.02 pure point rating). In addition, it's worth noting that the loss of Johnson and Taylor represents the loss of two of the Mercury's best three 3-point shooters. And the way the Mercury play, losing both ball handling and 3-point shooting is a huge blow, beyond the fact that those players were two of their best five last season.

So their offseason priorities were pretty clear.

Rookie projections





Projected WNBA Style

Prahalis, Samantha





Warley, Avery





WNBA SPI Playing Style projections based on 2011-12 NCAA statistics for Phoenix Mercury Rookies

Samantha Prahalis was an obvious selection for the Phoenix Mercury with the 6th pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft and is arguably their most significant addition this season given the lack of distributors on he roster.

The interesting thing about Prahalis is that she was a high usage scorer in college with below average distributing numbers for a successful WNBA point guard prospect. The one caveat is that high usage college point guards tend to become less scoring oriented when they come to the pros - in many cases, they were scoring a lot in college because they had to and that led to lower assist ratios and more turnovers (San Antonio Silver Stars guard Danielle Robinson was the example of that last season).

But part of Prahalis' low efficiency as a distributor is that she was extremely creative in college which can sometimes be a euphemism for a high-risk point guard - whereas the top point guard in the 2011 WNBA Draft, Courtney Vandersloot, thrived on setting up the simplest of plays, Prahalis sought out the flashy highlight reel pass which drove down her efficiency.

Judging from everything we know about how the Mercury play and Prahalis' first performance, it's not the Mercury's intention to reign their rookie in. But a college-pro transition statistically similar to Robinson's would be huge for the Mercury.

Key personnel addition

New veterans

SPI Style








Value Added

4-yr RAPM

Alexis Hornbuckle



0.36 <

45.91 <

29.68 <

3 <

13 <




Charde Houston



0.54 <

42.65 <

16.76 >

6 <

14 <




Tamane, Zane *

2011 statistics for new Phoenix Mercury veterans.

* Tamane did not play in the WNBA in 2011.

In addition to addressing their ball handling needs, the Mercury helped to address their 3-point shooting needs. Prahalis was a 34.6% 3-point shooter in her senior year in college and Charde Houston might help as well.

Houston was not a major contributor to the Minnesota Lynx' championship run last season, but she was a 36.5% 3-point shooter in 2010. Perhaps more important to the Mercury, Houston isn't exactly shy about shooting: in 2009 and 2010 she was in the top 10 in the league in usage percentage. It's as though she and the Mercury were made for each other.

That she had the tendencies of an interior presence last season is really more the result of not playing many minutes on a team that was loaded on the wing. In more normal minutes, she's more of a versatile twiner player.

2012 Outlook



SPI Style








Value Added

4-yr RAPM

Bonner, DeWanna



1.19 >

56.58 >

8.86 >

9 =

35 >




Dupree, Candice



1.18 >

60.13 >

12.42 >

10 >

32 <




Gray-Lawson, Alexis



0.59 <

54.55 >

13.88 >

2 <

34 >




Sanford, Nakia



0.76 <

56.42 >

17.85 =

12.79 >

63.15 >




Taurasi, Diana



1.26 >

62.00 >

12.50 <

2 <

47 >




Taylor, Penny **



1.51 >

64.21 >

11.27 >

4 >

40 >




** Out for the season due to injury.


  • Scoring efficiency: This will still be a solid scoring team. Gray-Lawson and Prahalis should be able to match the combined scoring efficiency of last year's primary point guard rotation in Johnson and Swanier, which was below average for distributors last season. The main question will be how well that combination is able to run the offense to set up high percentage scoring opportunities. If Houston can add some 3-point shooting this season, they'll be one of the top offenses once again.
  • Free throw rate: Again, this depends primarily on the guard duo, primarily Gray-Lawson who is a bit more adept at getting herself to the rim. Prahalis is of a lighter build, but is more than capable of finding her way to the rim.
  • Will rebounding become a more significant statistical weakness? Taylor wasn't necessarily a dominant offensive rebounder, but she was rebounded right about average for a wing. The key on the boards might be whether DeWanna Bonner can increase her offensive rebounding percentage in bigger minutes this season and whether someone else on the wing - either Houston or Taurasi maybe - can also improve on the wings. As it stands, they're in big trouble on the boards if Candice Dupree or Nakia Sanford get into foul trouble.
  • How much might the Olympic break help the development of their ball handlers? Given the short training camp of the WNBA season, the Olympic break could give their young guards a chance to further acclimate to running the team - through film study if nothing else - even though Taurasi will be in London.
  • How will the turnover problem change with the personnel changes? There wasn't any one player that you could pin the responsibility of the Mercury's turnover problems on - most players were at or below average. But one player from whom improvement might help is Taurasi. Of the player that got the majority of minutes, Taurasi was the one who turned the ball over more often than average for her style of play. As such a high usage player with the ball in her hands so often - and likely more often without Taylor this season - a few less turnovers from her could help the team make up for the lost ball handling efficiency.

Breakout Player

The only player who would be a candidate for a "breakout" season on this team would be Alexis Gray-Lawson - almost everyone else is on the decline or a former All Star. Gray-Lawson enters the season with more opportunity to contribute given the departures and has developed as a distributor since leaving Cal. Her VCR suggests that she might not be that much more efficient in increased minutes, but this is her best chance to earn consistent minutes.

Projection: Lottery

This is as much about Taylor's absence as it is about some of the improvements the rest of the conference has made. Minnesota is still the favorite, L.A. will be a much better team if they stay healthy, Seattle will be a playoff-caliber team once Lauren Jackson comes back even if they play .500 ball prior to that point, and San Antonio suffered some losses, but only got weaker in an area they can't get any weaker in while reinforcing strengths. Someone has to be left out of the playoff picture and with a rookie point guard and the absence of their statistical MVP from last year, it could be Phoenix on the outside looking in.

For a full look at these statistics for the Mercury, click here.