The Phoenix Mercury have continued their hot start, rising to the top of the league with a 21-3 record.
The 15-game winning streak, tied for second-best in WNBA history, has corresponded with a lineup change: swapping newly acquired Aussie G Erin Phillips for veteran compatriot G Penny Taylor. Throughout the winning streak, the Mercury have won games by an average of 13.3 points per outing. Along with the move to the bench for the player thought to be the Mercury's starting point guard, head coach Sandy Brondello allowed the great Diana Taurasi to move back to the point guard spot. This allows the best player in the world to spend most of her time with the ball in her hands.
After the Mercury's July 2nd win over the Chicago Sky, Brondello elaborated on her thoughts
"She's the best player in the world," Brondello expressed. "She's just amazing. Her will to win is the best I've ever seen of anybody. She can put a team on her back and take over a game. Obviously, she can score. She's [now] the second best in [WNBA] history. But she distributes the ball just as good as any point guard. Sometimes, I just sit back and I just applaud."
The numbers support the cause: at 17.9 points and 6.1 assists per game, Taurasi ranks fifth and first in the league respectively. Also majorly supporting her cause are other expanded stats:
• Taurasi ranks 2nd in the WNBA in +/-, with a 22.8 net rating. The one player ahead of her, major competitor for the 2014 WNBA MVP award Maya Moore, has played just under 200 more minutes and 2 extra games. Moore also seems to have been the one remaining starter on the floor in many of the Lynx's blowout wins this year
• Ranks 6 in the league in player efficiency rating
• #1 in total assists, assists per game and assists per 40 minutes
• #9 in assist-to-turnover ratio
Taurasi's maturity has also been indicative of the multitude of ways she leads her team. While still leading the league in technical fouls, Taurasi seems to be keeping her cool a lot more this season. In the team's second battle against rival LA Sparks, the game began to get physical and DeWanna Bonner started to get a little frustrated. Taurasi stepped in, brought Bonner back to Earth and carried the team through a lull, ultimately garnering the win with a 32 point, --including 7 three-pointers -- 6 assist game.
The "White Mamba" also seems to be leading the defensive charge this season. While never being tagged as a defensive "stopper," Taurasi has repeatedly shown flashes of defensive smarts and good instincts over the years. This season, not only is she discussing it, but she's making a much more concerted effort to be a factor on the ugly end of the floor. Taurasi has also been key in Brittney Griner's growth and improvement as she has not been afraid to hold her 6'8 sophomore phenom teammate accountable for being a factor every outing.
By just looking at the raw numbers, one would be tempted to take the glamorous pick of third-year Minnesota Lynx F Maya Moore. Her scoring numbers pace the league this season but her average could have been aided by extended minutes. In Minny's largest win this season, a 17-point annihilation of the LA Sparks that wasn't actually as close as the final score, Moore played only 29 minutes but was only the floor well into the 4th quarter and finished with 31 points. Taurasi, on the other hand? Phoenix's largest win, a 29-point trouncing of the San Antonio Stars, only equaled 23 minutes of court time for Taurasi, 8 of which came in the 2nd half and none in the 4th quarter. And even in limited court time, DT filled up the stat sheet with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists.
Both Moore and Taurasi sit in similar circumstances as they're the best player on their respective (and winning teams) while also having world-class talent flanking them in the starting five. Unlike a lot of arguments I hear every year, I don't agree with the sentiment that the MVP is the best player on the best team. The award reads -- Most Valuable Player -- and to that I'd consider the layman's definition to be that this player is most important to their team's success. This player's team would be nowhere near where they are without them.
Using that definition, I'd easily give the honor to Taurasi. I've considered Rebekkah Brunson to be that team's MVP for some time now. When the offense isn't in rhythm, it seems like Brunson flies in for an offensive rebound. When the team seems beaten on all other accords, Rebekkah skies from the weak-side to send the shot into the fifth row. Combine that with the newly irrelevant argument of the Lynx's lack of post depth, I wondered how the team would fare without her. And they passed that test with flying colors.
Moore is a special player, don't get me wrong. But most of her production these days is still the same as it has always been: spot-up jumpers and transition buckets. Moore has seen the ball more in post-ups and working for o-boards but she's still not a player whom you give the ball immediately at the end of games. If you look closely, she may sometimes be the option but it's usually some form of Augustus/Whalen/Wright/White handling the ball and Moore receives the ball off action. In Phoenix, you know the ball is going to be in Taurasi's hand with her calling the shots, and still, you can't stop it.
The supporting players also mean a great deal. In Moore's spot you're potentially using:
Monica Wright- a starter on any other team in this league and a player that can immediately affect a game on both ends of the floor
Tan White- a solid veteran with playoff experience, solid defensive ability and a knack for shot-making
Tricia Liston- Liston has received more minutes in the second half of the season and continues to deliver. She's knocking down threes at a 48% clip and doesn't seem to get rattled.
On the Phoenix side, here's your alternatives:
Erin Phillips- while she's still a major threat from downtown and a physical, scrappy defender, Brondello had been hesitant to trust Phillips late in games or for extended minutes, even when she was starting
Shay Murphy/Anete Jekabsone-Zogota- two very good complimentary players that bring energy on the defensive end and knock down shots. Neither is a great ball-handler and are at their best shooting spot-up jumpers
Tiffany Bias- the rookie is COMPLETELY untested in any stretch of meaningful WNBA minutes. Having seen only 38 minutes of game action, Bias still has struggled in stints of "garbage time" work and doesn't seem ready to play quality minutes for a championship contender
So there's a breakdown of my vote for MVP, what do you think? Be sure to vote in the poll and feel free to comment below. We also love to see more detailed information in FanPosts from you guys!