Before the season began, I picked these two teams to matchup in the WNBA Finals and not only because they're my two favorite teams but also because these are two of the most talented teams in the WNBA and that's confirmed solely by looking at the invitees to the USA basketball training camp: Diana Taurasi, DeWanna Bonner, Candice Dupree and Brittney Griner of Phoenix will be joined by Sylvia Fowles, Elena Delle Donne, and Courtney Vandersloot of the Sky in competing for a roster spot for the women's world championships. Here's my take on a positional breakdown of the matchup between your conference champions of the WNBA.
Diana Taurasi vs Courtney Vandersloot
Diana Taurasi is the best player in the world and doesn't seem to have lost a step at all. Most of the matchups in this series won't be as straight up a position but the point guard matchup should be ruled by Taurasi throughout the course of the Finals. This isn't a knock on Vandersloot who has enjoyed both career regular, albeit shortened by injury, and postseasons and will be joining the likes of Taurasi, Griner, Dupree, Bonner and Fowles in training camp
Penny Taylor vs Epiphanny Prince
Penny Taylor has had a sensational season, barely missing the All-Star game after sparking the Mercury to a 16-game winning streak that coincided with her transition into the starting lineup June 15th. Outside of a bit of foul trouble in Game 2 of the conference finals, Taylor has continue her strong, all-around basketball. Prince missed the first seven games of the season and never really missed a beat. She has struggled in the playoffs before hitting three triples in the clincher versus Indiana. Taylor's veteran savvy and ability to get to the free throw line gives her the edge.
DeWanna Bonner vs Elena Delle Donne
DeWanna Bonner was essentially robbed of a spot on the All-Defensive squads based on her play in the postseason. Having proven an electric scorer during the 2012 season, she's still someone who has to be guarded on the offensive end and can explode like she did in Game 1 of the Conference Finals versus Minnesota. Delle Donne has been amazing since entering the league as the 2013 Rookie of the Year but has struggled since returning from a recurrence of Lyme Disease. She also struggled in the Conference Finals with a back issue sustained in Game 3 against Indiana. Considering Delle Donne is healthy, she's a top ten, maybe top five player in the world. She should be able to make her mark in the series.
Candice Dupree vs Jessica Breland
Candice Dupree has played her way into contention for a spot on the World Championship and potentially Olympic squads. She had a fantastic 2014 earning her first All-Star bid since coming to Phoenix. She's been highly efficient in the playoffs, making teams pay for giving her any inch of space to get to the rim or get off that smooth mid-range jumpshot. Breland also earned an All-Star bid in 2014 but has tailed off quite a bit since. Her size and mobility should help her see more minutes in this series. Knocking down the mid-range jumper to balance Fowles' production could aid the Sky in creating easy baskets.
Brittney Griner vs Sylvia Fowles
What meets the bare eye is that Brittney Griner grabs this edge comfortably based on her youth and potential in addition to her growth from season one to season two. But Fowles has had a fantastic playoffs, playing 38 minutes per game while dominating her way to a 17 and 10 double-double. Her blocks are up to match Griner, essentially balancing the effect of the two stars. Neither teams will be afraid to let the star bigs battle each other one-on-one but the extra two inches of stature Griner has could pay dividends. With that being said, both starting centers will need to continue their great postseason performance if they want to raise the trophy in the end.
Erin Phillips vs Allie Quigley
Allie Quigley won her first Player of the Week award on the way to winning the WNBA's 6th Woman of the Year award. Epiphanny Prince has endured quite the struggle and Quigley has taken advantage. She essentially tag-teamed with Fowles to carry the Sky past the Fever, averaging 18 points and shooting 53% from deep in the ECF series. Phillips has continued taking fantastic care of the basketball in the playoffs, committing only 4 versus 16 assists, but she doesn't dent the stat sheet in the way that Quigley does. Phillips could close this gap if she gets back to regular season form -- Phillips led the WNBA in the regular season three point shooting, nailing 45%.
Mistie Bass vs Jessica Breland
I'm writing this under the impression that both teams will be healthy and playing their minutes. If Pokey does as I think she will, Breland will see more minutes. Her length and perimeter shooting ability could prove vital in helping pull Griner away from the basket. Breland's could also influence the defensive end, finishing the regular season 3rd overall in blocks per game. Lest we forget, she was a 2014 All-Star. Bass does a good job spelling Dupree/Griner and not hurting the team. A physical defender and aggressive rebounder, Bass will need to ensure that she takes advantage and nails the open shots she gets to remain at peak effectiveness.
Phoenix Bench Crew vs Chicago Reserves
We've taken a look at the first guard and first post off the bench but what about players 8, 9 and 10? Shay Murphy and Anete Jekabsone-Zogota are energy players that can hit consecutive shots to aid the Mercury attack. Jameirra Faulkner changes the pace for the Sky and is aggressive getting her shoulder past defenders to get into the paint while Sasha Goodlett holds down the fort for the few minutes that Big Syl leaves the floor. Neither team has dug this fa regularly on the bench although both squads hold a blowout specialist in Tiffany Bias of the Mercury and Gennifer Brandon of the Sky. If the series comes down to this portion of the bench, we as fans have been robbed of a fantastic display of basketball.
Sandy Brondello vs Pokey Chatman
Brondello is the coach of the year and continues to show why. Minor adjustments to the offense and lighting a fire under the Mercury players and Phoenix was able to cruise on their home floor and book their first trip to the WNBA Finals since 2009. Meanwhile, Pokey is the veteran of the two coaches, having taken over the mantle of Head Coach and GM of the Sky prior to the 2011 season and has built this team from scratch. Chatman's squad has dealt with lots of adversity in the form of the injury bug and she spoke about how it allowed her backups to build confidence and play heavy minutes during a pre-Finals media session.
Q. You’ve dealt with injuries all season. Your team seems to be getting healthy at the right time though?
Chatman: Yes, relatively healthy. I thought with some of our players being out, it really helped some of our other players really step up when we were trying to compete for that final playoff spot. All of them got some really good experience.
Mercury home court advantage & veteran experience vs Chicago's youthful exuberance and never-say-die attitude