As 2019 draws to a close and we look back upon the WNBA’s champions during the past decade, which ones stick out?
The Minnesota Lynx, of course, were the decade’s dynasty. Championships in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 make the Lynx the WNBA’s most successful franchise in recent memory, hands-down. We’re a long time removed from the days of the Houston Comets winning it all every year, but six Finals trips in seven years, the Lynx were about as close to that long-term dominance as one could realistically expect.
You also have the 2019 Washington Mystics, who set record after record with dazzling shooting performances. They could very well be the team that sets the bar for what modern basketball offense should look like moving forward, and if you took a poll today on (very) early title favorites for 2020, the Mystics would probably be favorites to repeat ad champions.
If we’re taking it season by season, however, it would be impossible to write the team that owns the WNBA record for wins out of the narrative. That would be your 2014 Phoenix Mercury: a squad featuring a prime Diana Taurasi, a healthy Penny Taylor and a young Brittney Griner.
The 2014 Mercury had one of those seasons in which everything just seemed to go right. Sure, they looked amazing on paper, but just as with any other team, there were still questions. Would Taylor be able to contribute after missing the entirety of 2012 and most of 2013? Would Griner take the next step in her second season and become the low-post beast she was expected to? And who’s playing point guard, anyway?
All of these potential issues were resolved quickly. In her first year as the Mercury’s head coach, Sandy Brondello opted for a large starting lineup featuring Taurasi at the point and Taylor as her backcourt mate, with Erin Phillips as the first guard off the bench.
The lineup was not only ridiculously talented — it was versatile, too. With Taurasi, Taylor and DeWanna Bonner all on the floor at the same time, the Mercury boasted plenty of playmaking ability in an offense that emphasized multiple ballhandlers and crisp passing to keep defenses from sinking on Griner.
Take this amount of talent, sprinkle in some good health — Taurasi, Taylor, Bonner, Griner and Candice Dupree missed a total of just two games the entire season — and you have the recipe for one heck of a basketball team. The Mercury went a stunning 29-5 in the regular season, never losing consecutive games and leading the WNBA in both offensive rating (106.4) and defensive rating (94.1). Griner won Defensive Player of the Year — blocking 3.8 shots per game — with Brondello earning Coach of the Year honors.
For all these regular-season accolades, the Mercury were even better in the postseason. Phoenix lost just one playoff game (to rival Minnesota) and breezed through the rest, putting up a cumulative net rating of 17.4 throughout the three rounds. They handily disposed of the Chicago Sky in the WNBA Finals, winning by an average of 18.3 points per game and sweeping the series.
While Taurasi — who else? — was named Finals MVP, the Mercury had elite performances from several players throughout the series, which summarized their record-setting season to a T. Dupree seemingly couldn’t miss, shooting 29-for-39 from the field. Meanwhile, Griner’s defense largely neutralized Sylvia Fowles and any other paint presence Chicago threw at her, blocking 12 shots in two games before an injury kept her out of the series finale.
Sadly for Mercury fans, the franchise hasn’t been able to reach this level of dominance since. The following season, Taurasi famously decided to forego the WNBA at the request of UMMC Ekaterinburg, where she was signed to play during the winter. Taylor, too, sat out the season, her retirement imminent. The group returned as a unit in 2016, but failed to achieve the magic they attained previously.
In a way, this further emphasizes the 2014 Mercury’s success: a season in which all the stars aligned, injury was not a factor and coaches and players united to turn in some of the best performances of their respective careers. It’s this type of fate that makes the team’s 29 wins seem virtually impossible to reach in retrospect — in a league as competitive as the WNBA, so many things must go right and the talent must play at its highest level for an entire summer.
The 2014 Mercury did just that. They’re rightfully honored as our WNBA team of the decade.