Phoenix is set to begin this season without star guard Skylar Diggins-Smith (maternity leave), but Diana Taurasi returns for her 16th season and Brittney Griner is back after being wrongfully detained (as classified by the State Department) in Russia all of last season.
While the Mercury weren’t the same team during Griner’s absence last season — they finished last in second-chance points, offensive rebounds and rebounds per game — the star center’s return is reason for optimism in 2023.
Griner averaged 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.9 blocks in 2021, and though it could take some time to return to that level, Griner thinks she can get there. Meanwhile, when and whether Diggins-Smith returns to play this season is uncertain at this point, opening the door for additional opportunities from the team’s supporting cast.
What to watch
Taurasi averaged 16.7 points, 3.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 31 games last season. The 40-year-old played in only 41 games from 2019 to 2021, however, and has seen her points per game, field goal percentage, and PER (player efficiency rating) have decreased significantly over the past four seasons. You should keep this in mind as you navigate fantasy drafts.
Brianna Turner was forced to step up and play big minutes at center last season because of Griner’s absence, but she’ll likely return to her natural position at forward this year. Turner is a reliable source of rebounds, steals and blocks. This season, she’s expected to play around 33 minutes per game, which is similar to last season.
Offseason addition Moriah Jefferson is expected to replace Diggins-Smith in the starting lineup and is positioned for a huge fantasy season. Jefferson averaged 10.8 points, 4.9 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and 26.5 minutes per game with the Minnesota Lynx last season. Don’t leave your fantasy draft without Jefferson on your roster.
Sophie Cunningham is another to keep an eye on after a breakout season in 2022. She averaged 12.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 29.5 minutes per game for the Mercury, starting 20 of 28 games, and is also a great 3-point shooter. She is expected to receive plenty of minutes in the Mercury’s rotation.
Mercury team profile
2022 Record: 15-21
Coach: Vanessa Nygaard
Key Additions: Moriah Jefferson, Michaela Onyenwere
Key Losses: None
2022 Offensive efficiency: 102.6 (8th)
2022 Defensive efficiency: 106.4 (10th)
2022 Pace: 78.2 possessions per 48 minutes (9th)
What to expect in 2023: The Mercury’s journey may not be easy this season, even with Griner back in the lineup. With tough competitors such as the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty boasting plenty of talent, Phoenix will have to overcome additional challenges like the absence of Diggins-Smith, and Taurasi not being in her prime. Although the team could still make the playoffs, winning the championship may not be within their grasp. For those looking at drafting players from the Mercury in their fantasy leagues, Griner, Taurasi, Cunningham, Jefferson and Turner are the main options to consider.