How have the Phoenix Mercury risen to the top of the WNBA a year after the roller coaster season that ended in the Western Conference Finals?

Record: 9-3 (.750)

Place In Standings: First (+0.5 on Minnesota)

Points Per Game: 83.33

Points Against: 75.25

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Don't look now, but the Phoenix Mercury are the best team in the WNBA and along the way they conquered their demons by knocking off the Minnesota Lynx for the first time in five games. They are playing a team brand of basketball that has come together better this year more so than last year. The roster is similar, but the massive improvements from Brittney Griner, the return of Penny Taylor, and a better assortment of role players have vaulted the team into a better start this year than ever before.

Add in DeWanna Bonner and Candace Dupree as the most talented role players in the entire league, that could go out and be the best or second best player on any other team, and you have a team poised to make a run.

The Mercury's defense has been very much improved, with much more room for improvement, with the new coaching staff and the play of Griner and Bonner. As the players are falling into their roles getting more comfortable with every game that passes this team is getting better and better. Bonner is a lockdown defender, Dupree is a terrific pick-and-roll scorer, Taylor does a little bit of everything, and the bench brings the energy setting the tone every night.

The defense has to focus on Taurasi and Griner who are becoming a dominant duo right now scoring, rebounding, and taking over games inside-and-out this season like no other duo in recent WNBA memory.

There is no mention of the "C" word, but this team is playing like a team looking for redemption and a Championship.

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Diana Taurasi Chasing History...

G.O.A.T. is a concept that gets thrown around too often in undeserving circles, but there is no doubt that Diana Taurasi has entered into that conversation with the full scope of her career. Let's talk numbers.

This week Taurasi became the 19th player ever to log 10,000 minutes for her career. Meaning she has logged the minutes, time to see if the stats are starting to make a case for her...

Points. Right now Taurasi is 3rd in points scored all-time behind Tina Thompson and Katie Smith. Both are retired at this stage. She needs 48 points to overtake Smith for No. 2 All-Time (three games based on her current season average) and 1,084 points to move into the top spot surpassing Thompson. That is the equivalent to just under two games based on Taurasi's general season point totals over the years. No. 1 Scorer in WNBA Hstory ETA TWO YEARS

Assists: Right now she is 6th in assists all-time behind Ticha Penicheiro (retired, -1,258), Sue Bird (-665), Lindsay Whalen (-462), Becky Hammon (-279), and Shannon Johnson (Retired, -83) which is a tougher list to climb.

There are more active players that will continue to distribute the ball and on average Taurasi dishes out roughly 120 assists a season with the potential to do much, much more with her current style of play. On that rate scale Taurasi is a season away from the Top 5, two seasons or so from moving past Hammon (if she stops passing), and 10 seasons away from becoming the leader in assists all-time.

Realistically, Taurasi will be the No. 1 Scorer and in the Top 5 in Assists All-Time in WNBA history with two WNBA Championships, an NVP, a Finals MVP, a Rookie of the Year trophy, and accolades outside of the WNBA that are unmatched. Is Taurasi the G.O.A.T. today? That is all about the "eye of the beholder," but she is rounding out her resume over the next 2-4 seasons.


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...and Let's Compare The Mercury/Suns.

The WNBA season is shorter than the NBA season. That is a starting point worth mentioning going into this conversation, but last year the Phoenix Suns went on a magical run that was special to the fans and now the Mercury are embarking on their own similar season.

At this stage the Mercury have played 12 games (9-3) which would equals 29 games in the longer, marathon of an NBA season.

The Mercury have a .750 winning percentage while the Suns (18-11) had a .620 winning percent at the same exact juncture in the season. Twelve WNBA games is equivalent to 29 NBA games and both teams were playing at a very high level early in the season. The Mercury surprised early with defense while the Suns surprised early by simply winning games.

Going to keep a watchful eye on this as the season progresses. The Suns finished with a .585 winning percentage last season which would translate to a 20-14 season for the Mercury. Halfway there.

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Upcoming Schedule:

Friday @ Indiana Fever at 4 p.m. AZ Time

Sunday @ Tulsa Shock at 1:30 p.m. AZ Time

Welcome to the Madhouse! Bright Side of the Sun is an amazing and diverse community and it deserves a place where the tyranny of topicality does not rule. And that's what The Madhouse is. It's Bright Side of the Sun's place to talk about whatever you want, whenever you want: favorite TV shows, news from around the league or how you don't understand games that end in ties. It's all fair game here.

After a strong Junior year at Clemson, the 22-year old KJ McDaniels is projected to be a first round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Is he a prospect the Suns should be targeting with one of their first rounders?

KJ McDaniels

School: Clemson University

Position: Small Forward

Mock Draft Projections: DraftExpress: 29, NBADraft.net: 35, NBADraftInsider: 30, ESPN: 25

Stats

Measurables

Height: 6'6" with shoes, 6'4.5" without shoes

Weight: 196 lbs.

Wingspan: 6'11.25"

Standing Reach: 8'6"

Max Vertical: 37 inches

No-step Vertcal: 33 inches

Body Fat: 4.5%

Age: 21

Expert Analysis: Offense

DraftExpress:

McDaniels has outstanding physical attributes for a NBA prospect, standing 6-6, with an excellent frame, long arms, and arguably the best athleticism of any wing player in the draft not named Andrew Wiggins. He's as explosive a leaper as you'll find, being responsible for some of the most impressive highlight reel plays of the college season thus far.

McDaniels has done a good job of finding ways to score this season, as he's posting an impressive 23.4 points per-40 minutes pace adjusted thus far, up from 16.7 last year. He's able to produce thanks to his ability to run the floor, crash the offensive glass, make open jumpers, and get to the free throw line, despite playing on one of the worst offensive teams in high major college basketball. Clemson scores just 62 points per game, and ranks 13th of 15 ACC teams in offensive efficiency, struggling to crack 45 points on a few occasions this season.

The lack of spacing and general scoring prowess alongside McDaniels makes it easy for opposing teams to key in on him at times, further exacerbating the fact that he's not the most skilled wing player around at the moment. His ball-handling skills are just average, as he struggles to change speeds or directions with the ball, and doesn't he create much offense for teammates either, as his court vision and feel for the game are not off the charts.

McDaniels isn't the most consistent shooter you'll find either. His release is fairly slow and he struggles when rushed or contested, making just 31% of his 3-point attempts on the season, down from 33% last year.

Nevertheless, McDaniels can't be classified as a non-shooter, as his 1.7 makes per-40p from beyond the arc ranks a respectable 7th among small forwards in our top-100 prospects. He's relatively reliable with his feet set and a glimmer of daylight (41%), and hits a terrific 87% of his free throw attempts (3rd best among all top-100 prospects), which leaves some room for optimism. He's athletic enough to rise up and create separation from defenders, which helps him in off the dribble situations, he just needs to speed up his release and improve his ball-handling ability to further take advantage of this skill.

NBADraft.net

Strengths: KJ is obviously an outstanding athlete; he can jump really easily off two feet or of one without any difference. In the last year he finally used this gift to become one of the best rebounders in his conference while only 6'6 ... He is particularly dangerous on the offensive glass, where if he doesn't have a body on him he knows how to get the crowd involved with spectacular tip dunks ... Transition is another area where he shines, both as a ball handler or runner on the wing, when he has the ball and there is nobody in his lane he goes strong to the basket, very often making the right decision ... When he is off the ball in transition he's often catching lobs and alley-oops ... This part of his game will really stand out in the NBA, particularly for teams with good PGs and that like to push the ball in transition ... He also added to his game a respectable 3 point jumper, not very pretty to see but definately to be respected ... He has very good percentages with his feet set

Weaknesses: His biggest weakness right now is still his offensive game ... His shot is getting better, particularly his 3 pointer with his feet set, but when defenders run him off the line he has a very poor pull up shooting and his decision making is highly questionable ... Needs to develop a mid-range game and learn how to finish around the rim ... Right now when he gets to the rim but can't dunk, he struggles to finish, especially with his left hand ... Seems to suffer a lot when defenders get into his body, which raises some questions about his attitude to fight and be strong durin a physical game ... He will never need to be a great scorer, but needs to be consistent enough where he can punish the defense with open shots and precise cuts ... Ball handling also needs some work, his one on one often finish with a turnover as McDaniels often struggles to read the help

Expert Analysis: Defense

DraftExpress:

Despite the considerable improvement he's shown offensively this season, where McDaniels really shines as a NBA prospect is on the other end of the floor. His size, length, and tremendous athleticism allows him to guard up to four positions at the college level, and give him the potential to emerge as a lockdown defender in the NBA. He's a huge playmaker already, putting up gaudy numbers as a rebounder, shot-blocker and ball-thief, even if he still has room to improve here, particularly with his ability to defend off the ball and stay consistent with his effort.

NBADraft.net

Strengths: Despite the offensive reasons the real gem of McDaniels game for NBA scouts is his defense ... He has outstanding efficiency numbers defending the ISO according to Synergy and he can guard 1-2-3 without any problems due to his length and quickness ... He his very good of the ball as well, reading screens and situations. Thanks to his feet being in constant movement, he is really hard to post up, and this allowed Clemson to play him as a "4" in a small lineup. He is not by any mean an offensive threat but was still able to average more than 17ppg which could allow any NBA coach looking for a new "Tony Allen" to play him without risking to play 4 on 5 on the offensive hand

Weaknesses: Defensively he needs to embrace the role that will be for him in the NBA, get stronger to defend stronger players, but all those are just natural developments that will occur in his career

My Take

KJ McDaniels has the physical attributes and skills to be the sort of role player any team could use. He's not only one of the best athletes in this draft, but his near seven-foot wingspan gives him great build for a wing player at the NBA level.

McDaniels has drawn comparisons to Gerald Green on several occasions, mostly because of his athleticism and demeanor. He also shares some of the same weaknesses as Gerald, namely in terms of both guys' inability to create offense for themselves or others. He's not quite as athletic as Green is (let's be honest, not many are) and isn't nearly as accurate a shooter--his release is much slower than Green's and his three-point percentage is a lot lower than you'd like to see, but his high free throw percentage is a reason for optimism. However, he's proven to have much better defensive tendencies than Green. He was a fantastic one-on-one defender in college and has the quickness, prowess and ability to defend multiple positions.

Currently, McDaniels is projected by most to be drafted near the end of the first round. I believe he has the potential to carve out a long career for himself because of the abilities he brings to a team, especially if he continues to improve his shooting touch. Over time, he projects to be a prototypical "3-and-D" role player, and one with great athleticism to boot. McDaniels will also need to get stronger to max out his defensive potential at the professional level. Although he may never be a great playmaker, his jumpshot and thin frame are things he can and will likely improve.

If the Suns end up keeping the 27th pick in the draft, KJ McDaniels would be phenomenal value at the end of the first round. He likely wouldn't get many minutes in his first season, but could be a possible replacement for Gerald Green at the line. If he lasts till the 27th pick and the Suns still own the pick when the time comes, McDaniels is definitely a player to keep an eye on. Of course, this also depends on what the Suns do with their first two picks (14 and 18) and how likely it is that they would want to bring in three rookies next season, instead of perhaps trading the 27th pick for a future pick or going the draft-and-stash route at that spot.

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that Phoenix Suns forward Channing Frye is leaning toward an exploration of free agency. Frye has a $6.8 million player option for the 2014-15 season with the ability...

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Channing Frye has until Monday to officially decide whether to pick up his option for 2014/15. According to ESPN, he will decline the option and enter free agency.

According to ESPN's Mark Stein, there is a "99% chance" that Channing Frye will forgo the final year of his contract and leave $6.8 million on the table to enter free agency.

Suns' Channing Frye has 'til Monday to decide to play next season at $6.8 mil w/PHX or opt out. Source: "99 percent" he chooses free agency

— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 22, 2014

The Warriors are already being named as a potential suitor. It was Steve Kerr that initially brought Channing to the desert in 2009, where the big man found his niche as a long-distance sharpshooter.

Upon arrival as GSW coach, Steve Kerr identified stretch four as a need. Kevin Love is obviously Dubs' dream target. But Frye on the list

— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 22, 2014

Obviously Channing values the years over the dollars. He won't be likely to land $6.8 million a season, but at 31 years of age this could be his last chance for a multi-year contract.

Hopefully he and the Suns can work something out. Personally, I'd rather not find out the hard way just how replaceable he is on the floor, not to mention in the locker room.

Updates to come.

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