Quick preview of the Phoenix Mercury's Training Camp, their needs, and the unique new pre-season concept being rolled out by the WNBA this year...
How fun was last season? Let me re-phrase that: How crazy was last season with a decent ending all things considered? It was a roller-coaster of coaching changes, roster adjustments, injuries, winning, and then in the end losing.
This season has the potential to be a special one as last year was the first half of The Avengers Story with this year promising to be the final battle. The Mercury might leave New York City Super Hero level wreckage in their path to a Championship.
Well, that was what was said last year too... By me.
No doubt the Mercury have star power. From Taurasi to Griner, Taylor to Bonner, and all the way to Dupree this is a team of stars.
There is no lack of talent on this team, but a "team" is who wins the Championship every year. That is obviously the Mercury's goal under new head coach Sandy Brondello meaning they need to add a little more substance to this group of obvious style. This team has a lot of style.
While The Avengers analogy is not overly creative or perfect, it fits this team. Every player mentioned above has had their own run as the Alpha on a team. Taylor is an Alpha, Taurasi has always been an Alpha, Bonner became an Alpha while those two were injured, Griner is a young Alpha, and Dupree has Alpha potential. Put all of them in a room together to ration shots and minutes and roles and egos and pride and their Alpha-ness and things become tricky.
That is where the need to add substance comes into play. Briana Gilbreath, Alexis Gray-Lawson, and Krystal Thomas provide some. They need more.
With the way WNBA Rosters are constructed each team is allocated ten spots for players with injury exemptions available, as every Mercury fan is aware of over the course of the past two years. The team is returning eight players from last season leaving two spots open to be filled.
Play-Making and forward/center depth are two of the teams main strengths leaving holes at guard, the need for specialist shooters, and more "glue" that makes a team a Champion.
Coaching Staff: Sandy Brondello (Head Coach), Julie Hairgrove (Assistant), Todd Troxel (Assistant), and Tamara Poole (Athletic Trainer)
(*On Roster Last Season)
Mistie Bass (8) -- 6-3 190 lbs. Forward
Tiffany Bias (23) -- 5-6 lbs. Guard
*DeWanna Bonner (24) -- 6-4 137 lbs. Guard/Forward
Hallie Christofferson (5) -- 6-3 lbs. Forward
*Candice Dupree (4) -- 6-2 172 lbs. Forward
*Briana Gilbreath (15) -- 6-0 150 lbs. Guard
*Alexis Gray-Lawson (21) -- 5-8 180 lbs. Guard
*Brittney Griner (42) -- 6-8 199 lbs. Center
Chelsea Hopkins (1) -- 5-8 lbs. Guard
Anete Jekabsone-Zogota (10) -- 5-9 167 lbs. Guard
Ewelina Kobryn (11) -- 6-4 210 lbs. Center
Maggie Lucas (33) -- 5-10lbs. Guard
Shay Murphy (14) 5-11 164 lbs. Guard
Erin Phillips (31) -- 5-8 165 lbs. Guard
April Sykes (48) -- 6-0 183 lbs. Guard/Forward
*Diana Taurasi (3) -- 6-0 183 lbs. Guard
*Penny Taylor (13) -- 6-1 165 lbs. Forward
*Krystal Thomas (34) -- 6-5 210 lbs. Center
Starting on May 9th, 2014 the Phoenix Mercury will make Orlando home as they are one of four teams; Minnesota Lynx, Indiana Fever, and Chicago Sky, that will play in a pre-season tournament. It will be a four game tournament played at the HP Field House at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World.
The teams will practice and make the event home for a four game tournament with some bragging rights going into the season and a chance to motivate nearly 1,500 AAU girls from the ages of 7-18 at the event.
"We are excited to be partnering with an organization like the WNBA," said AAU President & CEO Henry Forrest. "We are looking forward to a great event as well as a continued long term relationship."
The Chicago Sky will face the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference portion first followed by a Western Conference collision between the Phoenix Mercury and the Minnesota Lynx. The winners will play each other for the "Championship" on May 11th as will the others in a consolation prize game.
The league's best and brightest stars will be on display.
Reunited with his twin brother Markieff just over a year ago, Marcus Morris turned the corner in his third NBA season, setting career highs in a slew of categories, and becoming a key contributor on a Suns second unit that proved to be one of the team's strengths.
When Marcus Morris was traded from the Houston Rockets to the Phoenix Suns last February for a second round pick, his career was at a crossroads. Despite modest success with the Rockets last season, they traded the #14 overall pick of the 2011 draft for a mere second rounder, allowing Marcus the opportunity to play with his brother Markieff in Phoenix.
Between the poor team chemistry and coaching change, the environment on last season's Suns wasn't conducive to high performance from any player. Marcus was no exception, shooting only 41% from the field and 31% from 3 in his 21 games after the trade, even ending up in interim coach Lindsey Hunter's doghouse for a spell.
Under new head coach Jeff Hornacek, this season was a completely different story for the 24-year old Marcus, as he enjoyed career highs in PPG (9.7), 3-point% (.381), PER (14.8), win shares/48 minutes (.111) and minutes played (22.0/game) in playing all 82 games and scoring in double figures 42 times.
Essentially, Marcus improved from being a fringe rotation guy to being a player who was a solid contributor off the bench, and could probably start for some teams in the league. Because there was so much improvement from a handful of other Suns, League MIP Goran Dragic, Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker and his brother Markieff most prominent among them, Marcus' major steps forward as a player appear to have been overlooked a bit.
That's a shame because Marcus deserves a lot of credit for his achievements this season, and not just for his individual play. By their accounts, the presence of Marcus is also partially responsible for helping his brother Markieff to display more focus and consistency during his breakthrough season.
Marcus' primary role on offense was as a 3-point shooter, as 40% of his FGAs were from behind the arc, but Marcus was also occasionally effective from the post and with his mid-range shooting. That 3-point shooting was needed on a Suns second unit which didn't have much outside of Marcus and Green, and injuries forced Green into the starting lineup 49 times.
Some key stats for Marcus, and rank among Suns regular rotation players:
After a cinderella year both for himself and the team, the Phoenix Suns' Goran Dragic gets a trophy for his work.
After the entire Phoenix Suns team displayed Most Improved Team characteristics all year long, their star point guard Goran Dragic received the individual Most Improved Player Award.
The Suns had many candidates on their roster for Most Improved - Gerald Green nearly doubled his career scoring average (15.8 vs. 8.0). Markieff Morris led all reserves in double-doubles (11), points off bench and rebounds off bench. Eric Bledsoe was the early leader for most improved before hurting his knee in December and finished the year as a max-contract shoe-in. The list goes on and on.
Gerald Green finished 4th, getting 16 first-place votes, and Markieff Morris was 10th.
But it was Goran Dragic who put up a season that only two league MVPs and two All-Stars have ever approached. Dragic became only the fourth player in league history to score 20 points per game, dish 5 assists per game, shoot 50+% from the field and 40+% from three-point range.
Only LeBron James (once), Larry Bird (three times) and Jeff Hornacek (1991-92 - All-Star) and Chris Webber (1995-96) have ever matched those numbers in a season. Webber only played a few games that season, so he would not have qualified for any awards.
Collecting 408 of a possible 1,134 points, Dragic received 65 first-place votes from a panel of 126 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. Lance Stephenson of the Indiana Pacers (158 points, 13 first-place votes) and Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans (155 points, 16 first-place votes) came in second and third, respectively. Players were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote received.
In the past year, Dragic has been named to the All-Tournament team for Eurobasket 2013 as one of the two best guards in the tourney, got married to his longtime girlfriend and saw his child come into the world healthy and happy.
Now, he has some NBA recognition for stepping up his game better than ever before. He did not make the All-Star game, but he is the MIP and might make an All-NBA team as well.
Cue the Dragon!