This is part of a 12-team series of fantasy women’s basketball previews leading up to the 2022 WNBA season. For more information on ESPN’s newest fantasy game, check out how to play fantasy women’s basketball.
head coach: Vanessa Nygaard (first season)
2021 records: 19-13
2021 offensive efficiency: (104.3, second in WNBA)
2021 defensive efficiency: (101.3, seventh)
2021 pace: (93.5, 11th)
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About the Mercury
Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith played together in 2020, so expectations were high for the Mercury to be a dangerous team in 2021. While their season didn’t start the way they had hoped, with consistency issues and injuries plaguing the team, the Mercury reached the Finals for the first time since 2014 and lost the series 3-1 to the Chicago Sky.
Earlier in the season, Taurasi missed a chunk of time and the team lost four games in a row during one stretch, including a 31-point defeat to the Minnesota Lynx. Things took a positive turn after that, as the Mercury went on a 10-game winning streak after the Olympic break with Taurasi back in the lineup and the team starting to jell when it mattered most.
The Mercury finished second in the league in offensive efficiency and became the No. 5 seed in the playoffs after a roller-coaster season. It was their ninth straight season advancing to the playoffs.
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After parting ways with Sandy Brondello (who is the New York Liberty’s new head coach), Vanessa Nygaard was named Brondello’s successor in Phoenix. The Stanford standout played in the WNBA from 1999 to 2003. As a high school head coach, Nygaard guided Los Angeles’ Windward School to two state championships. She also served as an assistant at Division I colleges, with USA Basketball youth teams and in the WNBA with San Antonio (2008) and Las Vegas (2021).
In contrast, Phoenix took a proactive approach in the offseason. Tina Charles, who just completed an outstanding season at Washington, was signed. As part of a three-way deal with Chicago and Indiana, Phoenix traded guard Bria Hartley and draft picks for guard Diamond DeShields. This was the second consecutive season the Mercury did not have a pick in the first two rounds of the WNBA draft.
Phoenix also re-signed guards Sophie Cunningham, Kia Nurse and Shey Peddy. Nygaard has all the talent any sports franchise could hope for, but then the sports world was hit with some unsettling news regarding Griner. A star center for the Mercury during the past nine seasons, Griner has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17 after customs officials said she attempted to smuggle vape cartridges containing hashish oil into the country. According to a Russian media report, Griner’s detention has been extended until at least May 19 — 13 days after the start of the WNBA season.
The Mercury had low expectations heading into the draft given their current situation. Both of Phoenix’s draft picks were third-rounders. Given the uncertainty surrounding Griner, it made sense for the Mercury to draft bigs. Both Maya Dodson (Notre Dame) and Macee Williams (IUPUI) had excellent seasons at their respective universities.
While ranking fourth with a field goal percentage of 45%, the Mercury averaged 82 points per game in 2021. Furthermore, Phoenix ranked first in blocks (5.2) and third in rebounds (36.2).
The only teams with a higher plus-minus than the Mercury (2.6) were the Minnesota Lynx (4.0), Seattle Storm (4.4), Las Vegas Aces (9.1) and Connecticut Sun (10).
Top fantasy options
Tina Charles, C (40.6 projected FP/G): A championship was Charles’ goal when she joined the Washington Mystics, but the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Still, she managed to post a career-high 23.4 points per game to go along with 9.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.9 blocks. Charles is capable of putting together a full stat line for fantasy managers. She is second all time in the WNBA with 3,391 career rebounds. Charles, who joined Phoenix in the offseason as a free agent, will now have an even bigger role while Griner is out of the lineup.
Skylar Diggins-Smith, G (33.8 FP/G): Diggins-Smith is one of only three players in league history to average at least 17 points and four assists in a season more than five times. The other two are Taurasi (6) and Cappie Pondexter (5). That’ll tell you a lot about Diggins-Smith’s game. She also led the league with 198 free throw attempts last season. This season, her fantasy value of her should remain steady.
Diana Taurasi, G (32.1 FP/G): Taurasi is the league’s all-time leading scorer with 9,174 career points entering this season. She played in 16 games last season, starting in all of them. Taurasi averaged 15.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG and 5.0 APG. Being one of the league’s longest-tenured players, she has missed significant time with injuries the past three seasons, and that’s the big concern surrounding the 39-year-old. The Mercury might manage Taurasi’s workload from her, and fantasy managers should keep this in mind.
Diamond DeShields, G (20.7 FP/G): DeShields has averaged 13.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.2 APG and 1.2 SPG in 113 career games (89 starts), and she’s been recognized as an All-Star and an All-WNBA performer. As a scorer, wing defender and open-court threat, DeShields is extremely versatile. Efficiency is another story. Last season, her 49.9 true shooting percentage ranked 97th in the league. This is an area in which DeShields can improve. In spite of this, she will play an important role in the Mercury’s rotation in 2022.
Brianna Turner, F (24.7 FP/G): Over the past two seasons, Turner has played heavily in the post for the Mercury. In 2021, she averaged 8.0 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG and 1.3 BPG in 31.1 minutes per game. Due to Griner’s absence for part or all of the season, Turner will see increased usage. She could set per game career highs in multiple statistical areas in 2022.