July 15, 2022
The sixth starter: a Diamond in the rough 2022 Phoenix Mercury season
Shine on you crazy Diamond (DeShields)
Role. A common word used to describe the Phoenix Mercury players this season. Injuries, unexpected departures and the well-being of teammate Brittney Griner have been in constant rotation for the 11-15 Mercury. As a result, some players have had to take a necessary role to help the team win. No one would know that better than 2019 All-Star, Diamond DeShields.
Since arriving in Phoenix, the former third overall pick is averaging 13 points, four rebounds and two assists. She is also averaging 4.4 free throws per game, the highest mark of her career.
A little adversity seems to be the focal point for DeShields these past few years. Battling keratoconus, as well as having a tumor in her back, the odds seemed stacked against her. She overcame and got nominated for the 2022 ESPY Comeback Player of the Year award. Now, she had to make another switch. This time, on the hardwood.
While the move to the bench may appear discouraging, DeShields recognizes that moments like these are part of the job.
“I’m just trying to do as asked of me, trying to deliver the moments and opportunities that have been given,” DeShields said postgame against the Washington Mystics. “It’s all just basketball, you know, it just looks a little bit different.”
How did she adjust?
DeShields holds the fifth highest usage rate in the WNBA at 27%, ahead of teammates Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith. Although the numbers aren’t the highest of her career, head coach Vanessa Nygaard is adamant that DeShields lifts the second unit with her relentless athleticism.
“We’ve got more points from the bench for sure,” Nygaard said while chuckling before Thursday’s game. “With coming in against some of the opposing second units, I think we have that little bit of a pace pick-up when Diamond comes in.”
That prowess is caused by her fast-paced style. In DeShields’ eight games off the bench, Phoenix is first in the WNBA in %FBPS (fast break points) with 19.7. Before that, the team was fourth in that category with 14.9 respectively.
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What Nygaard said could not be more true. Although Phoenix didn’t struggle in that area, the boost of athleticism and size sure is nice. An interesting tidbit though is how frequent DeShields is visiting the charity stripe. In her first 14 contests, she shot 61 total free throws. Over her last eight games, DeShields shot 43 free throws, cashing in on 32.
Is there a secret?
With the help of DeShields’ free throw abilities, Phoenix ranks first in %FT (free throws) with 27.0 in her eight games off the bench. DeShields leaned back in her chair and explained what happens when she checks in the game.
“Well, I think that once I check in, I think that all of my teammates immediately know that, you know, the tempo can be picked up a lot,” DeShields said. “I’m so grateful to have teammates who are unselfish with the ball. And look for me and transition. And honestly, I think we all get going a little bit and we look for each other. So yeah, I think that it just adds another element to our offense. And, you know, I think that’s what I can bring night in and night out.”
DeShields looked to bring that same level of intensity to Thursday’s game against Washington. After a nasty blocked shot, she suffered an injury in her first three minutes of action. DeShields was unable to return to the game.
Taurasi let out a melancholic response to DeShields’ injury.
“It’s unfortunate, because I think she was gonna have a big game tonight. You could feel it, you know, I think she really wants to come out and play well for us and for herself,” Taurasi said. “And today, you can just tell, you know, when you’re around someone and shoot around, before the game, I just, I had a feeling she was going to have a big game tonight.”
Taurasi noticed DeShields’ unselfishness immediately. She elaborated on how much of a ‘pro’ the fifth-year player is. “She’s a pro. She comes in, works every day and she communicates with everyone,” Taurasi said. “She’s a big piece of what we want to do.”
That communication was clear to Nygaard, who described that DeShields urged for more pace within the offense. As a result, the rookie head coach made the adjustment and hasn’t looked back.
“I think every team in the league is scared to leave her two feet in the paint. And so when we could get her you know, really attacking the paint, she gets free throws [at] an extremely high rate and you know, she could finish really well in there … She’s a huge piece for us,” Nygaard said.
The former Tennessee Lady Volunteer DeShields hopes to play on Sunday against the Atlanta Dream as the Mercury look to inch closer to the playoffs.
Written by Hayden Cilley
Hayden Cilley covers the Phoenix Mercury for The Next. He is currently pursuing a bachelors degree in Sports Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.