April 14, 2021
2021 WNBA Draft Preview: Phoenix Mercury
A quiet night ahead, though Phoenix's track record shows they could find good value at 32
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As has typically been the case during the late prime of Diana Taurasi, the Mercury will enter this week’s WNBA Draft expecting not to be heavily involved, having traded their first-round selection away to acquire Kia Nurse during the free agency period. Their only pick will come 32nd overall. With not only Taurasi looking to win now but also Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith firmly in their prime years, Phoenix has frequently sacrificed draft picks for greater depth of talent on the roster.
The Mercury’s first-round pick belongs to Chicago by way of the megadeal involving Natasha Howard and Katie Lou Samuelson, while Phoenix’s second-round pick heads to Connecticut through a winding path of transactions. They won’t be very busy for the first hour or so of Thursday’s draft if everything goes as expected.
This follows a similar trajectory as the 2020 draft when Phoenix traded their first-round pick for Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who left after one season to join Atlanta. What was similarly illustrative about the Mercury’s 2020 draft were the hard decisions they had to make at the end of the roster in deciding to go into the Bubble with no rookies on the roster.
After selecting and then trading Jocelyn Willoughby for Walker-Kimbrough, the Mercury found good value in both the second and third rounds, taking Te’a Cooper (second) and Stella Johnson (third) in the latter picks of the draft. Both players would go onto play fairly well in their rookie seasons in Bradenton, though not for the Mercury. Because they have prioritized veteran talent and star power, Phoenix did not have space on its roster for either Cooper or Johnson and cut both before ever getting to the Bubble.
So while it could be seen as a heavy opportunity cost to give up a pick for a player like Nurse, head coach Sandy Brondello did confirm Nurse would start this season, and it’s easier to feel good about the former All-Star than a rookie when the goal is a championship. Similarly, losing the second-round pick may not hurt Phoenix much since they may not have been able to keep that player on the roster anyway.
The Mercury currently have 13 players on their roster, one more than the WNBA maximum, after signing Marta Xargay and Sara Blicavs to training camp contracts. Should Phoenix select a player with the 32nd pick on Thursday, that player will effectively be in a three-way competition with Xargay and Blicavs for the team’s final roster spot.
For what it’s worth when Phoenix has decided to be aggressive and get their targets, such as in 2019, they have found talented young players. Brianna Turner looks the part of a future Defensive Player of the Year and a foundational piece going forward after the Mercury traded up for her in 2019. They have found good value in players like Stephanie Talbot (the No. 33 pick in 2014) and Isabelle Harrison (the No. 12 pick in 2015) when they have kept their picks.
Phoenix ought to be fairly quiet this week, but shouldn’t completely ignore the chance to find a difference-maker in the third round based on their track record and the fact that they have at least one open roster spot.
Other team-by-team WNBA Draft previews: