July 3, 2023 

Phoenix Mercury’s play still a mixed bag one week after coaching change

Some things are noticeably better under Nikki Blue, but main problems persist

Three games into the Nikki Blue era, the Phoenix Mercury have made some improvements, but the issues plaguing the 3-12 team this season are still prevalent.

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Phoenix’s turnover struggles have not gotten better since Blue took over. They lead the league in turnovers per game at 16.2, and that number has only gone up after a three-game home stretch that now has the team at 3-12 for the season:

  • Tuesday (77-62 loss to Dallas): 18 turnovers
  • Thursday (85-63 win over Indiana): 16 turnovers
  • Saturday (86-76 loss to Minnesota): 24 turnovers

Saturday’s game proved particularly rough, since the Mercury shot over 50% from the field (30-for-59) and otherwise looked to have some rhythm offensively. But five different players committed three or more turnovers.

“24 turnovers are rough,” Blue said. “I think you fix those possession by possession. We will be watching a lot of film. … We just have to be more intentional with what we are trying to get. Our passes and our cuts and the illegal screens (are) things we have to really clean up. So, 24 turnovers is not feel-good but a lot of those were on us. And the good thing though is a lot of those are correctables.”

After Phoenix put together a solid defensive performance against Dallas on Tuesday and allowed a season-low 63 points to the Fever on Thursday, Phoenix’s defense took a major step back on Saturday — and the poor showing went beyond the 86 points allowed on 45.6 shooting.

A few particularly bad examples came in the fourth quarter. On back-to-back possessions, Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi lost her defender, first drifting into the key as Bridget Carleton floated out for a wide-open look she drilled. Then on the next play, Taurasi didn’t rotate to help pinch on forward Brianna Turner‘s matchup after a switch, leaving Napheesa Collier wide open for a easy layup and helping Minnesota start to pull away.

For Mercury fans, the hope is new assistant coach Charli Turner Thorne can improve the defense. Turner Thorne, the legendary former head coach of Arizona State, had a reputation of stifling defensive teams during her time at ASU.

It has not been all bad for the Mercury since Blue became interim head coach after Phoenix fired Vanessa Nygaard. They finally won the rebounding battle on Saturday against the Lynx, the first time Phoenix has done so since its last game against Minnesota on May 25.

The energy from the Mercury has also been noticeably better since the coaching change. And while the turnovers are still high, the ball movement has looked better.

Individually, Turner has looked much more comfortable in the last three games. She had a season-high 13 rebounds on Saturday against the Lynx, a season-high 11 points on Thursday against the Fever and a solid performance against the Wings on Tuesday. Against Dallas that night, she had four points, seven rebounds, a career-high five steals and three blocks.

In Turner’s eyes, the key to the improvement has been Blue’s change to the rotation to pair her up on the floor with Brittney Griner more often.

“Me and [Griner] haven’t really been on the floor that much together because usually I come in and sub for her,” Turner said. “But I feel like in the recent games, we’ve been on the court more together. So [we’ve been] able to find our high-low game more and play together a little bit more which I think has changed our offense a little bit.”

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The next opportunity for Phoenix to show improvement is on the road at the New York Liberty on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT. The Liberty have been one of the best teams in the WNBA this season and took down the Mercury 89-71 on June 18.

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Written by Jesse Morrison

Jesse Morrison covers the Phoenix Mercury for The Next. A native of Roanoke, Va., Jesse moved to Arizona in 2017 to attend the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, graduating in 2021 with a degree in sports journalism. Outside of The Next, Jesse works for Arizona Sports, co-hosting an Arizona State podcast, producing a radio show and writing for their website.

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