May 4, 2023 

Mercury rookies focus on learning from veterans

Destiny Harden and Kadi Sissoko aren't locks to make Mercury but impressing Nygaard so far

After a slew of trades in recent years, the Phoenix Mercury’s two selections in the 2023 draft were in the third round. Third-round picks don’t often remain on teams in the regular season with just 25% of third-round picks from the 2021 and 2022 drafts have played in a WNBA game so far. Destiny Harden and Kadi Sissoko are competing in training camp to beat the odds and make the Mercury’s roster.

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Whether or not Sissoko or Harden make the team, playing in training camp with two of the best players in league history, guard Diana Taurasi and center Brittney Griner, is beneficial.

“Those are great players,” Harden said. “Some of the best players in the league right now. … So, I’m just trying to be a sponge to them each and every day. The littlest information I can get [from] them — I’m going to learn from them. It’s just great being around them every day and they [are] willing to help me learn and I’m willing to take in whatever they got.”

Sissoko also spoke on her experience interacting with Phoenix’s veterans. “I learn from them each day,” she said. “And they’re just like great people overall. Like even outside when we step off the court they’re really good at giving [advice] and they’re just nice people to be around. So I’m very grateful to have them here with me.”

At her Wednesday press conference at the Mercury’s media day, Taurasi had high praise for Sissoko. “The French kid from USC — she has length,” Taurasi said. “She has this maturity about her. And I know these overseas players, they just play hard. They just know one way. They get after it every single time they get on the court and that’s been fun to really watch.”

Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard spoke on Sissoko and Harden. She praised Sissoko’s length and ability to guard different positions and applauded Harden’s energy and work ethic, though cautioned it is too soon to say whether either will make the roster.

There are seemingly six-to-eight locks to be on Phoenix’s opening night roster. Taurasi, Griner, guard Sophie Cunningham, guard Moriah Jefferson and forward Brianna Turner will likely make the roster due to their contracts being guaranteed. Other players who are expected to make the roster are guard Shey Peddy, forward Michaela Onyenwere and center Megan Gustafson. Guard Skylar Diggins-Smith is on maternity leave so the Mercury will be able to replace her with a player on a minimum contract.

If the Mercury have Taurasi, Griner, Cunningham, Jefferson, Turner, Peddy, Onyenwere, Gustafson and Diggins-Smith counting toward the salary cap, they will be at $1,295,903 in total salaries. This would allow for two minimum contracts for players with two years of service or less and one replacement player.

The decision to keep Harden or Sissoko may come down to need. Peddy is coming off of a ruptured Achilles tendon and could miss the start of the season. So, rounding out the bench with guards might be what the Mercury choose to do. However, Gustafson and Onyenwere do not have guaranteed contracts and could be outplayed off the roster by Harden or Sissoko in training camp.

Sissoko, however, explained that her mind is not on trying to buck the trend and become a rare third-round pick to make a WNBA roster. “Honestly, I’m not even thinking about that,” she said. “Like, I’m just super happy to be here and now it’s just going to come down to what I can produce and what the coaches are looking for. And I’m just going to try to be me — the best version of me and see what comes after that.”

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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