To say this WNBA season in Phoenix has been tumultuous would be an understatement. Brittney Griner’s wrongful detainment in Russia is front-and-center in Mercury teammates’ and fans’ minds as her trial is ongoing. And on the court, we’ve seen a clown emoji debacle, the departure of Hall of Famer-to-be Tina Charles via contract divorce, and superstar feuds between Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith.
But while one player of that star duo has been up-and-down all season, the latter has been the team’s anchor and deserves more credit for the Mercury’s current standing, just a half-game out of the No. 6 seed.
If the Mercury are able to snag a final spot in the playoffs (six teams are separated by three games for three playoff spots), it’s going to be because of Diggins-Smith. The 31-year-old is having one of the best seasons of her career, scoring a career-best 20.9 points per game as the team’s most reliable two-way option no matter the matchup.
Put simply: the Mercury are getting smacked whenever she leaves the court. When Diggins-Smith plays, they’re out-scoring opponents by 2.3 points per 100 possessions. When she’s on the bench, they’re being out-scored by 16.5 points per 100 possessions. That’s the difference between a postseason squad and one that earns the No. 1 draft pick.
It feels odd to have to call attention to a player averaging 20 points and 5.5 assists per game, but after she was snubbed as an All-Star starter, and then reportedly placed on the trade block, it’s also necessary.
Vanessa Nygaard’s willingness to play Sophie Cunningham at the four has helped. But if Skylar Diggins-Smith’s 35 points against the Storm didn’t get enough attention, let me hammer the point even further. The Mercury are going as far as SDS takes them.