The Phoenix Mercury introduced Thursday that Skylar Diggins-Smith would miss the ultimate two regular-season video games this season. The Mercury even have suspended her contract, so she won’t be returning in 2022 even when the staff makes the playoffs.
Heading into Thursday evening’s video games, Phoenix is in four-way tie at 14-20 within the standings, with 5 groups vying for the ultimate two playoff spots. The Los Angeles Sparks, who play Thursday, will likely be eradicated with a loss. Phoenix finishes the season internet hosting the Dallas Wings on Friday and the Chicago Sky on Sunday. Since profitable the franchise’s second title in 2009, the Mercury have missed the playoffs simply as soon as, in 2012.
However 2022 has been very tough for the Mercury below first-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard, beginning with Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia in February. Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi had a confrontation on the bench in Could, Tina Charles left the staff in June, Diggins-Smith used a clown emoji on Twitter in obvious reference to Nygaard in July, Taurasi is at present out with a quad harm and now Diggins-Smith is completed for the season.
One way or the other, the Mercury nonetheless have an opportunity on the playoffs. What is going to it take for Phoenix to make the postseason, and what does the long run appear like for the Mercury and Diggins-Smith? We have a look.
How does Diggins-Smith’s absence for Phoenix’s ultimate two regular-season video games impression the Mercury’s hopes of reaching the playoffs?
There are solely so many hits a staff can take, and the Mercury have taken quite a lot of them. They did win Saturday’s sport in opposition to the New York Liberty with out both Taurasi or Diggins-Smith. That was due to a wonderful defensive effort that held the Liberty to 62 factors, whereas Diamond DeShields scored a season-high 25 factors.
The Mercury bought profession highs in scoring from Shey Peddy and Megan Gustafson on Wednesday, however fell to Minnesota 86-77. After the sport, Gustafson talked in regards to the significance of the Mercury gamers persevering with to encourage one another.
The subsequent two opponents, the Wings and the Sky, have already secured playoff berths however each hope to enter the postseason on a excessive notice. Dallas received 5 in a row earlier than falling to the in-desperation-mode Liberty on Wednesday. Chicago has been one of many league’s greatest groups all season and is the defending champion. The Mercury are 1-2 in opposition to Dallas this season and 0-2 in opposition to the Sky.
Diggins-Smith has been one of many largest threats offensively within the league this season, as a scorer and a playmaker. To be blunt, her absence actually could possibly be the distinction between the Mercury going to the postseason and never going.
The Mercury performed their previous two video games with out Diggins-Smith. How will the beginning lineup proceed to be adjusted with out her? Who must step up?
Sophie Cunningham is a robust candidate for the WNBA’s Most Improved Participant award and has been one of many rocks for the Mercury in a season wherein a lot has occurred. Cunningham is a tireless competitor and staff participant. Not all WNBA followers are keen on her, going again to her school days at Mizzou, due to her aggressive play. However in case you are on the lookout for somebody who’s all the time going to present her all and by no means stop, that is Cunningham. The Mercury would haven’t any probability on the playoffs if she had not made the strides she has this season.
Cunningham began Wednesday’s sport together with Peddy, DeShields, Brianna Turner and Jennie Simms, who has performed in 21 video games this season after final showing within the WNBA in 2017. Yvonne Turner has appeared in seven video games with the Mercury this season, after most just lately enjoying within the WNBA in 2019. The veteran guard, who will likely be 35 in October, performed 10 minutes on Wednesday. And Gustafson was probably the most profitable participant off the Mercury bench on Wednesday.
In a nutshell, the Mercury are like a patchwork quilt proper now. They bear no resemblance to the staff Nygaard thought she could be teaching when she took the job. However the Mercury gamers are additionally ready now the place they know it is actually right down to this group that’s nonetheless standing, and they are going to be enjoying with a sense of desirous to show one thing.
Frequent sense would say the Mercury do not have good odds to win both of their final video games. However unusual issues can occur when a staff’s again is in opposition to the wall after quite a lot of adversity. Possibly Turner, a defensive whiz who has struggled as a scorer, finds that in her in these closing video games. Possibly the Mercury get sizzling from behind the arc. Possibly DeShields takes over, as her capacity permits her to do. Or perhaps they lose each video games, miss the postseason after which the postmortem on this season begins in earnest.
Ought to Phoenix advance to the postseason, it’s going to possible face a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. With out Diggins-Smith’s 19.7 PPG — almost 20% of the Mercury’s offense — and team-high 5.5 APG, how far do you see the staff advancing?
Simply making the playoffs at this level could be an enormous accomplishment. It appears unlikely the Mercury will transcend the primary spherical, clearly. They must play the very best protection they’ll play and get sizzling from behind the arc.
What’s Diggins-Smith’s future in Phoenix?
All season, it has been apparent that Nygaard and Diggins-Smith shouldn’t have an excellent working relationship. It appears almost inconceivable that each are going to be in Phoenix subsequent season. Possibly neither will.
Sandy Brondello was let go after eight seasons final yr within the wake of the frustration of the Mercury dropping within the WNBA Finals. However Brondello nearly instantly bought one other job, with New York, as a result of she is a dependable veteran coach who has proven she will be able to handle gamers’ egos.
All of Nygaard’s earlier expertise as a head coach was at the highschool stage, though she has been an assistant within the WNBA. There’s a lot to handle as a WNBA head coach behind-the-scenes, and this season would have examined even a veteran. Nonetheless, Nygaard bought the job, so she must be as much as the duty, regardless of how exhausting. That is the way in which it’s in professional sports activities.
Diggins-Smith has had an excellent season, nevertheless it has resulted in a nasty means. She turned 32 earlier this month and nonetheless seems to have quite a lot of good basketball in entrance of her. In response to salary-cap info supplied by Her Hoops Stats, Diggins-Smith is signed with Phoenix by subsequent season and will likely be an unrestricted free agent in 2024.
Diggins-Smith was drafted No. 3 general behind Griner and Elena Delle Donne in 2013. She started her profession in Tulsa and had her 2015 season lower brief after 9 video games by an ACL harm. She went to Dallas the following yr when the franchise moved and was a starter with the Wings in 2016, 2017 and 2018. She sat out the 2019 season after giving beginning to her son after which requested a commerce from Dallas.
Diggins-Smith talked then about coping with postpartum melancholy and appeared looking forward to a recent begin in Phoenix. She has contributed rather a lot to the Mercury in her three seasons and is a well-liked participant with the followers. But when that is the tip of her time in Phoenix, the place does she go subsequent and what does it imply for the Mercury?
Phoenix’s iconic participant is the 40-year-old Taurasi and the franchise’s different longtime star remains to be imprisoned in Russia. Now Diggins-Smith is perhaps on the way in which out and the Mercury have many points to face within the coming months.