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 workforce makes the playoffs.
Heading into Thursday night time’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, can 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 troublesome for the Mercury beneath 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 Might, Tina Charles left the team 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 injury and now Diggins-Smith is completed for the season.
By some means, 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 longer term appear to be for the Mercury and Diggins-Smith? We have a look.
How does Diggins-Smith’s absence for Phoenix’s remaining two regular-season video games influence the Mercury’s hopes of reaching the playoffs?
There are solely so many hits a workforce can take, and the Mercury have taken a whole lot of them. They did win Saturday’s recreation 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 received 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 word. 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 beforehand this season, and 0-2 in opposition to the Sky.
Diggins-Smith has been one of many greatest threats offensively within the league this season, as a scorer and a playmaker. To be blunt, her absence actually may very well be the distinction between the Mercury going to the postseason and never going.
The Mercury performed their final 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 powerful candidate for the WNBA’s Most Improved Participant award and has been one of many rocks for the Mercury in a season during which a lot has occurred. Cunningham is a tireless competitor and workforce participant. Not all WNBA followers are keen on her, going again to her faculty days at Mizzou, due to her aggressive play. However in case you are searching for somebody who’s all the time going to present her all and by no means stop, that is Cunningham. The Mercury would don’t have any probability on the playoffs if she had not made the strides she has this season.
Cunningham began Wednesday’s recreation 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 lately taking part in within the WNBA in 2019. The veteran guard, who can be 35 in October, performed 10 minutes on Wednesday. And Gustafson was essentially 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 workforce 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 taking part in 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 workforce’s again is in opposition to the wall after a whole lot of adversity. Perhaps Turner, a defensive whiz who has struggled as a scorer, finds that in her in these closing video games. Perhaps the Mercury get scorching from behind the arc. Perhaps DeShields takes over, as her means permits her to do. Or perhaps they lose each video games, miss the postseason, after which the autopsy on this season begins in earnest.
Ought to Phoenix advance to the postseason, they will seemingly face a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. With out Diggins-Smith’s 19.7 PPG — practically 20% of the Mercury’s offense — and team-high 5.5 APG, how far do you see the workforce 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 perfect protection they will play, and get scorching from behind the arc.
What’s Diggins-Smith’s future in Phoenix?
All season, it has been apparent that Nygaard and Diggins-Smith should not have a very good working relationship. It appears practically not possible that each are going to be in Phoenix subsequent season. Perhaps neither will.
Sandy Brondello was let go after eight seasons final 12 months within the wake of the frustration of the Mercury shedding within the WNBA Finals. However Brondello nearly instantly received one other job, with New York, as a result of she is a dependable veteran coach who has proven she will be able to deal with participant egos.
All of Nygaard’s earlier expertise as a head coach was at the highschool degree, though she has been an assistant within the WNBA. There may be a lot to handle as a WNBA head coach that’s behind-the-scenes, and this season would have examined even a veteran. Nonetheless, Nygaard received the job, so she must be as much as the duty, regardless of how arduous. That is the way in which it’s in professional sports activities.
Diggins-Smith has had an impressive season, nevertheless it has resulted in a nasty means. She turned 32 earlier this month and nonetheless seems to have a whole 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 way of subsequent season and can be an unrestricted free agent in 2024.
Diggins-Smith was drafted No. 3 total behind Griner and Elena Delle Donne in 2013. She started her profession in Tulsa, and had her 2015 season reduce brief after 9 video games by an ACL damage. She went to Dallas the following 12 months when the franchise moved, and was a starter with the Wings in 2016, ’17 and ’18. 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 despair and appeared looking forward to a contemporary begin in Phoenix. She has contributed loads to the Mercury in her three seasons and is a well-liked participant with the followers. But when that is the top 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 continues to be imprisoned in Russia. Now Diggins-Smith could be on the way in which out, and the Mercury have many points to face within the coming months.