How will the Phoenix Mercury fare with Brittney Griner suspended

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The Phoenix Mercury is currently in a tough spot as a team with an 11-12 record and the eighth spot in the WNBA standings. What is currently making headlines across many platforms is the fight that broke out during the Mercury’s matchup with the Dallas Wings over the weekend. The situation resulted the ejection and eventual three-game suspension of Brittney Griner. Phoenix now faces the tall task of playing without its star center.

No Griner, No Taurasi, Big Problem

Losing Griner for the next three games could be difficult to overcome in the standings. That stretch will feature matchups at Talking Stick Resort Arena against the elite Connecticut Sun and the hungry New York Liberty, who will be competing for a playoff spot.

The Mercury is currently only three games ahead of both the Indiana Fever and the Liberty in the standings. Losing the upcoming matchup with New York is a real possibility, especially without the WNBA’s leading scorer.

To make matters worse, the Mercury is already without Diana Taurasi. She has been sidelined with hamstring tightness without a clear timetable for return. Furthermore, she has a one-game suspension waiting for her once she is medically cleared to play.

A real disadvantage that comes with Griner being suspended for those particular games is that it may squander three appearances at home. Phoenix has a 4-9 road record so far this season and will only play half of their remaining eight games at home following Griner’s suspension.

What Phoenix has to make up for without BG

The importance of Griner to the Mercury on both ends of the floor should not be understated. She accounts for 22.9 percent of their offensive possessions and produced an impressive 1.016 points per possession. There isn’t a comparable paint protection presence on their team either.

There is simply not going to be a way to make up for Griner’s defensive impact. That alone is going to make it challenging to overcome her absence. They will likely need to embrace playing small and try to swarm teams with their speed as a unit without their great paint protecting presence.

The way that the Mercury run their half-court offense drastically changes without Griner. They will not be able to play inside-out as she accounts for 84.3 percent of the team’s post-up possessions. Phoenix will need to rely more on perimeter shooting and dribble penetration.

There are other key areas of offensive impact that the Mercury will miss with Griner sidelined. They will lack their lone dynamic pick-and-roll big who accounts for 41.3 percent of their roll possessions.  Not having her presence as a screener will make it more difficult for ball handlers to get into the paint.

It’s important to note that Griner is the Mercury’s main cutting threat inside the basket as well. She accounts for 43.4 percent of their cutting possessions. Her large catch radius and ability to finish in the paint are simply irreplaceable and force teams to think twice about helping on drives.

Bonner and Mitchell need to step up

A particular player that will need to step up their game is DeWanna Bonner. She has been in a recent scoring slump for the Mercury to have a chance to win games without Griner. Over the last three games, She has averaged only 10.7 points and has shot 24.3-percent from the field while missing all 13 of her attempts from deep.

If Bonner’s scoring slump continues, then there is little that can be done to win games. She is too important for the Mercury’s offense, in general, but especially as the lone star on the floor. She will need to be ready to handle an ultra high-usage playmaking responsibility.

The only player that seems capable of succeeding as a clear secondary offensive option over the next three games appears to be Leilani Mitchell. She has thrived over the last seven games averaging 19 points while shooting 51.9 percent from the field, 54.3 percent from deep, and 90.3 percent on free throws.

. . . And so does everybody else.

Aside from Bonner and Mitchell as the team’s clear-cut top scoring options, the rest of the active players will need to thrive in complementary roles. Whether it’s spot-up threats knocking down three-pointers or dirty work specialists taking care of business near the paint, everyone’s best is needed.

The good news for the Mercury is that they have been the WNBA’s best three-point shooting team at home this season. They shoot on average 7.8-of-19.6 (39.8 percent) and that tops the second-ranked Sun by a whole 1.7 percent. This level of efficiency may be unreasonable to expect but may be necessary to achieve.

The next few games could be an opportunity for young players to prove themselves more than they may have been able to previously. There may not be a better time other than a potential playoff series for young players to step up defensively and finish plays on offense because it could save the Mercury’s season.

There is one way for the Mercury to turn Griner’s suspension into a silver lining. They will need to at least go 2-1 during the three games without her and have one of those wins come against the Liberty. After she returns, she will have had a chance to rest and will be motivated.

On the other hand, the potential scenario that features the Mercury either going 1-2 or 0-3 without Griner is bleak. They would need to be at their best to close the season just to earn a spot in the playoffs.

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Grant Afseth is an Indiana Pacers columnist for the Kokomo Tribune and a Phoenix Mercury writer for WNBAInsidr.

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