Mercedes Russell is Criminally Underrated

The beginning of this season was interesting for the Seattle Storm, as they dealt with players arriving late from overseas, many new personnel, and a head coaching change in the middle of the season. Players have taken turns having the hot hand – Jewell Loyd had an incredible start to the season before cooling off a bit, and Breanna Stewart had some great games.

However, one of the most impressive players for the Storm this season has been Mercedes Russell. Russell joined Seattle in 2018, where she only averaged 5.6 minutes per game and didn’t start any games. Then, in 2019, Storm star Breanna Stewart tore her Achilles, and the team needed someone to step up. Mercedes had a good season that year, averaging 7.5 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game. When the 2020 “Wubble” season came around, Stewie was back with a vengeance, and former Storm center Natasha Howard soaked up many of Mercedes’s minutes as she dropped back down to 13.6 minutes per game.

Now in the 2021 season, Mercedes is back and playing better than ever. Russell is now in the starting lineup and posting statistical bests in many categories this year. She’s currently averaging career bests in field goal percentage (58.9%), free throw percentage (66.7%), rebounds per game (6.4), assists per game (1.4).

Coach Noelle Quinn has been singing Russell’s praises for a while and called out the many fans and media that may not recognize Russell’s talent in a postgame interview. After the overtime loss to the Las Vegas Aces on June 27, Coach Quinn said, “Sometimes [Russell’s] stats don’t jump out, but she’s solid. People need to appreciate what she does. She’s a vital piece to this team.” She’s absolutely right – reading the stat sheet after the game just doesn’t quite convey how critical Russell is for the Storm. When fans watch the game, it seems like Russell’s hands are in nearly every play on each side of the storm, even if the box score doesn’t quite reflect that.

In that same postgame conference, teammate Jordin Canada added, “She’s a great screener, she can rebound… she does it all for us”. Russell had a tough matchup against both Liz Cambage and reigning MVP A’ja Wilson in that game but still managed to snag a double-double, putting up 12 points and grabbing 11 boards.

In the final series before the month-long Olympic and All-Star break, Seattle faced a tough matchup against the Phoenix Mercury. Russell had the nearly impossible job of matching up against Brittney Griner. Griner poured in 29 points and 15 rebounds in their first meeting.

Mercedes (who has many other monikers, including Cedes and Mer-slay-des) also made a couple of nice buckets during the two-game stretch against the Mercury. There was a sequence in the final minute of the first game where Cedes hit a layup, then ran the length of the floor to defend Griner. Griner missed her jumper, and Mercedes flew down the lane, scoring another bucket to help the Storm cut into Phoenix’s lead before she eventually fouled out near the end of regulation. Russell finished the game with 12 points, six rebounds, two assists, and a block.

After heading back to the drawing board, Russell was much more aggressive on defense in the second matchup and held Griner to 16 points. Even though Mercedes only scored eight points in this matchup, each of the buckets were hard-fought.

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Russell also scored on a beautiful pick and roll. Jewell caught the pass on the wing as Mercedes came up and set a perfect screen. Jewell went off the screen toward the elbow while Cedes executed a great seal and flashed to the basket. It was a perfectly executed play.

It hasn’t all been rainbows for Seattle, though. Coach Quinn and players alike have been open about acknowledging that the team still is searching for its perfect chemistry. Mercedes didn’t have an easy path either, as she missed the first two games of the season while traveling back from her offseason in Turkey.

During the postgame presser after the win over Phoenix, Mercedes joked, “We’re going to go into this break -Stewie’s gonna come back with a gold medal, (Katie) Lou’s gonna come back with a medal… and I’m going to the beach!” She then added that the Storm are happy with how they are meshing now and look to take that momentum through the upcoming break.

It will be interesting to see how the month-long beak impacts different players. For instance, Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, and Katie Lou Samuelson are all headed to Las Vegas this week and then to Tokyo for the Olympics, so they will also still be playing high-level basketball without much of a rest time. Russell, however, is ready to relax and let her body recover from the first half of the season. This break might just be exactly what Mercedes Russell needs to push her game to the next level when the WNBA resumes play in mid-August.

The Seattle Storm will kick off a long road trip to begin the second half of the season, starting against the Chicago Sky on August 15. 

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