DeWanna Bonner shines, shows versatility in triumphant return to Mercury lineup
The Phoenix Mercury had a great run last season, reaching the semi-final round (previously the Conference Finals) for the fifth straight season, and the eighth time in nine seasons. But for the third season in a row, they failed to win a game in that round, as they were clearly overmatched against a powerful Los Angeles Sparks team.
This season, however, the Mercury just might have what it takes to return to championship contention and prevent a three-match between the Sparks and Minnesota Lynx in the Finals. They made a number of nice moves this offseason to improve their team, but if they are able to get back to contender status, one of the main reasons why will be DeWanna Bonner. The lanky, versatile 6–4 forward is back in action after missing all of last season on maternity leave, and provides a much-needed boost on both ends of the floor.
It didn’t take her long to show her impact, as she came up big in the Mercury’s season-opening win on Friday night against the Dallas Wings. Bonner had a bit of an inefficient night shooting the ball, going just 6 of 17 from the field, but she finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks, and was a team-best plus-nine.
Let’s take a look at how she was able to impact the game with her length and versatility.
Even in the late stage of her career, Diana Taurasi is still one of the most dangerous offensive players in the league, and Brittney Griner has really come into her own on that side of the ball. But if either one of them was struggling, or got into foul trouble last season, the Mercury really struggled to find consistent offense. Bonner’s return gives them a legit third option and should guarantee the Mercury have at least one elite — or near-elite anyway — offensive player on the floor at all times.
What separates Bonner apart from most forwards, and makes her return so important for the Mercury, is her varied skillset. In terms of scoring, she can fill it up at all three levels.
She’s more than capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim, as she showed here.
But she’s also quite comfortable taking and making jumpers. Whether it’s of the one-dribble pull-up variety in the mid-range.
Or even from 3. She’s never been super efficient from downtown, but at just under 33 percent in 2016, she’s decent enough to make the defense respect her, which opens up the other aspects of her game.
In addition, her ability to handle the ball allows her to grab rebounds and start fastbreaks herself. This one ends up with Taurasi getting blocked, but it shows how Bonner’s return will help the Mercury speed up the game and get out in transition for easy looks.
And on this one, she grabs the rebound after playing some stellar defense (more on that in a minute), then controls the ball the entire possession before finishing inside. It’s not the smoothest look, as she was trying to run out the clock, but it shows her ability to run the show offensively when necessary.
And she’s more than willing to do the dirty work, as she showed late in the fourth quarter. After a missed jumper by BG, Bonner fights for a tough rebound before kicking it out to Taurasi for a clutch 3-pointer that sealed the game.
With Bonner back, the Mercury’s offense should be much improved from their seventh-best 102.2 offensive rating last season.
Bonner’s defensive versatility may even surpass her offensive versatility. With her quick feet and long arms, Bonner can capably guard 1–4 and often gets in passing lanes for steals.
Watch here as she reads Glory Johnson, then sneaks over from the weakside to knock the pass away and create a turnover.
To see her ability to guard multiple positions, look no further than this one possession late in the second quarter. Initially matched up with Skylar Diggins-Smith, Bonner sticks with the All-WNBA point guard, cuts off her drive, then switches onto Johnson and blocks her shot.
For another look, check out this play from just a few possessions later. Although initially she gives up the offensive rebound to the taller Azura Stevens, Bonner keeps battling, walls Stevens up and gets the block. And you want to talk about her ability to turn offense into defense, watch this. She quickly gathers the ball, pushes it ahead and the Mercury get an open 3.
In case you forgot in her one-year absence, DeWanna Bonner is really, really good. And boy will the Mercury sure be glad they have her back in action.