Editor’s Note: In 2019, Nothing But Nylon created Prestige Rankings, a system designed to display the very best and very worst teams any basketball league has had to offer over history. Using points based upon various accomplishments or failures, we have ranked every WNBA team in multiple ways to show you who has truly run the show since 1997. We’re up to #3 Phoenix Mercury, but take a look at all of the criteria and defunct teams to get a good idea of how things work.
Years Active: 1997-Present
Prestige Score: 91.2
Prestige Rank: 5/23
Active Rank: 3/12
Phoenix’s three championships are tied for the second-most of all active teams, and they’re the biggest reason why the Mercury are this high on the list. But there’s a sizable gap between them and the Storm. Why’s that? The reason is simple: consistency.
The Mercury have had several seasons ending in negative points – seven, to be exact – and in their first 10 years only broke 25 points in a single season once. But after a rough opening decade, Phoenix has constantly been in the postseason and advancing rounds, beginning with the organization’s first championship in 2007. Between 2007-18, the Mercury made the playoffs 10 times and advanced at least one round all 10 times.
That means that even in non-championship seasons, Phoenix was still adding up chunks of points, adding 80 here, 100 there, to accumulate almost 600 more raw points than Seattle. The original WNBA Finals appearance in 1998 helps, but more than a decade of contending has elevated Phoenix among the elite in the WNBA.
Phoenix Mercury Totals
WNBA Championships: 3 |300 points|
WNBA Finals Appearances: 4 |240 points|
Series Wins: 20 |600 points|
Playoffs Wins: 40 |600 points|
Playoffs Byes: 0 |0 points)|
Playoffs Appearances: 13 |174 points|
Regular Season Top Record: 2 |20 points|
Above .500 Regular Season: 12 |48 points|
All-WNBA Player on Roster: 20 |60 points|
MVP on Roster: 1 |5 points|
Coach of the Year: 1 |5 points|
Regular Season Worst Record: 1 |-10 points|
Below .500 Regular Season: 9 |-36 points|
Total points: |2,006|
Best Year: 2010
The Mercury seemed to solidify themselves as one of the best teams in the league through the first stages of the season, jumping out to a 12-4 start concluding a six-game winning streak in July. Phoenix couldn’t put together another run like that again in the regular season, but it found enough Ws to finish at the top of the league with a 23-11 record, one game better than the Indiana Fever.
To open the postseason, Phoenix faced the No. 4 seed San Antonio Stars, traveling to Texas for Game 1. Immediately, the below-.500 Stars put the pressure on Phoenix with a slim 92-91 upset to begin the series. Needing a win in Game 2, DeWanna Bonner registered 16 points and 11 rebounds, plus 24 points from Diana Taurasi, to help the Mercury run away with it, 106-78, to force a decisive Game 3. Phoenix’s offense continued to click into the series finale as Taurasi put up 30 on 11-of-17 shooting, and the Mercury outscored the Stars, 100-92, to advance to the Western Conference Finals, 2-1.
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No. 3 seed Los Angeles Sparks was the next enemy, and in Game 1, Taurasi and the Mercury kept the offense surging, overcoming 72 combined points from Candace Parker, Tina Thompson and Lisa Leslie to win, 103-94. The Sparks stifled that scoring in the next outing, shutting down Phoenix’s supporting cast to tied the series, 87-76, despite 25 points from Taurasi. Again, the Mercury needed a Game 3 victory to keep their title hopes alive, and again they got it. Taurasi went for 21 points and seven rebounds as three other Mercury players scored in double figures in the team’s 85-74 series-securing win.
In its third-ever WNBA Finals appearance – going 1-1 in the previous two tries – Phoenix met the Fever for the season’s crown in what became a legendary series. In Game 1, Cappie Pondexter was inaccurate on a game-winning attempt at the end of regulation, forcing overtime with the teams tied at 105. In the extra period, Pondexter scored seven of her 23 points, enough to help her team claim the 120-116 victory for a 1-0 Mercury lead in the series.
Indiana responded in Game 2, with Tamika Catching falling one rebound short of a triple-double and a defensive effort that held Taurasi to 20 points on 7-of-22 shooting (2-of-10 from three) leading to a 93-84 Fever win to knot the series, 1-1. Game 3 went back to razor-thin margins: a jumper from Ebony Hoffman with 57 ticks remaining put Indiana up one, and ultimately insurmountable lead after Hoffman’s game-saving block in the waning moments to secure an 86-85 Fever victory. The series went back to Phoenix with the Mercury in a 2-1 hole.
Game 4 was more relaxing for Phoenix as the home fans were treated to a relatively comfortable win, 90-77, holding the Fever to 2-of-13 shooting in the fourth quarter and making 10 triples to keep Indiana at a distance to send the series to five. In the 2009 season finale, Taurasi and Pondexter combined for 50 points and Bonner and Penny Taylor chipped in double-digit scoring efforts to propel Phoenix to a 94-86 championship-clinching triumph, the organization’s second title.
Taurasi led the team in scoring, posting 20.4 points per game. Pondexter was close behind at 19.1 points per night, with Bonner (11.2) and Taylor (10.9) up next. Bonner, Taurasi and Tangela Smith all averaged more than five rebounds per contest, and Pondexter was the top passer, dishing 5.0 dimes per outing. It was Corey Gaines’s second season as Phoenix’s head coach and first and only championship of his career. Taurasi and Pondexter were both named to the All-WNBA First Team, and Taurasi received the league’s MVP award.
The Storm were dominant from the get-go, getting off to a 9-1 start, then winning 13-straight from mid-June through July to be 22-2 at the end of the month. The team would lose some steam down the stretch before the postseason, ending with a 28-6 mark, setting a record for wins in a WNBA regular season that stood for four years.
As the top seed and heavy favorite to win the West as the only team in the conference with a winning record, Seattle faced the No. 4 seed Los Angeles Sparks in the Western Conference Semifinals. Swin Cash and Lauren Jackson took over, combining for 77 points on 27-of-54 shooting in the two games it took to dispatch of the Sparks comfortably, 2-0. The Storm met the No. 2 seed Phoenix Mercury in the Western Conference Finals, and behind Jackson’s 23 points and 17 rebounds in Game 1, Seattle took a 1-0 lead, 82-74. Phoenix got close to evening up the series in Game 2, holding a 71-61 advantage after the third quarter and a 13-point lead with 5-minutes and 35-seconds to play. From there, Seattle went on a 21-5 run to close the game, tying the game at 88 on a Cash layup with 36.2 seconds remaining, then a Sue Bird three-pointer with 2.8 ticks to give her team a decisive 91-88 series clincher.
In the WNBA Finals, the Atlanta Dream stood between the Storm and their second championship. In Game 1, Atlanta erased a six-point deficit in one minute to knot the game at 77 with 60 seconds left, but again, Bird hit a jumper to break the tie with 2.6 seconds remaining, swinging the game the Storm’s way. Another big 26-point night from Jackson and 17 points from Tanisha Wright, who averaged 9.2 points per game in the regular season, lifted Seattle to an 87-84 victory and 2-0 series lead.
The Storm completed the job in Game 3, but it wasn’t without drama. Seattle had opened up a 82-70 lead with 3-minutes and 15-seconds left, and again, Atlanta nearly overcame it. The Dream roared to within one, 85-84, with under 10 seconds to go. Camille Little sank two free throws moments later to put Seattle up three, then Atlanta missed two looks at three at the horn, securing the 2010 crown for Seattle.
Jackson was the team’s top scorer at 20.5 points per outing, with Cash (13.8), Bird (11.1) and Little (10.1) serving as second through fourth. She also did the most work on the glass, grabbing 8.3 rebounds per night, while Bird did the distributing, averaging a team-high 5.8 assists per contest. Head coach Brian Agler was in his third season in Seattle, and the championship was his first.
Jackson was named to the All-WNBA First Team, and Bird was on the All-WNBA Second Team. Jackson also won league MVP honors, and Agler was awarded Coach of the Year.
Worst Year: 2003
In the middle of the 2002 season, Mercury head coach Cynthia Cooper stepped down unexpectedly, forcing the team to elevate assistant coach Linda Sharp as interim for the remainder of the year. Following the season, Phoenix hired John Shumate as its fourth-ever head coach.
Five and four-game losing streaks in the first two months of the season had the Mercury 2-11 near the end of June. They outdid themselves in July, dropping seven-straight to be 3-18 close to the month’s conclusion. In the end, Phoenix finished 8-26, last in the league by one game.
Anna DeForge was the team’s leading scorer with 11.9 points per outing. Adrian Williams-Strong (9.8), Tamicha Jackson (8.8) and Slobodanka Tuvic (7.5) followed her. Williams-Strong grabbed the most rebounds at 7.4 per game, and Jackson was the top distributor with 4.3 assists per contest. It was Shumate’s only season in Phoenix as he was replaced after the year with Carrie Graf.
The Storm have finished at least tied for the worst record in the league three times, but never did the team perform worse than in its first year in 2000, suffering from the standard expansion woes.
Seattle never won two games in a row all season and went on four losing streaks of at least four games, the longest stretching to eight from late June to early July. In all, the team went 6-26, two games worse than the Charlotte Sting for the league’s bottom position, only averaging a meager 56.9 points per game for the season.
Edna Campbell averaged 13.9 points per game, first on the team, with Kamila Vodichkova (8.7), Robin Threatt-Elliott (7.8) and Simone Edwards (7.4) right behind. Vodichkova was the team’s top rebounder at 4.2 boards per night, and Sonja Henning posted a team-high 2.5 assists per outing. It was Lin Dunn’s first season as a head coach in Seattle and in the WNBA.
Winningest Coach: Sandy Brondello
In the midst of a disappointing 2013 campaign, Phoenix fired Gaines and promoted Russ Pennell as interim coach for the rest of the season. In November 2013, the team announced Sandy Brondello as the ninth head coach in franchise history.
In her first season at the helm in 2014, Brondello helped lead the Mercury to a 29-5 mark, the most-ever regular season wins in a single WNBA season. More importantly, though, she took the team to the WNBA Finals and won Phoenix’s third-ever WNBA crown, the first and only of Brondello’s career. In the four seasons since, she has had Phoenix in the Semifinals, falling one series short of the WNBA Finals each of the last four seasons, and helped extend its playoff streak to six seasons.
Brondello’s has a 134-101 overall record (17-14 in the playoffs) through five full seasons as the Mercury head coach and is entering her sixth campaign as Phoenix’s boss.
No. 12 – Las Vegas Aces
No. 11 – Dallas Wings
No. 10 – Chicago Sky
No. 9 – Washington Mystics
No. 8 – Connecticut Sun
No. 7 – New York Liberty
No. 6 – Indiana Fever
No. 5 – Atlanta Dream
No. 4 – Seattle Storm
No. 3 – Phoenix Mercury
No. 2 – May 23
No. 1 – May 23