Slow-starting Mercury look for quick remedy
JUN 13, 2013 1:01p ET
“It’s the GM's fault,” Gaines said.
For the record, Gaines is the general manager.
And it was the general manager who – in an effort to exploit the powerhouse potential of 6-foot-8 rookie Brittney Griner – attempted to alter a team system to fit a player rather than taking the opposite approach.
“Fortunately, I’m not too stubborn,” Gaines, whose Mercury will carry a 1-3 record into Friday’s home date with the Los Angeles Sparks, said.
Through the Mercury’s first three games, Gaines had watched his team give up 100 points to Chicago in the season-opener, surrender 99 at Minnesota and score only 72 against Seattle.
Even though Phoenix’s points-allowed column didn’t look very impressive, it was the inefficiency on offense that took the Mercury to a bad place at each end of the floor.
“We were trying to get the ball inside, had changed the offense geared around Brittney,” Gaines said. “Not Brittney’s fault by any means.”
No, Griner – averaging almost 17 points per game on 54 percent shooting during that 0-3 start – was adjusting pretty well, but her teammates didn’t exactly slip seamlessly back into their comfort zones.
“We tried to conform a new style by taking less of the old style,” Gaines said, referring to the side effect of slowing down the Mercury’s historically fast tempo. “It kind of made everybody defer to each other.
“I saw it for three games. I thought about it and decided we’re going back to our old style – fun and gun, organized chaos, up-tempo … whatever you want to call it.”
Well, let’s call it right on time. Game 4 occurred in Indiana and resulted in an 82-67 triumph over the Fever.
Mercury star Diana Taurasi, working a bit more at point guard of late, still managed to create enough opportunities for 26 points on her stat line while the Mercury shot 47 percent from the floor. And Phoenix picked it up at both ends, holding Indy to 37 percent shooting.
So, everything’s ducky moving into the game with L.A., right?
Well, there’s still some fine-tuning to reconcile. It should be noted that the victory over the Fever occurred with Griner out of the lineup thanks to a left-knee sprain that makes her a game-time decision for Friday.
This reminds us the old style is a lot easier getting back to when there aren’t any significant newcomers to fold in.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Taurasi said of incorporating Griner into a system most of the rotation players had been working in for several years. “You have to work through some difficulties.
“We have to make sure we use Brittney’s strengths.”
Before the season began, Gaines reminded WNBA observers that Griner’s size would not prevent her from joining her teammates in those transition forays.
“She’s just as fast as Candice (Dupree),” he said, using his power forward as an example.
So the architect of Phoenix’s 2009 WNBA championship knew the coveted rookie could be a force within the existing system. But like an office manager with shiny new technology, he looked for more sophisticated ways to achieve the old results.
“You learn,” he said. “If I had eight preseason games, I could have figured it out around the third or fourth game.”
Gaines did acknowledge that the ridiculously quick transition from players arriving from overseas to the start of the WNBA calendar is an issue shared by every team.
“So that’s on me,” he said. “But there are ways to do what we do and involve her (Griner). There can be quick-hitters off of secondary break or whatever you want to call it.
“It’s just attack, run the offense, if it’s not there, move the ball around. But it ain’t walking the ball down the court.”
And once the ball is in the attacking area, having it in Taurasi’s hands more often figures to pay dividends.
“I’ve played enough basketball to know the strengths and weaknesses of my teammates,” she said, “and I’ll put them in good positions.”