Favorite Moment From First Half of Season

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com

There's a lot to choose from.

Maybe it was DeWanna Bonner's 38 points against the Silver Stars in San Antonio. Or, Sammy Prahalis' late game heroics against the Washington Mystics at home.

Heck, it could be dozens of others. After all -- to each his/her own.

Mine, however, is a little more abstract and/or random.

It was one of those "blink and you'll miss it" type of moments, but it got me more pumped for the future of this Mercury team than any other play in 2012 so far.

* * *

Early in the year, the Mercury hosted the Los Angeles Sparks for the team's first home game of the season. Ironically, it was pretty much the last time Phoenix played with anything resembling a full, healthy squad (relatively speaking, of course).

Nevertheless, there was one play in particular involving Sammy Prahalis, Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner that spoke volumes to me. And while it may seem rather mundane or commonplace to some, the intricacies of the play are quite remarkable.

The play began with Candice Dupree setting a ball screen (she does this as well as anyone in the WNBA) on Sammy Prahalis' defender (the Sparks' Kristi Toliver) near the top of the key.

Toliver, an exceptionally quick player, then had two choices:

1. Go underneath the screen.

2. Go around the screen.

Typically, in the WNBA, players are taught to go around the screen rather than underneath it. This is largely due to how gifted WNBA players are offensively and how far their shooting range extends. If they go underneath the screen, the offensive player usually has an open shot. Fighting around the screen, on the other hand, at least allows the defensive player an opportunity to stop the ball.

However, in order for a successful pick and roll to happen, the dribbler has to take her defender towards the screener's shoulder (essentially, the ball handler and screener should come as close to rubbing shoulders as possible).

Rather, Prahalis has to "sell" the screen. If she doesn't do this, Dupree's screen is ineffective.

In this specific instance, with as high a basketball IQ that Styles P has, she knew to intentionally drive Toliver directly at Dupree's left shoulder. This stopped Toliver from trailing Prahalis and created a second of separation from the defense that gave her more than enough time (and room) to operate.

Once Sammy dribbled past the screen, she had three options:

1. Shoot an open jumper/drive to the basket.

2. Look for Dupree as she rolls off the screen, cutting to the hoop.

3. When the defense is forced to collapse (or if help rotates over from the weak side), someone should be wide open for a shot.

While Coach Corey Gaines would likely be happy with any one of these scenarios playing out, Prahalis chose the third option this time.

Prahalis kept penetrating towards the paint which forced the Sparks' defense to rotate. It may seem insignificant, but if Prahalis didn't create the illusion that she wanted to score the ball, the play would've fallen apart (staying stagnant at the top of the key allows the defender to guard multiple players at once).

By literally forcing the defense to guard her, Prahalis knew that a teammate should now be open and, more importantly, ready for her subsequent pass.

As the defense rotates, there should always be an open player somewhere on the floor. The key, however, is reversing the ball quickly enough or having an open passing lane to take full advantage of the defense. In this case, DeWanna Bonner was the open player and was waiting patiently in the far corner for the ball, ready to shoot.

Now, here's where Prahalis' passing precision is taken for granted: Not only did she pass the ball at the perfect time; she hit Bonner right on the money. This allowed Bonner to easily put up her shot in rhythm without a defender in her face.

The play resulted in three points for the Mercury.

The best part? The aforementioned scenario lasted a total of four seconds.


So, why was this my favorite moment from the first half of the season? Easy -- the play doesn't happen without a solid screen from Candice Dupree, the creation of space from Sammy Prahalis, and certainly not if DeWanna Bonner misses the shot.

More to the point -- each player had to execute her job to perfection in order for it to translate into a successful play.

This is the chemistry and cohesion that the X-Factor can look forward to once everyone is healthy.

Pretty exciting, right?

* * *

What was your favorite moment from the first half of the 2012 Mercury season? Share your thoughts on our official Facebook and Twitter pages.