Editor's note: Before the 2007 season tips off Saturday, ESPN's Nancy Lieberman and ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel and Graham Hays each tackle one question facing all 13 WNBA teams. Here, the experts take a closer look at the Phoenix Mercury.
In a recent survey of the league's general managers, the Mercury were picked as the most fun to watch. We'd bet plenty of fans would agree. Diana Taurasi is obviously a big reason why. But she says of her teammates, "People like seeing players like Cappie [Pondexter] and Penny [Taylor] and now this year, Tangela [Smith]. We're re-energized." -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
The Mercury went 18-16 in the regular season. Coach Paul Westhead enters his second season in Phoenix.
Diana Taurasi was tops in scoring (25.3) and assists (4.1). Kamila Vodichkova grabbed a team-high 6.7 rpg.
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• WNBA.com's Mercury preview
Best of times: The Mercury find that the foundation laid last year by coach Paul Westhead is solid enough to support a massive offseason renovation project. With Diana Taurasi and a healthy Cappie Pondexter leading the way on the scoreboard, the Mercury successfully incorporate newcomers Tangela Smith, Kelly Schumacher, Olympia Scott and Kelly Mazzante. Smith, Schumacher and Scott give a team that was beaten badly on the boards last season a much improved inside presence, limiting second chances for opponents and allowing the Mercury to get out in transition off defensive rebounds. Penny Taylor turns in a full season after rejoining the team midstream last summer and further develops her chemistry with Taurasi and Pondexter, solidifying what is arguably the league's most talented offensive trio.
Worst of times: An up-tempo system that demands some degree of chemistry struggles to find its footing with so many new faces. The Mercury stumble out of the gate with three of their first four against Seattle, Houston and Sacramento and then face an uphill climb with six of their next eight games on the road. Smith, who took more than 400 shots and averaged 13 points per game as one of the few proven options for Charlotte the last two seasons, struggles to adjust to a supporting role alongside the big three scorers. Mazzante, who broke through with a standout effort for Charlotte last season but suffered from hip and quad injuries in the preseason, can't find minutes behind Taurasi, Pondexter, Kelly Miller and Jennifer Derevjanik and fades back into reserve oblivion, wasting a potentially valuable resource. -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays
The Mercury will definitely miss the professionalism and solid game of Kamila Vodichkova, who is pregnant and will sit out the entire 2007 season. Phoenix, in fact, is actually down both its starting posts from a year ago after free agent Kristen Rasmussen departed for Connecticut. However, the Mercury made sure to fill the holes and traded for good role players in Tangela Smith and Olympia Scott. Phoenix will play the post by committee. This is a great opportunity for Smith. Also, the Mercury now have an additional shooter off the bench in Kelly Mazzante. -- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman
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