By Mark Carlisle
Between the posters and advertisements around Talking Stick Resort Arena featuring stars Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner, Mercury fans may not realize that the team’s third scoring option is back on the court in 2018.
DeWanna Bonner returns to the Mercury this year after taking the 2017 season off while giving birth to twin girls in July. She rejoins Taurasi and Griner as the only holdovers from the team’s last championship in 2014.
While Griner, who led the league in points per game in 2017, and Taurasi, who became the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer last season, deserve all the attention they get, Bonner can pack a punch as well.
In her last season on the court, in 2016, Bonner ranked 14th in the WNBA in scoring, dropping 14.5 points per game. Combining that effort with Taurasi and Griner, who ranked 7th and 11th, respectively, the Mercury owned the only trio of top 15 scorers in the league that year.
“It’s going to be fantastic,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said about regaining Bonner after the team’s preseason loss to Seattle Saturday night in Phoenix. “Look, she’s (a) 6-foot-4 mobile post player and athletic, and, you know, just finding those places on the floor where she can be effective. And we’re going to need her defensively, rebounding.”
In 2016, Bonner was second to Griner on the team in rebounding, defensive win shares, as well as in offensive and overall win shares.
On the offensive end, Bonner is second in the Mercury record books — to Taurasi’s league-leading 7,867 points in 13 seasons — with 3,647 career points over eight seasons, including a career high 20.6 in 2012. She also led the team in scoring when Taurasi sat out the 2015 season.
“I was a little nervous out there, but it’s great. It was great to be with the team,” Bonner said about her first time playing at Talking Stick Resort Arena in over a year. “Wasn’t the outcome that we wanted, but hey, it’s preseason. We’re going to get better and get ready for that first game.”
The Mercury home crowd gave Bonner a loud welcome back when her name was announced in the starting lineup Saturday. That crowd is hoping Bonner’s return, in addition to some new acquisitions to make the team younger in 2018, will finally push the Mercury past the semifinals, where the team has been swept in the three years since its 2014 championship.
Bonner said adjusting to her role as a spectator last season could be frustrating at times.
“I was yelling, screaming (at the TV),” she said with a smile. “…Of course you want to get out there and help, but fortunately the reason that I wasn’t there was the babies. But of course I wanted to play.”
The former Auburn Tiger couldn’t be kept off the court too long. She played overseas in the offseason with USK Praha in the Czech Republic and said she only took off a month or two after giving birth before getting back on the hardwood.
The 30-year-old Bonner said she doesn’t feel quite up to the level of play she left off in 2016, but feels she’ll be ready by the time the season starts on Friday with a home game against the Dallas Wings.
“I’m getting there,” she said. “It’s a progress, but it was great to play that game at home in a preseason game. But I’ll be ready.”
Bonner started the preseason with a bang by scoring a team-high 13 points Tuesday, May 8 in the team’s loss at Seattle without Taurasi and Griner playing. She started Saturday’s home game slowly, missing all six of her shots in the first half. However, she went 2 for 3 from the field and 1 for 2 from the free-throw line in the second half to finish with five points. She also led the team with four assists.
One area Bonner didn’t find success in the two-game preseason was beyond the 3-point arc, where she hit just one of nine shots. She made 32.9 percent of 3-pointers in 2016.
Bonner’s wife, Candice Dupree, is a forward for the Indiana Fever. The two met during Dupree’s tenure with the Mercury, from 2010 to 2016. The teams meet three times this season, twice in Indianapolis.
The twins will grow up watching a lot of basketball. Bonner said it’s great to have them around as she held one of her girls in her arms after Saturday’s 84-61 loss to the Storm.
“It’s been amazing. After that loss, you can look at that this face. Look, everybody’s all smiling,” she said.
Bonner may be on a similar sleep schedule with the Mercury’s other new mom, Taurasi, whose wife Penny Taylor had a boy in March. Taylor and Taurasi are another Mercury teammate couple. Taylor played in Phoenix for 10 years before retiring after 2016.
In addition to Bonner’s help on the offense, Brondello said the tall, versatile forward will help the Mercury with defensive matchups.
“She’s a good defender, she’s got that length. So, everyone has big 3s (small forwards) now and that certainly helps us, not getting posted up. You’re playing kind of tough in that area,” Brondello said.