Danielle Robinson finds the right fit in first season in Phoenix
It's weeks like this one that make Phoenix especially glad that guard Danielle Robinson has a purple tinge to her hair.
She has often displayed her team colors that way, going back to her college days at Oklahoma. Now she's representing the Mercury, and she has definitely fit in and filled a need.
The Mercury (10-6) have won three in a row and rank third in the WNBA standings behind 13-2 Minnesota and 12-5 Los Angeles. Phoenix faces Atlanta on Wednesday and then has back-to-back matchups with the league-leading Lynx on Friday and Sunday.
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So this is a very important week to try to solidify all the things that have been going right of late for Phoenix. And "DRob" is one of them. She had 10 points and six assists Sunday in the Mercury's 81-69 victory over New York.
Center Brittney Griner is leading the WNBA in scoring (22.4 PPG) and has had some huge games, including 31 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks against the Liberty. Diana Taurasi, who became the WNBA's all-time leading scorer last month, continues to do her thing. The Mercury bench has improved with a trade that brought back Monique Currie.
But don't underestimate the impact of Robinson, who's averaging 8.1 points and 4.0 assists.
"She's everything I envisioned," Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. "She brings another dimension to our defense; she's very fast. It helps."
That's always been one of Robinson's greatest weapons, but it's also something she was fearful of losing.
Robinson will never think very fondly of the 2015 WNBA season. Her team then, San Antonio, went 8-26 as the Stars tried to adjust to Becky Hammon's retirement. Robinson's shooting percentage dropped to 39.0, the worst of her career. And her right Achilles hurt all the time.
"Sometimes basketball just wasn't fun," Robinson said. "It was hard waking up in pain, knowing I'd be in pain in practice, and I'd be sore that night."
Robinson gutted it out and went overseas to play, but things only got worse. In March 2016, she had Achilles surgery and sat out all of last WNBA season rehabbing. And now?
"The pain is gone," she said, grinning. "I honestly feel like I'm 18 again."
That's of no benefit to the Stars, though. In January, they traded her to the Mercury for Isabelle Harrison and the No. 5 overall draft pick, with which San Antonio took Nia Coffey.
Harrison currently is the third-leading scorer for San Antonio, but neither Coffey nor the No. 1 overall pick, Kelsey Plum, have made much of an impact thus far. The Stars are 1-16, and it doesn't seem clear what they're trying to do with their young talent. (That's the nice way of saying it appears to be a hot mess.)
Robinson, who in 2011 was drafted No. 6 by San Antonio, still has a house, friends and a church family there. She's still very close to now-Spurs assistant Hammon, who remains a mentor.
But from a playing standpoint, Robinson is very happy she's in Phoenix.
"I'm where I'm supposed to be at this point in my career," Robinson said. "It's a dream to play with somebody like Dee.
"She's one of those players where you welcome the challenge of guarding her, but knew there's really no way you can. I always had the assignment, and she schooled me a few times. I'm so happy to be beside her now and learning from her; it reminds me of learning from Becky."
The pain is gone. I honestly feel like I'm 18 again.
- Danielle Robinson, who had Achilles surgery and sat out the 2016 WNBA season
That said, Taurasi is just as glad that Robinson isn't guarding her anymore. Because she remains a disruptive force on defense.
Before her surgery, Robinson was told she might see a bit of her speed diminish, depending on how rehab went.
"So I took it as a challenge, like, 'I'm not going to lose any of my quickness,'" Robinson said. "I worked really hard in rehab, but took my time. There was no rush to get back.
"It was a nice little break to get away from the game and fall back in love with it."
She went overseas to play in Turkey this past winter and said by March -- a full year after her surgery -- she truly felt back to her old self.
Brondello wants that, and maybe just a little more.
"She's probably still not as aggressive as I'd like her to be, but that will come," Brondello said. "She can push us, and that's what we need her to do."