The interior of the Phoenix Mercury will get a major boost in 2013, regardless of who they draft, but in a gesture of insurance, the Mercury announced on Friday that reserved players Lynetta Kizer and Krystal Thomas had signed new deals.
Kizer and Thomas represented the "rag-tag" segment of Phoenix, brought in to absorb numerous injuries that sidelined the team's top players. Their future with the team is indeterminate, as new recruits will likely shuffle a few slots, but having an extended session to demonstrate their skills could benefit their standing with Phoenix or another team if the two are waived or traded.
Kizer was originally drafted by Tulsa in 2012, considered a potential steal since she was not picked up until the third round. The Shock cut her after playing seven games, with the Mercury claiming her a short time later.
Overall, Kizer finished her rookie season with 5.7 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, boasting an impressive 93 percent free throw accuracy. Kizer found her stride during her 15 games in Phoenix, making 44 percent of her field goal attempts and scoring 7.1 points per game, including a 19-point effort against her original club last September.
Thomas also blossomed in 2012, her second professional season. Playing in 29 games, the center from Duke University had 6.8 points per game and 8.0 rebounds per game. Her rebounding average was fifth in the WNBA last season, and her total rebounds (233) placed ninth in the league.
“Krystal showed great improvement last year and took advantage of a great opportunity to show what she is capable of,” said Corey Gaines, Phoenix head coach. “We think she can be a great presence in the post in this league."
Prospects for job security likely increased for the 6-foot-5 Thomas, who was called into service only a week after she was waived by the Mercury in training camp last year. Seattle picked up Thomas in the third round of the 2011 draft, but only played in seven games. The Mercury scooped her up a few weeks after the Storm waived her, where she has played since.
Even if both players survive 2013 training camp, finding time could be tricky. Candice Dupree, Charde Houston and Penny Taylor should return to full strength after the pair endured a barrage of injuries, which would address several permutations at power forward and possibly small forward. All three carry a perimeter shot, while Kizer and Thomas tend not to play too deep from the basket on offense.
Long-range form is not common for centers, but with sharpshooters like DeWanna Bonner (a restricted free agent, but a popular figure in Phoenix) and Diana Taurasi (who likely will not have lingering side effects from dental visits in 2013), Kizer and Thomas would likely find most of their chances on clean-up opportunities.
Space could open up pending on a decision from Nakia Sanford, another interior player for the Mercury. Now an unrestricted free agent, Sanford will turn 37 before the 2013 season starts, and she was not a major contributor for Phoenix last season.
Thomas, a pure center, could spell whoever Phoenix takes with their first pick in the draft. Baylor senior Brittney Griner is expected to go first, but even if the Mercury went against speculation and acquired someone like Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, odds are the pick will be on the team's starting five for the season opener.