How Natasha Mack is thriving in her second chance in the WNBA - The Next (2024)

Mack started her journey in the league with the Chicago Sky, the team that drafted her. The Sky cut her before opening day but she signed a hardship contract before the their second game. Her time with the Sky officially came to an end after three games. Then, the Lynx picked her up, but she only played one game for Minnesota. Mack got one more chance in 2022, when she joined the Lynx for training camp, but didn’t make it to opening day.

With her WNBA career on an involuntary hiatus, Mack went overseas to develop and try to earn another chance in the league. She made her way to Poland and New Zealand before finding a spot in Turkey this past offseason. Playing for Botas in the KBSL, Mack averaged 13.7 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 2.1 steals per game. She led the league in blocks and was seventh in rebounds and steals.

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The WNBA once again came calling

Mack was midseason in Turkey when Phoenix Mercury Assistant General Manager Monica Wright Rogers suggested bringing her to the Valley for training camp.

“Honestly, I thought I was gonna be done with it,” Mack said. “So I just went overseas, developed my game, played with different teams and just got better. And my agent got the phone call, like, ‘Hey, you wanna go to training camp for Phoenix?’ I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.”

“[I] give our front office a ton of credit,” Mercury head coach Nate Tibbetts said. “Monica [Wright Rogers] went and that was someone that she really wanted because of her defense, and she’s stuck out.”

When training camp concluded, Mack had earned a roster spot. On May 13, the day before the Mercury’s season opener, Brittney Griner suffered a toe fracture. The next day, Mack clinched the first start of her WNBA career.

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Battling the likes of Kiah Stokes and A’ja Wilson in the paint, Mack pulled down six rebounds – four on the offensive side – dished out five assists, and recorded three blocks in her debut with the Mercury. In her second game, versus the Atlanta Dream, she proved even more how valuable she can be for this team coming away with seven points and 11 boards.

The 6-foot-3 forward has a knack for finding open teammates from the paint. She’s averaging 3.6 assists, the sixth-most among forwards in the league. And when it comes to pursuing her team’s missed shots, she’s relentless, grabbing 2.4 rebounds per game on the offensive end.

Her play on offense has contributed greatly to the Mercury’s success, but Mack’s biggest impact comes on the defensive end. Mack is proving to be a threat in the paint in just five games. Her length doesn’t just contribute there, but also in other facets of the Mercury’s defense.

“We’re asking her to be there,” Natasha Cloud said. “We’re asking her to guard guards. … We tell Mack all the time, ‘That’s your yard to protect. That’s your rim to protect.’ And she’s doing a phenomenal job. She’s impacting shots, she’s blocking so many shots, deflections, go-go gadget arms … So you just want to make sure that a young player coming in and what we’re demanding of her, you gotta give her flowers when she is stepping up. So Mack has done an amazing job, and we’re gonna continue to breed confidence into her.”

Griner’s absence turned into mentorship

Due to her previous stops in 2021, Mack has already spent time playing with and learning from legendary posts such as Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles. Now, once again playing with another dominant and renowned post player, Mack is gaining experience from Griner while simultaneously trying to fill her absence on the floor.

“I’m always there like, ‘Hey, what can I do better? Should I do this, that?’ and she’s always like ‘Mack, do this. Do that.’ I’m like, ‘Alright, appreciate it,’ Mack said. “So it’s amazing to have this opportunity to be coached by her.”

Griner is one of many Mercury players who inspires Mack. Before Mack signed with the Mercury, it was Sug Sutton who advised her to keep working overseas. That could be a way to get another opportunity in the WNBA. Cloud’s energy on defense spreads and has driven Mack to step her game up. Sophie Cunningham has helped Mack figure out her role as a five and as the center of the Mercury’s defense.

“It’s still a little shocking, but I just feel like I just come to work every day and work hard and learn,” Mack said. “You know, Sophie has been teaching me how to be a great five, believe it or not, she has, so with everybody around me constantly inspiring me, helping me whether it’s criticizing or giving me uplift, it’s really helped a lot.”

Mack matters right now

Through the first five games of the season, Mack has pulled her weight on both sides of the floor. She leads the team with 7.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks on average. She’s been a key factor for this Mercury team in helping them get off to a solid start. They’ve dealt with adjustments – personnel changes and a lack of Griner.

There’s no indication of what the Mercury’s rotation will look like when Griner returns and what that will mean for Mack’s role. Either way, Mack has shown Phoenix and the rest of the league just how much of an impact player she can be in the WNBA, an impression that’s sure to last moving forward.

“To make it in this league, at times, there’s got to be opportunities given, and what an opportunity for her, unfortunately, with BG’s injury,” Tibbetts said. “…There’s been people that have been given opportunities and aren’t ready for the situation or the opportunity, and so far, she’s stepped into it. She’s got great veteran leaders around her to love her up and support her for any questions or concerns. But yeah, she’s been great.”

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How Natasha Mack is thriving in her second chance in the WNBA - The Next (2024)
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