WNBA midseason check-in: Connecticut Sun

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 12: Courtney Williams
SEATTLE, WA - JULY 12: Courtney Williams /

Rebecca Lobo warned us all against sleeping on Connecticut as a playoff team. The Sun wasted no time, taking the WNBA by storm after a 1-5 start. Since then, Curt Miller’s squad has gone 11-3 and put together two separate 5 game win streaks.

The Sun are third in the league in offensive rating and at the middle of the pack defensively. They are top four in offensive and defensive rebounding. As a team, the Sun shoot a WNBA-best 42% from three. The next closest team is shooting 37.2% from deep.

Connecticut is the proud home of two Eastern Conference WNBA All-Star starters. There’s another obvious talking point with the starting lineup of the Sun. What else has been a constant over the last 15 games? 

Answer: Courtney Williams has started at SG; Alyssa Thomas has started at PF.

Williams is one of the few midrange dead-eye shooters in the league. She bolts around screens and will catch from just about any angle to get into her shot. Williams really elevates on that jumper, making it also tougher to alter.

The Sun may get pitched as this 3PT-happy, new era-y type of team. You know, the kind of team Charles Barkley thinks is incapable of winning a championship. They live at and near the rim. I doubt they would be concerned, but humor me. Playoff basketball inevitably slows down. When opponents lock in, they’ll run you off the line and always have somebody waiting at the rim. Who bails you out with buckets from that hallowed middle ground?

Then there’s Alyssa Thomas. I’ve written previously about her unique talents and the terror it causes in an open floor. I won’t go long on them here. Before checking out some clips, remember this name: Shekinna Stricklen.

Stricklen is shooting 42% on 7 attempts per game. If that doesn’t resonate with you, imagine her in a 48-minute regular season game. She’d be getting up even more looks and any shooting at that high of a clip adds value to your team:

Alyssa Thomas makes plays in the open floor, in the post, and as a roller. Thomas is making it happen against opposing bigs. Playing her at the three still has some perks. With enough shooting on the floor, she can post up smaller wings and make the easy play:

Now, how about those two All-Star starters? Jonquel Jones has made a tremendous second-year leap. Jones has cemented herself as one of the best young cornerstone pieces in the WNBA. She grabs headlines with her double-digit rebounding performances and, of course, the threes:

Jones has been known to alter some shots here and there as well:

Jasmine Thomas entered the season coming off a 2nd Team All-Defense nod. Her offense has taken a corresponding jump with all the threes she’s knocking down. The Sun PG shares ball handling and creation duties with Alyssa Thomas like a true pro. (There is enough ball to go around, at least in Connecticut.)

Jasmine Thomas is shooting 45% on threes. Jones, as mentioned, is a great outside shooter as well. Here’s one of my favorite things they do to free each other up for open looks:

Morgan Tuck and Alex Bentley are the players who have been transitioned to bench roles. First, the lineup change is no indictment of their own abilities as players. Were any WNBA GM to call Curt Miller up about either player and claim to have leverage, he’d be able to laugh and hang up the phone.

Second, the sky was not exactly falling in Connecticut. Some growing pains were probably expected with Chiney Ogwumike out for the season (Achilles). Individual circumstances with Bentley and Tuck persisted, too.

Bentley spent some time away playing at EuroBasket. Tuck, on the other hand, missed a bunch of games with a knee injury. Tuck has since worked her way back and appeared in several games. She and Alyssa Thomas are different players, but in no way does Tuck hamper the Sun’s ability to play with a spread floor:

Miller’s initial plan with Bentley had been to use her as the starting SG and the team’s backup PG. Rachel Banham, another credible outside shooter, is also in that mix. Now, Miller has the luxury of carving out an ideal role for Bentley off the bench.

Lynetta Kizer, Kayla Pedersen and Danielle Adams are solid, veteran options off the bench at the big spots. Adams is a knock down 3PT shooter; Pedersen is comfortable facing the basket and taking the occasional midrange jumper. That crowded front court rotation also includes #8 pick, Brionna Jones.

Are you buying Connecticut’s 11-3 surge? Who’s your 3rd best team in the WNBA right now? No matter what your preseason prediction was, Connecticut has earned its way into those conversations here in 2017.