Connecticut Sun look to make it past the second round and make a championship run
The twenty third WNBA season kicks off next week and the Connecticut Sun are looking to make a run in Curt Miller’s fourth season as head coach. They finished the last two seasons with a record of 21-13, losing to the Phoenix Mercury in the Second Round both years.
The team is looking to take a step forward, get over the second round up, and are looking to not only win their first postseason game since 2012 but make it back to WNBA Finals for the first time since 2005.
While most of the team is returning from last season, there will be some familiar faces missing and new faces in their place.
The Sun will be returning most of their production from last season. Betnijah Laney signed with the Fever, Lexie Brown was traded to Minnesota Lynx on Draft Night, and Chiney Ogwumike was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks on April 28.
The Sun brought in 4352 points, 1976 rebounds and 1138 assists into training camp.
As head coach Curt Miller pointed out, for the fourth straight year the Sun will not have a player on their roster at the start of the season who is at least thirty years old.
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Who will step up?
While Ogwumike’s presence will be missed, the Sun have performed well without her and still have a talented and deep roster. The bigger question, however, is who will step up.
While no one that I spoke to believed that there was only one person that could step up for the team this season, one name came up over and over again: Jonquel Jones.
“I mean obviously with Chiney being gone, JJ [Jonquel Jones] for sure stepping up into that starting role so her ability to you know, be a starter in this league and be a leader in her own way,” said Layshia Clarendon. She went on to say “I think JJ is going to have to really step up for this team and give us the star power we know she has the ability to.”
Jones started all 34 games for the Sun in 2017 while Ogwumike was injured and averaged 15.4 points and 11.9 rebounds in 28.5 minutes per game. While she spent most of last season coming off the bench, Jones made the most of her opportunities and was awarded the WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year Award.
Head coach Curt Miller also believed Ogwumike’s departure will allow for Jones to step up. “It really opens up the opportunity like in 2017 to give a lot of rope, give a lot of opportunities to Jonquel Jones to become the mega superstar that we all believe she can become in this league.”
Jasmine Thomas, however, believes someone else will take a step forward this season. “You know I would love to see Bri Jones make a significant jump on our team,” she said.
“Just being there last year, getting some more minutes, and have a significant impact on this game. And playing against her this offseason in Russia, you know I played against her in the Euroleague and she just had a great offseason and I really think she’s ready to assert herself in this game.”
Jones sees things a bit differently, saying, “I don’t know… honestly, I think everyone is going to step up their game. I think we have a chip on our shoulders this year.”
There were four rookies on the Sun’s 15 man roster, first-round pick Kristine Anigwe out of Cal, Bridget Carleton of Iowa State and Regan Magarity of Virginia Tech who was waived on May 16. The team also acquired the draft rights to Natisha Hiedeman out of Marquette from the Minnesota Lynx.
The rookies are all very different but have one thing in common: the ability to score.
Due to the return of most of last season’s team, it will not be easy for these rookies to make the roster. However, whoever does make the roster will be able to contribute to what looks to be one of the deepest teams in the league.
Anigwe, who had a historic season, averaging 22.5 points and 16.2 rebounds per game is the rookie most likely to make the roster. She’s also the tallest player currently on the roster at 6-4.
Carleton averaged 21.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last season and made at least 80 percent of her free throws in each of her four seasons. This is something that would help the Sun who were second to last in free throw percentage last season.
At 5’8 Hiedeman joins Courtney Williams as the two shortest players on the team’s roster. She averaged 17.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season.
Over their combined 16 NCAA seasons, the rookies bring in a total of 7587 points, four great options for the team that led the league in scoring last season.
Keys to the season
While there are many components that must come together for a team, three things stand out as the keys to the team’s season.
The most important thing for a team in every sports league is the health of it’s players. So it only makes sense that staying healthy is key to the success of a team.
Miller acknowledged this saying, “But in this league, unfortunately, a lot of the success comes down to the ability to stay healthy … There’s no doubt that a little luck with your health goes a long, long way in this league.”
Again, both her teammates and head coach see Jones as someone who has a chance this season to make a significant impact for this team.
The reigning sixth woman of the year is capable of it and without Ogwumike, she will almost certainly get the minutes to prove what she is capable of.
Focus on staying present
With the expectations set high for the team, it’s important that the team stay present on the goals, something that Miller mentioned when asked about his goals for the season.
“[When] you start talking about September and October and playoffs and our next step and getting the monkey off our back, if we start talking about that and forget the little things that get us there, we won’t be a playoff team,” he said. “There’s such a fine line between winning and losing.”
The one thing not lacking from this roster is talent and depth. It’s hard to imagine anyone getting cut from the team, Miller and the rest of his coaching staff certainly have some tough decisions ahead of them. The Sun are the only team who finished in the top-4 each of the last two seasons, and look to finish there again. While it will be critical for the Sun to get past the second round of the playoffs, the most direct path to do that is by earning a top-2 seed, something they have the talent and potential to do.
The Sun will begin their season with a two-game homestand, taking on the Washington Mystics on May 25 and the Indiana Fever on May 28.
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