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Connecticut Sun Resilient After Brionna Jones Injury

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The Connecticut Sun will be without center Brionna Jones for the remainder of the 2023 season after she suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon June 20th while playing the Seattle Storm, the team announced Saturday.

The two-time All-Star underwent successful reparative surgery Friday at the Swedish Orthopedic Institute in Seattle, per the release. There is no current timeline for her return.

Jones was having yet another All-Star-caliber campaign, averaging 15.9 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. At the time of her injury, she also led the WNBA with 4.7 second-chance points per game. Here are some other statistical areas she excelled in this season:

  • Second in the league in offensive rebounds per game (3.2)
  • Fourth in the league in points in the paint per game (10.8).
  • Fourth in the league in field goal percentage (57.1%).
  • Fourth in the league in steals per game (1.8).

All individual player statistics are courtesy of Her Hoop Stats.

Three Become Two

As the fabled saying goes, good things come in threes.

Back in 2010 when the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were assembled in Miami to rival the Boston Celtics, they were named the “Big Three.” Several teams have since sought to emulate the “Big Three” prototype, acquiring a triad of esteemed talent to win championships.

For the Sun those three were Alyssa Thomas, DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones. Three former All-Stars and three veterans. And although Bonner is the only of these three acquired through trade, the term itself has become somewhat of a sports-media jargon used to drive narratives.

There’s Thomas, the do-it-all point forward, and one of this season’s MVP favorites, who now leads the league in triple-doubles. Bonner, a 14-year pro and three-time champion who sits at ninth on the WNBA’s all-time scoring list. And 6-3 Jones, a true center who dominates the paint and was the league’s Sixth Woman of the Year last season.

With Jones now out of the picture, they’ll need to find other ways to be successful. The Sun’s starting lineup had played more minutes (208) together than any other team this season.

“Everybody’s got to give us a little bit more. There is no one person who is going to replace what Breezy (Jones) brings to the table, on or off the floor” head coach Stephanie White said

It’s going to have to be complete a team effort.

Stepping Up

White indeed has a tall task ahead of her, but luckily the remaining talent on the Sun’s roster is not too shabby, to say the least.

Former All-Star and 2018 All-WNBA First Team selection, Tiffany Hayes is one of the best players in the league at attacking the rim off the dribble. While she’s currently averaging an admirable 10.8 points per game on 46.6% shooting, her scoring output will need to increase.

Now forced to work with a smaller lineup, White sees a silver lining. “I think it gives us better spacing offensively. It opens up the paint, so it opens up driving lines. It opens up cutting lanes. We can really spread the floor.”

Slasher DiJonai Carrington has thrived under the new offense thus far. In Tuesday’s 89-81 loss to the New York Liberty she contributed a season-high 23 points off the bench. She also dropped 17 against the Minnesota Lynx on June 22nd. 

Finding Their Way

The Sun’s lack of a true center, however, may prove to be their — pardon the pun — Achilles heel. While they defeated both the Minnesota Lynx and Chicago Sky handily, they were unable to get the job done against said “Super Team,” the New York Liberty.

Second-year pro out of UConn, 6-5 Olivia Nelson-Ododa, had a career-high 14 points on perfect 6-6 shooting off the bench Tuesday night. Her contributions were greatly appreciated in Jones’ absence. However, Nelson-Ododa likely won’t sustain such numbers throughout the season.

Jones’ presence as a rim protector and as an overall defensive force, including her ability to grab defensive rebounds, was missed on Tuesday. New York scored 46 paint points, nearly 11 points above their season average of 35.2.

The Liberty, however, are only seventh in the league in points in the paint per game. The issue may be accelerated when they play say the other “Super Team“, the Las Vegas Aces, who are next on the Sun’s schedule and are second only to the Sun in points in the paint with 39.6 a game.

On the bright side, the Sun likely won’t have as abysmal a shooting performance as they did against New York on Tuesday. The five starters, Thomas, Bonner, Hayes, Natisha Hiedeman and Rebecca Allen shot a combined 14-51 from the field (27.4%). That is another side effect of not having Jones, however, who was fourth in the league in field-goal percentage at 57.1%.

It is encouraging that the Sun were able to stick around with an almost entirely healthy New York team for the majority of the game, though.

For now, 6-2 Alyssa Thomas has moved to the five position in the starting lineup. This presents an obvious size disadvantage for Connecticut. But, if anyone can make it work it’s Thomas, who is one of the best defenders in the league.

Cap Space

One might reasonably assume the Sun would be eligible to sign a replacement player. Under the current rules of the WNBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), however, they are ineligible to do so.

For now, the Sun will have to play with just 10. If they were to drop below that, they would then become eligible to sign a free agent to a hardship contract.

Although out for the season, Jones’ $208,000 salary still counts towards the team’s salary cap. This makes it fairly impossible to make room for a new signee without going over the cap limit, as the Sun had already exhausted virtually all their cap space.

A Powerful Duo

Jones will be especially missed by her long-time teammate Alyssa Thomas. The two University of Maryland alumni made a run to the Final Four together back in 2014 when Thomas was a senior and Jones a freshman. Since, they have played seven seasons for the Sun and four seasons in the Czech Republic together during the WNBA’s off-season.

The on-court synergy they have developed is irreplicable. An uncanny ability to make plays off one another has allowed both their games to flourish.

Thomas could only watch in horror as Jones collapsed to the ground and reached for her Achilles with just over a minute left in last Tuesday’s game. It’s an injury she’s all too familiar with. In 2021 Thomas ruptured her Achilles playing overseas, causing her to miss all but two regular season games for the Sun.

AT, (Thomas), has notched three triple-doubles across the Sun’s past four games, including one in Jones’ final game, the 85-79 win over Seattle.

Following the victory against Chicago on Sunday, Thomas had this to say about her friend and teammate:

“First and foremost my heart went out to her. Just you know, going through that injury, and you never wanna see somebody go through that as well. But, she’s a competitor. She wants to win. And I know she wouldn’t want the season all to fall apart because she got hurt. So, this is all for her, we’re just gonna continue to play hard for her.”

Déjà Vu

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the Sun have lost a starter to injury. In fact, it’s the third season in a row they’ve fallen victim to such circumstances.

In 2021, Thomas tore her Achilles and in 2022, veteran point guard Jasmine Thomas tore her ACL five games into the season.

Immediately following the Sun’s victory against the Lynx, the team FaceTimed Jones, sharing the win with her.

Jones released this statement on Saturday.

“First, I want to thank everyone who has reached out over the last few days. All of the love I’ve received has truly been a blessing as I’ve gone through this tough time. While this is not how I envisioned this season ending for me, I am determined and ready to head into the next stage of recovery and rehab. I know I have an amazing support system behind me, and I will return on the other side of this stronger than ever. I’m definitely going to miss competing every night with this incredible group of women the most, but I am excited to see this team continue to flourish and accomplish great things this season.”

Adapting to Change

Don’t count out Connecticut just yet. The hashtag #DisrespeCT — which is often mocked by fans — has become a staple of the Sun’s social-media campaign. Often overlooked and underrated, the Sun have proven that through pure grit and hustle, they can overcome the odds. The same core group from last season, led by “The Engine”, Alyssa Thomas, made it to the Finals after being heavily favored to lose to the Chicago Sky in the semis.

“I think a lot of people are still counting us out with Bri going down. But, as you can see we’re resilient. We play hard and we find a way to win” – Alyssa Thomas.

About Ethan Arcata

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